From mechanical breakdown to communications breakdown.
At this point, I realized we were very late. I thought I had better try and contact Penny.
I had the number of the hotel but it was with my passports which I was couldn't find so I thought I had shoved them into my backpack which was in the baggage hold directly in front of me. I asked one of the orange shirts as best as I could pointing at the baggage hold to let me get at my bag. He curtly and strongly told me "no..nyet!" and waved me off! Damn. I couldn't remember the name of the hotel Penny was in. Penny had a mobile phone but I was sure she didn't have a working sim in it.
I tried to ask around about internet and they just shook their heads. No, there was no internet here. People seemed to be using their 3G phones but apparently there wasn't internet. People seemed to be texting their friends.
Ok I thought, I could send a text message to someone. I whipped out my phone and turned it on. I had the Indonesian sim I was using in Bali. After a few minutes, it seemed to register in roaming mode. Great! However, it wouldn't make a call, nor would it send an sms. Either it was barred or the sim had run out of credit. I tried with all the other sims I had to my name: the AT&T one from the US, the Orange sim from the UK, the French sim, nothing. Not a single one worked here.
I motioned to one of the orange shirts if I could use his iPhone. He reluctantly late me play with it. Drat, it was all in Vietnamese! I couldn't understand a thing! Ok, this can't be too hard, it's got to be all icon based. But unfortunately for me, I rarely use an iPhone. I couldn't figure out what the text messaging application was! I tried to ask him. He eventually brought up an english-vietnamese translator app he had installed. I tried several things but this word just doesn't appear in it's dictionary! Eventually he got frustrated with me, yanked his phone back and basically motioned for me to go away. Several other people were standing around, no one could understand what I wanted to do.
Nearly giving up, I wandered around trying to think of a way to get Penny a message. If I could get a text message to someone like my dad, he could email her.
Then I spotted something white on the ground. Like a miracle, it was a sim!
Would it work? Well, it registered and came up in roaming mode. I then subsequently received 2 messages in English. It was a Thai sim that someone probably discarded.
First I tried calling my dad, but the call didn't go through. I can only suppose that there wasn't enough money on the sim. I then tried to send a text message. It seemed to go out! At least, I didn't see any error message like the other times! I asked my dad to email Penny. I waited and waited but got no response. I guess he either didn't get it or didn't notice it.
At this point, I consoled myself thinking that Penny would do the logical thing if we didn't show up and she would have called the bus company to find out about our bus. I bet if she asked the guy at the desk of the hotel she might even have been able to get someone to give her the driver's mobile number and call the bus directly.
I would say it took 4 or 5 hours to get the bus back together. After a couple trial and false starts, they finally manged to make the bus move forward and backward when he put it in gear. Without cheer, we all piled back on to the bus. It was about here that Antonia realized she couldn't find her laptop.
It's a really good thing Antonia took our stuff out of the cubby hole we were in because they had nearly completely disassembled the seats back there to work on the motor. There were tools everywhere. There were several seats tossed aside onto other seats. I thought maybe they would reassemble this before heading out but nope, off we went and we jumped into some other now unoccupied seats. I guess some of the other people found their way home another way because there were now at least 4 or 5 empty seats. Antonia took a top row "bed" and instantly curled up and fell asleep. I took one in the middle aisle next to her.
I think I finally got to sleep for a while but it was quite uncomfortable. The bus was swaying incredibly. The roadway we were traveling over was some sort of dirt road with an immense amount of traffic and it's the middle of the night, about 2:30am in fact. There's honking as trucks pass one another. It's raining hard. And we're in stop and go traffic which when it moved we were crawling along at a snails pace.
Eventually noticed outside the front window that it appeared the road was pretty wet. I went up front and not only was it wet but it was flooded! The driver kindly motioned me to sit in the jumpseat where I took some photos (and to his amusement showed him). I got these while were stopped which was more often than not.
I have never seen anyone drive through so much water. The water was about 50cm deep at some points. We passed cars inundated with the drivers out of the car in knee deep water trying to push their car off to the side.
I was in the jumpseat for about an hour. It was now nearly 4am. At some point we found the end of the flooded section and found ourselves on a paved road. He mumbled "en fin!" which I can only imagine means the same thing in french as it does in vietnamese: at last!
