There is a white, round scar, about the size of a dime, halfway up the inside of my calf. Like the tattoo on the bottom of my foot, I forget that it's there sometimes, but as soon as I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye, it always makes me smile.
My travel buddy Michelle and I had just spent a long night on a sleeper train (if you ever get a chance to sleep in a bed on a train do it, it's the coolest feeling) from Hanoi to what we thought was Hoi An, Vietnam.
Little did we know that the train did not actually go all the way to Hoi An, but stopped about an hour outside of the city.
A little disoriented, and hungry, we walked out of the station at around 8 am hoping to come upon a bus that would take us to our final destination. But, other than a few sketchy looking cars, there weren’t any options. To make matters worse, the only food that had been available on the train was half-cooked, pretty sketchy looking chicken (which we obviously did not eat) and my blood sugar was well past low and I was headed dangerously into the hangry zone.
After buying some chocolate covered wafers from the station store, we pulled out our Lonely Planet travel guides to try and figure out our next move.
That was when Hal and Mr. T saw us.
Clad in leather and denim — with tattoos and flashy jewellery to match — these two looked like members of a hardcore biker gang. Extremely skeptical, we watched them out of the corner of our eye as they left their bikes parked by the curb (these were actual motorbikes, not the scooters that take over the streets of the country) and approached us.
We were two wide-eyed, disoriented-looking white girls, backpacks and guidebooks in full sight — we looked like the perfect targets and we knew it.
Expecting some sort of proposition or scam, I was pleasantly surprised when they walked up and introduced themselves as Easy Riders.
That was a name I was familiar with.
According to fellow travel buddies — and my trusty Lonely Planet — the Easy Riders started off in the early 2000s as a crew of about 30 freelance motorbike guides that offered reasonably priced excursions all over the country.
Though some were better than others in terms of customer service, I had heard no stories of any scams, kidnappings, or worse coming out of taking a ride with these bikers.
Clearly reading our skepticism, they pulled out dog-eared notebooks full of testimonials written by tourists that they had driven around. Written in all languages, in different writing, and from people all over the world, it was a very convincing artifact, and one that the Lonely Planet stated was a sign that they were legit members of the Easy Riders. (I know, I put a lot of faith in my travel books).
There is a certain sense of immortality that comes with travelling, and so after some consideration, and negotiation (we settled on the equivalent of $5 each for the hour ride) we entrusted ourselves to Hal and Mr. T, ready for whatever adventure our decision may bring.
They strapped our massive packs to the back of the bikes, supplied us with helmets (a rarity in Vietnam), and giving each other a nervous-excited glance, we jumped on the backs of the bikes. Hal and Mr. T said something to each other in Vietnamese, and then we were off!
It was a clear, humid day, and the breeze was a welcome relief from the already scorching sun. I leaned back on my bag, stared up at the sky and smiled.
We zoomed past China Beach (where the movie Good Morning Vietnam was filmed), and through small towns where the children jumped up from their games to wave at us.
I threw my arms up in the air and wondered how I would ever go back to normal taxis in my North American life — and how could I ever explain the feeling of freedom that comes from careening down an ocean road on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam?!
It was while getting off the bike in Hoi An that I received my scar — a shoestring-travel-battle-wound and a lesson on why motorcyclists wear long pants — by pressing my leg against the tailpipe for a mere second.
It hurt like hell but couldn’t dull the feeling that came with an exhilarating new experience, and the beginning of a new adventure!
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