Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day 11: Sapa - Lai Cai

“Down and out”

Supposed to be a rest day, but turned out to be anything but. The plan was to tackle the 30km descent into Lai Cai in late afternoon in time to meet the train. I spent the morning with Mirco in a mechanic’s shop trying to straighten his derailleur (reasonably successful) and eating. Was in two minds about whether to stay an extra day at my hotel (pictured below), but the atrocious weather and poor visibility made my mind up. I realised that I wouldn’t get warm if I stayed here, and so off I headed at 4pm.

It was freezing cold when I left and I couldn’t believe it when I punctured just 5kms from the summit. The puncture came at 50kph in the rain as I was entering a corner – not ideal. Infuriated, I took more than half an hour to fix the puncture on the roadside due to the tight fit on the new tyre. Frozen, I continued down the hill and the fog finally cleared just 10kms from the bottom.

I got lost in Lai Cai and ended up trying to find the train station in the dark. Finally found it, which I thought was the end of the angst, but it was just beginning. On arrival at the station they told me the 8.20pm training that I was on didn’t carry bikes, and that I would have to get on the 9pm. This was fine except they were telling me the ticket couldn’t be transferred. While I’m trying to negotiate with the station attendant (evil witch) I had two young guys hanging off me trying to scam some money from me. To make matters worse, they wouldn’t let me take my bike into the station and so I had one eye on the young scammers, one eye on my bike and trying to negotiate the ticket. Eventually to get rid of me the station master slaps down a new ticket for me on the 9pm – HARD SLEEPER. So in a few minutes I had gone from Hilton to park bench and there was nothing I could do about it.

Told the leeches to piss off, jumped back on my bike and cooled my heels in a restaurant with hot pot and beer. Hard sleeper is as it sounds: a bed of nails. Basically myself and a French cyclist were the only westerners in the carriage (suffered same fate as me). We were in a crowded cabin with eight people to a shoebox, and apparently smoking was compulsory as the urchins and desperadoes that I was sharing with seemed to have one permanently on their lips. Sat up with the French guy til 11 before tossing and turning for the remainder of the 8 hour journey.

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