He drove on a bit and then opened the door for someone and he hushed me away back into the back. I'm not sure who the guy was but he seemed to get on the bus. It seemed like just some random person waiting on a street corner. Maybe he was a friend or a relief driver, I didn't find out.
I retired to one of the lower bunks and did manage to get some sleep. When I woke up, it was about 5:30am and we were rolling through city which was the outskirts of Hanoi. We arrived about a half hour later at the bus station in Hanoi.
There was a cheer of relief in Vietnamese from the passengers! We clambered off the bus to be greeted by a crowd of taxi drivers trying to wisk us into their cabs like bees attracted to a pot of honey! Our bags were as usual dumped off the bus and into the mud.
I started searching frantically my backpack for my passports and the address of the hotel. It was at this point that we lost site of Tako. We had meant to get his contact details but he apparently got into one of these cabs and disappeared into the morning.
Finally, after several frantic minutes searching, I found them buried under the camera! Whew! That nearly gave me a heart attack! I was sure with everything else that went wrong these last few days that this would surely be the icing on the cake, but no, apparently our luck had finally bottomed out!
Our interpreter friend from yesterday, Thanh, had urgently told me not to take one of these cabs flocking around the bus. She firmly instructed me to take a green cab marked Mai Linh, and to make sure that they driver had a green tie on because there were impersonators. She said we would have to wander outside the gates to find one of these honest metered cabs and that's what we did.
We exited the parking lot following our British friends who I relayed the info about the cab company to. After a harrowing crossing of a busy street crowed by cabs all vying for our business, we managed to flag down one of these green cabs. The guy very professionally got us into the cab and off we went. The Brits managed to hail down one too I noticed as we drove off.
I showed the driver the address. He spoke no english at all. At first, he seemed to know where he was going, then all of a sudden, he seemed to be following someone and he pointed at the cab in front of us. It was the Brits! He was following the Brits!
I tried to motion to him to follow the address in my hand but he really wanted to follow the other cab. He even ran several red lights trying to keep up with the guy! Eventually the other cab stopped and he tried to yell out to him but the other guy wasn't interested and drove off. Finally, I kept tapping the address and he seemed to give up the notion of following the other cab and we lost site of them...but not for long!
He continued to drive into the old town of Hanoi. We passed a lake with an amazing little island in the middle.
He drove around a bit and flagged down another green cab and asked for directions. Onward we drive into the smaller streets and then, there were the Brits! The green cab had just let them off. I waved by to them and they were surprised to see me, I'm sure! The driver at this point managed to talk to their driver and got rough directions to our hotel.
After a couple more tries of asking directions, he did manage to deposit us in front of a small alley way that led to our hotel. Bags out of the car and this time, I don't even want to tell you what they landed in. Antonia and I strolled off into an ally way in the daylight filled with people eating their breakfast.
10 minutes later, we were in the hotel room with Penny. Boy was she glad to see us. No, she hadn't gotten an email from my dad. No, she hadn't called the bus company. She had noticed on the website that the bus was scheduled to arrive at 7pm. Well, in fact, we were only 11 hours late. Whew what a trip! That made it about 33 hours on this bus but more like 36 hours total from when the shuttle tuktuk picked us up. I am sure I stank. I hadn't brushed my teeth in two days. I had slept 2 nights in the same cloths. I hadn't even been able to wash my hands with soap for 2 days. The first thing I did was take a shower.
Next we went looking for the laptop. Nope, it seems to be gone. I'm pretty certain someone lifted it out of her backpack when it we left it at the hotel with the luggage. That's about the only place she didn't have sight of it. Well, the good news is the laptop was on it's last legs. Many of the keys on the keyboard had stopped working. So perhaps whoever took it was doing us a favor in that I didn't physically have to put it in the bin myself! It's a shame that Antonia lost some of her work though that we didn't have backed up.
After a short rest, we wandered around Hanoi a bit and I worried about what else they might have taken but we haven't discovered anything missing (yet).
Penny and Antonia walking back to the hotel. Our hotel is the dark one with yellow sign just above and to the right of Penny's head.
Well, we spent a relaxing day after our walk around the lake recovering in the hotel room. Now we're off to a well deserved sit down dinner in a Spanish restaurant owned by a Frenchman!