Last updated January 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
This is the Story of my Motorbike, Stavros, who has Taken me to Every Province in Vietnam:
Stavros basking in the sun and salty breeze on Hon Gom Sandbar, on the southeast coast
A few weeks ago, my motorbike – known affectionately to me as ‘Stavros’ – turned 9½ years old. In that time it’s clocked up way over 140,000km and taken me all over Vietnam. Stavros has endured the traffic-clogged, exhaust-choked streets of Saigon’s rush hour; stood up to the driving rain, gale-force winds, and biblical lightning of monsoon season storms on the central coast; survived the mud-filled mountain roads and landslides of the extreme northern highlands; suffered the potholes and red dirt roads of my many ill-conceived ‘short-cuts’ in the Central Highlands; and withstood the oppressive heat and humidity of the Mekong Delta. More importantly, it’s taken me to some sublime places, most of which I would never have seen or even known existed, were it not for the independence and freedom that my motorbike has given me in Vietnam. Stavros is a gold-painted, 115cc, 2007 edition, Yamaha Nouvo, and I love it.
15 Images of my Motorbike, Stavros:
The Birth of Stavros:
I bought my motorbike brand new in Saigon’s Chinatown (Chợ Lớn) for a cool 30 million Vietnam Đồng (yes, that’s 30,000,000!). In 2007, that was equivalent to about $2000, making it the single, most expensive item I’d ever purchased. At that time, my Vietnamese bank only allowed customers to withdraw 2,000,000VNĐ per time from their cash machines, and the highest denomination note was 100,000VNĐ. This meant I had to insert my bank card 15 times to reach the total cost of my motorbike, and, by the time I’d finished – after exhausting the supply of two ATMs – I had 300 notes stuffed into my pockets: it was a nervous walk from the cash machine to the motorbike shop.
Stavros negotiating the hot sands of Vietnam’s ‘desert province’, Ninh Thuan
The Life of Stavros:
Back in 2007, my motorbike was new, shiny, gold, and a coveted model in Vietnam. I called it ‘Stavros’ because it had a masculine, macho arrogance about it – I imagined Stavros as a self-confident (perhaps self-deluded), tanned Mediterranean man, who thought of himself as a bit of a ladies’ man, and who wore his shirt unbuttoned to reveal a hairy chest and a gold medallion. Now, however, Stavros has reached middle age and signs of wear and tear are starting to show.
The plastic lamination, which I covered the entire body with when I bought the motorbike to protect it from scratches, is now blistering and flaking off, making it look as though Stavros has a rare skin disease. Various pipes on the underbody have turned a rust-brown and the square, Transformer-esque body looks boxy and heavy compared to the sleek and slender designs that are available today. But, I don’t care about any of this. In fact, the more worn and used Stavros looks, the more unyielding and tougher he seems to me. I’m suspicious of bikers whose motorbikes always look pristine and virginal, as if they’re fresh off the showroom floor: where’s the evidence of all the epic journeys it’s made, all the road it’s eaten, the weather it’s endured? It’d be like seeing a rugby team at the end of 80 minutes play with all their shirts still as crisp, white and unblemished as when they were fresh from the laundry. In fact, despite his ‘unshaven’ appearance, Stavros made it onto the GIVI display stall at the 2015 Vietnam Motorbike Festival in Saigon.
I bumped into someone I know on Highway 1 during last year’s Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday. He pulled up alongside me on his big white motorcycle and couldn’t help but laugh at the state of my mud-caked, flaky-skinned Yamaha Nouvo. But Stavros is thick-skinned (well, metaphorically at least) and he can take this teasing because he’s been up and down, side to side, round and round the country dozens of times, and he’s still purring away, eager to do it all over again. Stavros has matured, grown into himself: when young he was overly concerned with outward appearances and what other people thought of him; now, he realizes, what really counts is what’s on the inside; the engine, and Stavros has proven his to be robust, strong and determined.
Stavros takes Mum and I into the Central Highlands on the spectacular pass from Nha Trang to Dalat
Indeed, based on the similar models available on the market in Vietnam today, I think, if Stavros was to break down and die tomorrow, I’d simply go out and buy another Yamaha Nouvo, not one of the new versions – which look so delicate and precious that they’d blow over in a gust of wind – but exactly the same ‘old’ model as Stavros. However, I hope that day won’t come any time soon: Here’s to another 100,000km around Vietnam with Stavros!
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