We were on an overnight bus from Hanoi to Hoi An. This was back in 2016, before my spiritual awakening, and I was traveling solo to discover the world (and flee from myself - but that’s for another post).
I found myself on an overnight bus that would take us on the 12 hour ride to romantic Hoi An from the chaotic yet charming Hanoi, where there are barely any traffic lights but everything is a never ending and fascinating DANCE between millions of scooters, a few cars and pedestrians. That’s maybe why I liked it! The city’s a dance!
Back on track: I was happy to board the bus and see that there were seats that you could fold all the way and actually lay down to sleep in. I felt like I’d won the lottery after having cringed over reviews from previous travelers on the route: the comments ranged from ”uncomfortable seats” to the less appealing “journey from hell”.
We stopped at a gas station when darkness fell. And that’s when something else started to fall: the rain.
Let’s make it clear: rain during the rain period in Southeast Asia is not those slowly falling, silent, caressing drops… rather taking the Pacific Ocean in a giant scoop and pour it all down again. Swooosh. I looked out through the bus window and wondered if we were on a bus or a boat.
People on the seats close to mine started to talk. “A whole bus tipped over and people died in the floods a few days ago on this road” and other comments that surprisingly didn’t make me feel better. I hugged my new, luxurious neck pillow tighter - luxurious here meaning made of velour instead of those horrendous inflatable ones, and that I had paid a fortune for it ($5).
We continued through the night. A part of me was horrified and mentally started to write my testament. The other was slowly getting more and more tired to the rhythmic sound of the rain drops aggressively hitting the window. You can apparently get used to anything, I noticed just before falling asleep.
When I woke up, daylight was back and we were at a standstill. I assumed we would soon be rolling again so I kept drowsing. An hour later, I realised we were not moving. At all. Looking out through the heavy rain, I could see we were in the middle of nowhere. A few houses on the other side of the road - then open fields. I decided to stay calm and use this time to read a nice pocket book.
2 hours later, I had finished the short book - it was a classic that I’ve forgotten the name of, about a 10 year old kid in New York who runs away from home and goes out partying and makes friends with call girls - and I started to become painfully aware of the fact that we were indeed standing still. People around me were talking. “The road is completely blocked, we’re not gonna move until tomorrow.” Wasn’t it that same guy who had spoken about the accident too? Why couldn’t he just sh*t up?!
At the front, the door was open and the driver was talking to someone in Vietnamese. Apparently the engine had broken down - or was it a wheel? - I could spot a group of men with a screwdriver trying to fix something.
And now I saw it: there was another bus standing still in front of us. I started to chew on a sweet rice cake. Then another one. Minutes went by. Someone tried to go and talk to the driver, but he didn’t speak English. An hour went by. I was hungry but couldn’t stand yet another sweet rice cake, so dry that drinking the water from the street seemed tempting.
Around this time, a less appealing odeur started to fill the bus. “The toilet is completely congested, it’s sh*t all over the floor.” Do I need to mention who said it..?! I tried to cover my nose and mouth and suppress the fact that I would have needed to use that toilet. Too late. Toi-let. Too-late.
Somewhere around here, I started to get annoyed. I had nothing to eat except for those way too sweet and dry rice cakes. It was barely possible to breathe because of the odeur and the fact that the air conditioning system was off. And I had no one to talk to - I had made friends before along the trip, but let’s say people weren’t exactly in the mood to socialize now. The doors were open and people started to go in and out. A nice girl offered me her rain jacket, so that I could go out and have some air. “You can go buy some food over there!”
When I came out, I could see farther ahead. In front of the bus in front of us, there was another one. In front of that… another one. And another one. And another one. You know those infinite tunnels when you’re in an elevator with two mirrors facing each other? That was what it looked like. The whole country of Vietnam seemed to be standing still. Unfortunately, my intestines didn’t.
Along the road, some entrepreneurial locals had put up tables with basic food supplies. I bought another packet of sweet rice cakes, in case that guy was serious about us standing here for another day and night. Someone pointed to the opposite side of the road. “You can get warm tea and use their bathroom!” Thinking back to it, it must have been an incarnated spirit guide.
And I was invited to the home of the sweetest family, with kids and grandma on the couch. They looked at me in a friendly way, with curiosity, and for a few cents let me have a noodle soup that I think (hope) was vegetarian. They also brought me tea. “Cha!” We couldn’t really communicate, but I remember that word. And the immense happiness of seeing a toilet again. The toilet was a separate tiny house where the rain poured in through the roof and consisted of a hole in the ground. I had never been more grateful for a toilet.
As I walked back to the bus, or rather surfed forward on my wet flipflops, I finally felt that gratitude filling my whole being. I fully accepted the situation and almost felt good about returning to the hot humid bus that smelled like… well, a bus with a broken toilet. I finally felt fine about feeding on way too sweet and dry rice cakes for the following 24 hours to the sound of yet another horror story from that guy…
Call it coincidence, but as I walked back, someone started screaming from the bus: “The road is open! Get back everyone, we’re moving!”
All in all, we were stuck for 13 hours by the side of the road. When the bus started moving again we all held our breath for the first few minutes out of fear it would stop. And when we, after 25 hours of traveling, finally reached Hoi An the first thing that happened when getting off the bus was that I dropped my brand new, pricy neck pillow in a petrol filled puddle. End of the neck pillow and this story.
Traveling is not so different from entrepreneurship. There will be people (and your ego) sensationally screaming when things don’t go as expected. Telling you’ll stay stuck for days. You might encounter economic situations making dry sweet rice cakes seem like the most delicious, juicy sourdough bread.
But you’ll also meet the girl with the rain coat: helping you, doing something that’s simple for her but can be life changing for you.
And you’ve gotta be like the locals: find a solution almost before the problem appears and fold up your tables with what you have to offer, despite the heavy rain. Go that extra mile by serving a complimentary cup of tea and teaching a few words in your language, that they might benefit from further down the road. And if nothing else works, go find that screwdriver and have a look at what’s going on inside.
Because when you do… before you know it, your adventurous entrepreneurial journey goes from apocalyptic bus ride to smooth private jet glide.