There’s love affairs and there’s just affairs, some are meant to last and some are made only for the memories which outlast a dream that will never be. In 40 days we’ve indulged in love affairs with Rob and Greg on the road trip to end all road trips, an affair became so much more as kilometres, mechanics, coffee and no shortage of tantrums became etched to memory not likely to fade anytime soon. As much as the affair reached out to become more at times, an affair it always was and an affair it now returns unmistakably to. We’re breaking up. Charlie and I have had a long chat and we have come to the conclusion that, while it’s been fun, this relationship is better as a duo with no space for the boys any longer, handsome as they are. Just like slave brides in barbaric cultures we sell away our boys to the highest bidder, cherishing only the memories that were meant to last and discarding what was never meant to be. The boys will understand in time, it’s for the best.
And what memories they are. 13 days of riding took us 2,524km’s seeing the famous Ho Chi Minh trail and tasting Vietnam from the base to the tip. There were 21 visits to mechanics, each with their unique charade and emotional rollercoaster while the first stop for coffee out of a town became more than just a fleeting ritual, food and coffee on the road will remain near the top of the memories from this adventure. We learned new philosophies of traffic more akin to laws of the jungle and with countless close calls we escaped relatively unscathed with just one minor spill. Rob and Greg not only carried us the whole way, they took us into places and moments that are out of reach for so many; Vietnam as we now know it would not exist without our flaky boys.We scout Hanoi for the best price, dodging streets that move more like a panicked crowd fleeting a burning building than a collection of vehicles, driving the wrong way down a street and barging our way through traffic snarls that should end in an accident but somehow don’t. We started off dazed by the impossible function of a traffic ethos that has no rules but end settling into the impossible flows that we still don’t understand, now firmly believing that no one really does. Yes now we’re driving like a local and I didn’t quite appreciate the pride that might come with such a statement; despite the chaos there’s no mistaking that there would be more danger in driving like a Vietnamese person in Sydney than the other way around.
With a little help from a local guy at our hotel we’re on a street with the chaos of a world passing by as a mechanic scratches his chin in pensive thought. We could send the boys back to Ho Chi Minh city but a quicker transaction is on offer right here in Hanoi. The market for boys like ours though isn’t strong and we’ve resigned to losing money on the deal that still feels like a victory for us as we cash in memories that could never be purchased. A shake of hands, a deal is struck signalling the end of a great affair that will now never turn into the love it wanted to become. We ride the boys one last time to the shop to metaphorically sign the divorce papers. Differences are irreconcilable, there’s no fairytale ending to this affair, now nothing more than memories and a stack of dispassionate cash.But what memories they are, memories that will rise above the roar of memories this year has produced long into the future. Charlie pushing Rob in a huff after the first flat tyre, that perfect pho on the ride from Mui Ne to Dalat, being forced to try moonshine on the road from Dalat to Nha trang, sweeping the mountain turns on the Ho Chi Minh trail; and who could ever forget the death of Greg only to ride the revived Greg Frankenstein triumphantly into Khe Sanh. Those early tentative steps on a wrong turn out of Ho Chi Minh City became such bold forays into an unknown world with such false confidence we took for certainty.
In truth I’ve never quite understood the universal appeal of the romanticised road trip but handing the keys over delivers a pang to make it all so clear just how romantic a road can be. Dripping in history we pierced the tourist shield and got deeper into a culture than we otherwise could and all the while the road was ours. But now the boys are no longer ours, nor is the road, and immediately we miss them, we miss this road trip and the memories that are fixed like a barnacle to an unscraped hull. But it’s for the best, it was an affair that could never last. And so the affair ends but the memories don’t fade; we left Ho Chi Minh city on a wrong turn and wobbly wheels to end it all now with a bagful of memories and an adventure within this adventure that just might top the lot. Farewell Rob and Greg, you won’t be forgotten.