Xekong to Salavan 98km
Salavan to Lamphong 118km
The morning that Ju and I got turned back from the "Frontier Area", I was really struggling. It felt as if I hadn't eaten or slept enough. It wasn't until we were turned that we realised we had been going up a subtle climb all morning.
The same happened yesterday. I had the same thoughts, and was wondering why the extra 5kg of food, water and fuel was making such a difference, or had I adjusted the brakes too much? And it was HOT. I was dripping. At one stage I had to stop and wipe my hands dry, as they were slipping on the handgrips. I rested my forehead on the handlebar bag.....and almost wept. This is tough....
After 50km, I pulled into a resturant. There I meet a couple from Nice in France, who are touring Laos on a scooter. They told me we were almost 500m higher than the town we had all slept in. Holy heck. No wonder I'm so stuffed. I'm finding it hard to eat my noodles. Some more discussion with them, and they recommend a route for me to follow, which includes a pretty village of flowers. The way they are going has a huge climb.....not for me today. And so after giving up on the noodles, and reverting to an icecream, Fiona and I take their advice.
Oh my goodness. 40km of subtle downhill. Glorious. I'm sorry folk, I was enjoying it so much I missed the flowers, but thanks heaps for the advice. I don't think I've been in the big chain ring for so long since NZ. I almost wept.
Today I saw a naked man. He had long matted hair, and a loin cloth, that covered nothing. Mind you, when I saw him it was very early, and pretty cold, so there wasn't much to see. He seemed very comfortable, walking the main street of the village, and no one else even gave him a second glance.
I also saw a convoy of Military vehicles, loaded with soldiers, heading towards the Vietnam border. Thankfully, I'm heading the other way.
As the day progressed, very slowly initially, the locals seemed more busy. The last couple of days, there have been a lot just hanging around, doing not much, and none of the kids seem to be in school. But now there is water about, so coffee and rice are being planted and harvested, and people are working. Irrigation canals are being built everywhere, and the crops are growing, and it is not nearly as dry and dusty. What a difference water makes.
Another thing they are very busy at, is producing charcoal. They cover a pile of wood in dirt, after setting it alight, and let it smoulder for sometime. Then they dig it all up, place it bags, and sell it at the roadside. Everything around is black and smokey, including the kids, the dogs, the pigs and the cattle.
I'm now on the main north south route. I've been trying to keep away from this road, as it goes close to the border with Thailand, and I don't want to get turned around again. Problem is, my two map apps, Google Earth, and my paper map, do not agree on where road are, and where they go. Also, asking locals doesn't help, because most of them have never gone more than 40km from home, so they have no idea. So today, when I got to a turn off, on to a road that may or may not have reached my destination, and saw it was covered in heavy gravel, I decided to stay on the tarseal, and take my chances with the border police.
I'd had a bit of fun coming out of town. Last night, I realized I'd left my headtorch behind, 100km, back in the hotel. No I wasn't going back for it. I use it every night, because Asian hotels don't have bedside light switches. You have to get up to turn off the light. Easier to read with your headtorch. So it's a bit of a pain. That's twice I've left a torch behind this trip. Anyway, decided to use my bike torch. Bother. It's gone flat, flashing in the pannier. So I need to get batteries. Took four stops to finally get understood, and find what I wanted. Lesson :Take an old battery to show them what you want.
Oh my goodness. Another lesson. Yesterday, after the climbing, I was stuffed. Didn't have the energy to go searching for acceptable noodles or rice, and didn't want to use my own provisions, because I might have to camp again. But, I saw a Pizza Cart. I was starving, so ordered a large one. It was VERY expensive.....and disgusting. Heated in a microwave, wasn't even hot, not crisp, they'd smuggled pork under the cheese, and smothered some sort of condensed milk all over it. Wolfed it down, between gagging, and washed the taste away with a big bottle of 7 Up. At least I was full. Lesson: Don't buy from Asian Pizza Carts, and expect yummy pizza.
A lady scootered past me today. She disappeared around a corner, and when I came around behind her, she was standing forlorne in the centre of the road. One of her sacks had fallen off the scooter. I got her to hold Fiona and struggled to lift the bag of rice back up her scooter for her. It must have weighted 50kg, and she had two of them, and they never tie anything down.
Most of the scooter riders in Laos don't wear helmets either. It seems keeping the sun off you is more important, so many women carry umbrellas while driving their scooters. Some of them also smoke a very smelly tobacco, wrapped in banana leaves. You can smell them coming.
So I'm tootling along, minding my own business, waving out to all that call out "goodbye" to me. I'm reminded of the Beatles song. I say Hello, they say Goodbye. Anyway, this scooter sidles up beside me. "Please Mister. Stop and meet my friends. I am a cyclist from Vientaine visiting my "home village" for a festival" Okay. First we enter a house, where a party is in full swing. It's 11.30am. A few of the guys are well tanked. We are offered food and beer. Photos are taken. Then we are off to see the local crocodile. Yep. In a pond behind the house, a real crocodile, harnessed, so as it doesn't cause havoc in the village. Then to the new Temple, the reason for the festival, where all the women are feasting. More food on offer. Then to the "show" at the school. Snake charmers, gambling, and a huge stage, with probably 50 massive speakers, for the dance party tonight. I meet the village chief, and we go to his house. Beer and food offered. I need to do more kms, so my host makes excuses and we head off, via the whiskey distillery. I've managed to turn down the beers, but it's not going to happen with the local whiskey. One sip almost have me on my back. The locals love it. Finally, I extract myself. The village is going off tonight. Already most of the men are half cut. Best to be a little way down the road.
My host says 20 to 30km to a Guesthouse. Then I meet Marcus, a Swede, working in mining in Canada. He's heading south to Cambodia, so I'm able to give him some route tips. He also tells me that he has been riding the road right next to the Mekong, which is the border, with no problems. Great. And the next Guesthouse is about 25km. The next two stops for refreshments both tell me 30km to the next Guesthouse. I've now done 30km since leaving the festival village. I'm getting weary, and there's only an hour of daylight......but Marcus was right. 25km on the dot. Cheers buddy.