04 July 2014

Mr. Rot's Secret Tour

One of the advantages of staying at Villa Pink House in Đà Lạt is that you get the chance to go on Mr. Rot's Secret Tour.


There were five of us on three motorbikes the day I went; the two tour guides the lead motorbike; followed by Emma and Tom from England on a second alternating who's "driving" (more on that later); and me on on the third. Mr. Rot told us that there are usually six or eight guests and that we had chosen a slow day... better for us!

After leading us in a prayer/chant, Mr. Rot (he never gave his first name and I didn't ask) and his assistant (whose name I forgot to write down) led us on a full-day tour covering over 120 kilometers and making many stops.

The first, unplanned, stop was near the end of 10 km of MUD road.

This is the same road that Annika, Philine, and I rode back in December (see "Carving a mountain ... with hammers and chisels") and it was very interesting to see how far they've progressed in six months... and what can happen to a dirt road after a heavy rain the night before.

We slipped and slid for most of it and Tom and Emma finally had to split up and each ride with one of the guides because with all the mud, their automatic motorbike never went fast enough to get out of first gear. I was able to keep my semi-automatic in second gear, thereby reducing the torque to and the slippage of the rear wheel. Mr. Rot even had a trying time with the automatic and Tom ended up walking a good part of the last and muddiest part.

Once we made it through the mud, the rest of the day's ride was simple... until the ride back to the Pink House.

Soon after we rejoined the paved road we stopped at a cricket farm where they grow and harvest a very large quantity of crickets for high-protein (and tasty) food.

Mr. Rot treated us to a sample (stir-fried) and I found the taste good enough that I would eat them again--unlike the fried tarantula in Siem Rep.

Our next stop was at the Elephant Waterfall. See above-linked post for a photo.

The next stop was in the middle of a coffee plantation, where we learned about the coffee business and how it is a very large part of the local economy. We also got to experience one of Mr. Rot's many practical jokes...

One of the reasons he calls it a "Secret Tour" is that you get to learn a great number of things about Vietnamese daily life and culture that, even having spent almost three months of the past six months in-country, I did not know. During a stop at a local market he told us about the different fruits (and promised us a tasting after lunch), vegetables, and meats; why prices are lower in the afternoon (most of the food sold was picked very early that morning and is only sold on the day it was picked); and how to barter a bit on the price.

One of the very nice things about the tour is that, as Mr. Rot says, "there is no shopping." Most tours lead you to places that pay the tour guide to lead his lambs to the slaughter; this does not to the point that when I offered to pay for the stir-fried crickets, he wouldn't hear of it. I did sneak back and buy a few pieces of fruit for the three of us when our guides were shopping for the fruit tasting that was to follow lunch.

Lunch was at the Rot family coffee plantation and was an excellent vegetarian dish prepared by his sister who is a Buddhist nun. They are members of the K'ho Cil tribe and the entire family (except, I'm sure, for the one sister) works the coffee business... so we were each given a small glass of fresh coffee with lunch.

In the past 60+ years, I've only ever had one intentional sip of coffee, and when I heard the squeals of delight from Emma and Tom as they sipped the dark liquid, I had to sample it. One of the reasons I turn down every offer of coffee is that although I love the aroma, the taste and the bitterness keep it off my acceptable beverage list. 

This coffee was soft as silk; not a hint of bitterness or bite... I promise that if you ever come to visit me in Đà Lạt, I will have Mr. Rot's family coffee for you at my house. I will also strongly recommend that you take Mr. Rot's Secret Tour.

After lunch we were treated to a guided tour of the local fruits and, as I write this, I'm wishing I'd taken notes because my memory can only come up with custard apple. A couple weeks later I had a custard apple smoothie in Ho Chi Minh City and it was definitely worth repeating! The other fruits are remembered as a LOT of really good flavors and one I'll pass on the third time I see it--because the next (second) time I won't remember that I didn't like it. 

After the fruit tour Mr. Rot gave us quite a bit of inside information about Vietnamese culture. It was informative, interesting, and a must-have for any Westerner thinking about moving to Việt Nam. He covered a variety of topics from family relations and how they are different in many of the 59 tribes found in-country, to the proper hand signal to use when calling someone to you, to explaining that a gesture meaning "good luck" in the west that, in Việt Nam, carries the same meaning as an upraised stand-alone middle finger does to us.

If you ever think of living in a different culture, this type of information is very valuable--and I don't know a single ex-pat in VN who knows how to properly flip someone off.

As we prepared to ride home, we were greeted by a torrential downpour and my water-resistant protective riding gear at which everyone had looked a little sideways early in the morning was suddenly looking pretty damn good. We waited about an hour to see if it would stop before finally deciding that it wouldn't and that the later we left, the more of our two-hour ride home would be in the dark and the rain.

The ride back was not fun and seemed like it would never end, though it was a small price to pay for everything leading up to it.

Go to Đà Lạt, stay at Villa Pink House, and take Mr. Rot's Secret Tour.  Tell them John with the real motorcycle helmet sent you.