The sound of the rooster strikes me awake with such clarity that I must not have been very asleep. In the distance it sounds like someone’s dragging furniture across the clouds and the night flashes bright. I know a storm’s coming and then the drops start and it’s here– the drops being inside my tent.
Cursing the bulky camera that I’m too tired to take out of the purse I’m sleeping on, this isn’t what I had romanticized when we said “camping.” We’re in the side yard of a cafe where a family lives, sleeping on a bed of gravel. I can hear the distant hum of a television. I can hear the not-so-distant shrill cry of a rooster.
The best way to travel also turns out to be the cheapest: make friends with the locals, drink the liquor as long as it flows, and accept when they insist you’re too drunk to drive anywhere. Be grateful and remember it usually pays to say yes. Flies swarmed and landed on the best seafood I’ve ever eaten. The second best suctioned itself to the side of my mouth, flailing its tentacles in a last-ditch effort to survive.
I touched my heart as small Boa did the night before when I gave her a coconut cookie. Her young mouth could only form the sound “ah,” and I can speak only a fragment more Vietnamese than that, but still I said thank you—Cam on. I touched my heart, looked at her grandmother and said “Cam on… for letting us stay the night.” We paid for our coffees, packed our tents and started our engines.
It’s really something following a group of friends on a journey through crumbling back roads, the sharp curves revealing each person in turn. Slate-dark cement washes up onto the deep brown foliage and the mountains peek and dive as we drive up and down. We’re burned by the stinging sun then cooled by the rains. We rest in the warm shade and bundle in the cold night. In one day, we experience all seasons.
“Alright George,” says Mekong once we arrive in DaLat. “Call the Fuck. Tell em to sheet oaff.” He looks at me and snickers and I know we’re gonna have fun with this name.
Mr. Phuk is an Easy Rider who takes tourists on his bike through hard-to-find destinations. He’s offered to escort us on the back roads across the central highlands for an exorbitant amount of money and apparently all his beer bills. Collectively, we decide not to do it and now Generous has to tell him.
“But I kind of like Mr. Phuk.”
“I don’t care if you like em. For $15 per person per day, Mr. Fuck can sheet oaff!”
The fun we have with his name is only second to the fun we have with the name of Generous’ motorcycle. Her name is Sally and she’s a bicycle. Any key turns her on and anyone gets a ride. Mekong says when he’s finished with his bike, Jessica, he’ll dig a big hole in ground and bury her.
Here lies Jessica. At least she’s not a SLUT lok SALLY!
Mekong slams Jessica into Sally’s rear and snickers.
“At least she has virtues,” argues Generous.
“She does not! Sheet off! Anyone can ride her in any direction therefore she has no virtues.”
The demands of concentration silences everyone on the road and hunger makes our decision hasty as we pull over for lunch. Each bike parks– Sally, Jessica, Black Betty, Ariel and Ursala.
We sit down and order quickly. Ga Pho. Chicken Pho. It doesn’t take too long to come out and I can’t wait for the broth to cool before burning my tongue on it. The meat must be pork because it smells like pork. It looks like beef though and Mekong, wide-eyed claims it’s “exoctly lok the mystery meat I had in Saigon.” But Mekong makes a lot of claims. The other night, he claimed his toe was falling off. “Look at et,” he says in astonishment. “Et doesn’t look hewman.” And then his tone changes to indignation, “Well I don’t know what Om gonna do when I get back to England and Om not suffering from puh-menant disease. Oll have to razor maself in the arm just to feel normal.”
The thought of his toe– which looks like Wile E. Coyote dropped an anvil on it– still doesn’t put me off my meal. I don’t care. I’m starving. I use one chopstick to hold the meat in place and the other to pull it from the bone.
As the soup gets lower and lower, its contents reveal themselves with ease and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. No. I hold it up between my chopsticks and everyone starts laughing. I’ve spent two years in Korea having avoided it and not one month into Vietnam and I’ve just eaten dog. It smells like pork, looks like beef and tastes like dog. Hanging between my chopsticks is its severed jaw. Oh God, judging by the extent of his cavities it must have been quite old. The owners laugh at our discovery and claim it’s monkey. Lying bastards. “It’s dog!”
Pete having just paid says resolutely, “Yep, it’s dog. They’re charging dog prices.”
Mr. Phuk! It turns out the cheapest way to eat can also be the least enjoyable. Although, In all honesty I can’t say I don’t deserve it. After making fun of Generous’ beloved Sally:
And gloating in the face of Pete’s sea sickness:
And turning hysterical at the site of Mekong’s pulsing red toe:
…I can’t say in good faith that it was undeserved. But on the upside, it didn’t cost much. Unless of course there’s a Judgement Day and I pay for it then.
Here lies Anne-Claire. She ate dog once. But at least she’s not a SLUT like SALLY!