Sticksville to Ban Mixay 106km
Ban Mixay to Xekong 30km
I was packing my bike at the Conservation Base, and the supervisor pointed out my back tyre was flat. Oh bother. The first flattie in 14,000km. I hoped that I could show him some magic.The tubes have green slime in them, so a bit of air, and a bit of spinning, and all should be good. Whoopie. He was most impressed, and went away all exited to tell his mates the NZer had done magic.
These guys are based at the Centre for four months. Their main job is to monitor the traffic heading towards Vietnam. They are based in one of the largest national parks in Laos, and they search every bus and truck for native animals and timber. The timber is some sort of hard, very heavy wood, maybe teak. I used some confiscated slabs to hold my tent up. Did a great job. Animals they are looking out for include pythons and king cobras.... reminds me to take care when camping.
It makes you wonder whether Vietnam is a friend or a fiend. At the border were huge trucks loaded with the timber. And down the road, on the edge of the national park, Vietnamese companies are financing the clearing of the land for rubber and palm oil plantations. So they do provide work, to a very poor area, and there are places where they have also built workers villages, but in return they are pillaging the countryside.
Yes, the people in this region are very poor. The land is very dry, creeks are dry, dust everywhere. The houses remind me of those on the Mekong, nothing to them, but these people haven't even got a river to work. They look dirty and underfed, but they still smile and wave.
Last night I camped wild. There just are no hotels, nor towns of any size, or food stalls. Luckily, in the one town I passed through, I bought some rice and eggs and vegetables, and cooked myself the best feed I've had in Asia (except for the pizzas). I was spotted though. A guy on one of the elongated tractors came up my track. He stopped, walked around my campsite, smiled and took off. I think I heard a few kids sneaking up on the tent later as well, but they just giggled and went away.
What is worrying, is for the first time since Indonesia, locals are carrying rifles. And over night and early this morning, there was some shooting. But I think it was just at birds. Several houses had a clutch of dead birds hanging on a post outside their door as I cycled past this morning. More worrying, was the guy working with his chainsaw between midnight and 2am.
So I've asked the people of Laos to help me with an experiment. I asked them NOT to TOOT as they approached me. They are playing ball. The only tooting comes from Vietnamese buses. And guess what? Even without the tooting, I can hear the vehicles approaching. Marvelous. Wonder whether I can convince the Indians and Nepali to do the same?
Headed out this morning, and very quickly realized I wasn't up to doing a huge mileage. Luckily, the first major town I've seen was only 30km away. Found a Guesthouse. Shower, clothes washing, two huge feeds, and several naps filled the day. Will hit the road again tomorrow, refreshed.