Cap and pot values for hotrails.
“From here, we have must walk.”
My guide removed the key from the jeep, after locking the steering wheel.
He raised the bonnet, lifted the distributor cap off, and secured it in his nap sack.
Ngo spoke. “You canned be too sure.”
I secured my backpack, and checked my water.
“You reckon three hours walk, and then we make it to the crash site?”
Ngo nodded. “But we no mess aroun’. Want to make it back to bản Nhung and the river, before it get dark.”
We started walking westward, and I reassured my guide. “I just want to get some photos and collect whatever artifacts I can find, and then we’ll be done.”
Ngo led the way across an overgrown soccer field on the edge of the town, and along the embankment of a plowed manioc field. It was easy going, and I was grateful for the low overcast and agreeable temperatures.
Fifty three years earlier, my grandfather piloted his RF-8 photo reconnaissance jet to his untimely end here in Vietnam, and I was on my way to see his final resting place.
I had followed rumors, sightings, and speculation for many years, and this seemed like the end of the journey.
I wanted to present my evidence to the Central Identification Lab on Oahu, and let them take it from there.
Ngo spoke over his shoulder. “We go up into the hills soon, and muss take the hồ trails. They cut and maintain by the nông dân. Run opium between here and Laos. We not go into Laos.”
“Hồtrails. What’s that?”
“Hồ trails. Means very old. Been use since six hunred years. Since Nhà Hồ Dynasty, you say.”
“Ah.” I nodded absently. It was mind-blowing to me to walk in the footsteps of farmers, smugglers, and merchants many centuries long gone.
The going began to get steep, and I labored a bit. My guided kept a steady pace, and I found him to be an intuitive and skilled pace-setter.
After about an hour, Ngo stopped in his tracks. He held up his right hand.
I stopped, and endeavored to breathe shallowly. The trees and foliage here seemed alive with insect noises and the sounds of furtive animals, though I had not spotted so much as a monkey or a bird.
Slowly, they appeared. One to the front of us, and one each to our left and right.
Slight men, dressed in dark clothing and sturdy leather sandals.
Ngo uttered, “Những tên cướp. Maybe just thương gia though. Keep quiet now.”
My guide spoke loudly suddenly. I had studied the Vietnamese language for over two years, but I understood not a word he spoke. Ngo spoke uncharacteristically forceful and strong.
The apparent leader of the group shouted back. He rose his chest, and seemed to grow in stature as he spoke.
Ngo said, in English, “They don’t want us on their Hồ trails. They say we go back now.”
I exclaimed, “NO! We’ve gone to far to turn back now. See if they’ll let us pay a tariff or fine. We must get to the crash site, and today.”
Ngo spoke again, and there followed a rapid-fire exchange of perplexing communication.
Finally, my guide grinned and turned. “This man say he wants your hat. And the cook pot hang from your pack.”
“My Gibson guitars ballcap? Tell him it is very precious to me. It is valued at twenty US Dollars.”
The communication resumed, and the overall volume of the formerly-boisterous exchange had gone down a bit.
“He say you give him the cap and the pot, and we can walk his Hồ trails. That is price, that is his value for our passage this day.”
I grumbled a bit, and made a show of removing the ballcap, forming it just so, and tying a bandanna around my head as a replacement. I unhooked the cook pot from the carabiner, and hesitated just a moment.
“Ngo, how likely is it that we will encounter more bands of Những tên cướp today?”
“Hard to say. Still couple miles to go.”
“Well, we are going to run out of trading materials if this happens again and again. Here, I have an idea!”
I dug into my pack, and brought out some of my contingency stash. I held up three packs of Marlboro cigarettes. Filter tips.
“Tell them we want them to escort us to the crash site, and then all the way back to your jeep. They can have the cap, the pot, and these smokes, but we want safe passage, unmolested all the way there and back! And there will three more packs of Marlboros for them when we get back safe.”
Ngo began speaking in earnest, and the response seemed to be harmonious and peaceable.
He turned, “They say yes, they do it. Now we must start walking. I don’t want come home in the dark!”
I handed over the goods, and our journey resumed.
The three men turned out to be jovial company, and they laughed and joked with my guide the entire way. We made it to the crash site in a little over an hour and a half, as it turned out.
I got my photos, founds a few bits of evidence worth providing to the authorities at CILHI over in Hawaii, and, in the end, had a satisfying and rewarding adventure.
So, now in retrospect, I feel qualified to answer Rabs’ original question.
The cap and pot values for Hồtrails is exactly one Gibson ballcap, one cook pot, and six packs of Marlboros (in the red and white box).
Thank you for your patience and understanding.
I do like to answer completely and accurate, if I am going to answer at all. 😔