Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Laos - Waving kids

Do not eat here...
It's strange how little things can dominate a whole day, or how a beautiful morning can turn into a crappy afternoon because of just one small event. Today was such a day. All went fine up till about 3 in the afternoon, when lunch set the tone for the rest of that same day. A day which had started so well and even showed us Laos in glorious sunlight... which was a welcome change! We're not all that fussy about food and basically eat what the locals eat (up to a point anyway), but what we were served here needed a lot of persuasion, razor sharp teeth and no sense of smell or taste to eat it...

Up until that point the day had been great. Quite a few countries have an ageing population, causing all sorts of problems. I don't think Laos will have that problem anytime soon. Judging by the number of kids running around, it seems to be the opposite! They are everywhere. They are all waving us on too. I had already written about it in the previous post but today it took on a whole new dimension. They were everywhere, on both sides of road, and so enthusiastic that at times I had to wave on both sides at the same time.




When we stopped for something to drink they came to check us out of course. A group of women in front of the shop were quite amused when I took my shirt off. I had started with a thermal shirt that morning as it was a bit cold, but as it had warmed up quickly I wanted to take it off, which resulted in some commotion. It was my white complexion I guess...

The ride was once again stunning. Straight and boring roads don't exist here, it's all winding and up and down. The views are spectacular. The clouds had given way to stark blue skies and green mountains. Traffic was minimal and mostly small motorbikes. All was going really well... albeit it slowly. But then one thing changed the whole feel of the rest of the afternoon. 

We made a mistake regarding food, a mistake I'm sorry to say we had made two times before already in Laos as well. We stopped at a small roadside 'restaurant', didn't expect anything flash but had sort of assumed that the food would be edible... It wasn't. Far from it. The sticky rice was sticky, but that was about it... couldn't call it rice. It looked dirty and it was. The chicken was rubbery, had a strange colour and tasted just foul. Come to think of it, foul was perhaps the best word to describe everything... It was that bad, and like I said happened twice before. Maybe we should stop eating in places without a menu. 

Strangely enough the road became a lot less interesting to ride after that chicken too. It was still winding but the shrubs and trees took away most of the views while the road surface had deteriorated to a bumpy mess which almost gave us motion sickness. First time I've ever had that on a bike! Shortly after Mike almost destroyed his bike in massive hole in the 'asphalt', one of the hundreds we had seen that day... Luckily things improved a little from then on...

Stopping at a bridge to have a look at the river, which by itself was already beautiful enough, I noticed strange triangular bamboo constructions placed in the water. At first I thought it was some form of fishing but then noticed they were handmade hydro generators...! Just an alternator with a long rod and boat prop, strapped to a couple of bamboo poles! Looking at it made me realise this is the beauty of green energy. Despite it's simplicity and undoubtedly inefficiency it still captures the beauty of using locally available renewable resources to generate the most efficient form of energy known to man, without creating one jota of pollution. Beautiful.

Fast forward a couple of hours and we found ourselves in Viangthong... where for some unexplainable reason everything closed at 6.30 pm. The only place open was 'offering' noodles and beef. I don't know about you but I'd had enough of the thick white soggy noodles they have in Laos by then, yet I had no choice... yuk. It came with half baked beef which resembled slaughterhouse refuse and was floating in water... A young English/French couple joined us and ordered the same... not that they had any choice, only they didn't want the beef... which left just a bowl of soggy noodles... I wondered which was worse :-)

They had arrived on two small, locally bought Chinese bikes. I thought they were a young people with obviously limited financial means, but still travelling on bikes! Great... but then they started to talk... She claimed to be working in a BMW motorcycle dealership, while he proclaimed to be some sort of 1200GSA rally expert... both in their 20s I think. She did her utmost best to portray herself as a know all, complete with the chopped-off English accent. By chopped-off I mean chopping the front and the back off each word they spoke and then verbally glue the whole lot together in a sort of uh-ah-uh-eh-ah-oh way. As the sole intention of talking should be to communicate with someone else, at least put in the effort to make it understandable. It wasn't long before I got bored with them... As I had feared, it wasn't long before the all too familiar 'interesting action shots' of themselves riding a 1200 GSA appeared as well, which they proudly proclaimed had been made to impress Touratech into getting them sponsorship for the trip... which had apparently failed unless there is a Touratech catalogue out there for cheap Chinese Honda copies :-) 

Meanwhile they moaned and groaned about their current mode of transport, bought for 200 dollars. They were whining about not being able to do much more than 55-60 km/hr... as even an untrained eye could see at a glance they were obviously totally worn out, that wasn't a surprise. Being two expert riders and claiming to know all about bikes, I wondered why the steering head bearings were so loose that the handlebars could move back and forth as well as sideways by centimetres(!), while they claimed the bikes handling was s%$t... it doesn't take much to tighten them up... or why the chain was dry as a bone, or the brake levers had fallen off and were still missing the nut on the pivot pin, or why she was on a totally bald tyre while there are bike shops selling them in every village for next to nothing. Like I said, it wasn't long before I got bored with them...



On the plus side, it divided my attention between them and the soggy half cooked food in front of me, which by comparison made the food taste better... An hour later I was hungry again as I hadn't eaten all that much. It's time to stock up on rice, some proper noodles and canned veggies to avoid food like this! Problem is: where to get them. Rice is easy enough, veggies aren't and canned veggies are as unobtainable as pure gold. Why canned veggies? Because fresh veggies in a pannier in these conditions and temperatures won't make it to the end of the day...


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