Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Laos - The rude awakening

As we had arrived rather late at our hotel the day before, we had planned to leave early. Early would be around 7.30... Just before 5 am we were all awake though as some unbelievable moron thought it perfectly acceptable to start a motivational communist propaganda broadcast through a speaker system loud enough to be heard in the neighbouring countries as well... There was no end to it either, it went on and on and on. Everything totally distorted as the poor speakers couldn't handle the watts they were given. Looking outside I was stunned to see that everyone just went about their business, as if this kind of propaganda was the most normal thing in the world... Maybe for them it was...

Having 'learned' from the night before, we were all into having a bag of crisps for breakfast. Anything would be better than what we had the day before. As it turned out they didn't have crisps either... or Coca Cola... The mountains around us were covered in clouds once again, promising a cold ride. It wasn't long before we found ourselves above the clouds though and things started to warm up!

Once again the views were breathtaking, the roads the same sort of bumpy mess we had before but with hardly any traffic on them. The Yamaha coped well with it, well, the YSS suspension did. My Bonnie with 140.000 km on the same standard fork springs didn't. I've placed 30 mm spacers on the springs but it still looks like a lame duck. As the roads in Laos are nothing but corners and continuously up and down, my suspension was literally at rock bottom most of the time. Progress was slow, which wasn't a problem, but a couple of hours later my neck started to hurt again... It's my own fault, I should have had the suspension fixed properly while we had a rest at Chiang Mai.

The kids were, once again, amazing. Being able to ride with both hands off the handlebars is a must here as you need them to wave to the kids on both sides of the road. A school on top of a hill had them all outside and cheering! Along the way we stopped a couple of times too, took some photos and showed them on the screen of the camera. They loved it... and so did we! Just little moments in time which makes this trip for us so much more than just a motorcycle ride. For us the interaction and the things we see and experience mean so much more than what sort of bike we ride. All the photos I took meant I found myself riding far behind the others, which wasn't a problem as all I had to do was follow the road. I have no map and no GPS so Mike usually waits for me at a turn-off. Approaching a town I slowed down to 30 km/hr, a must here as the road is used by everything... including a baby crawling across the road to grandma's house(!) There is so much going on that you need to be very alert. I was looking for kids, chickens, pigs, bikes and anything else that could fly across the road... so I missed two motorbikes parked in the shade, with two old farts and a teenager beside it... and rode straight past them to the fork in the road... As I was contemplating to go left or right I heard them yelling behind me :-)

Lunch was... well, liquid and Pepsi... :-( We subsequently filled up the tanks with some sort of fuel from a 200 litre drum with a handpump and a hose, which would give us enough to reach the next major town. First time we paid 10,000 per litre! (which is still just US$ 1.23 a litre, normally it's around 7700 Kip or US$ 0.95 a litre). For some reason fuel in Laos is red in colour, just like the old leaded used to be... hmmm. Still, the bikes ran fine on it. I've written before that the roads are a bit of a mess here. Pothole galore if you like. But at least they are working on it... albeit seemingly slower than the rate of destruction :-) Anyways... waiting for a couple of excavators to clear the road, the number of small bikes behind me added up quickly. There was also a group of young girls on pushbikes trying to get through the rubble, if one of them would fall I would run straight over her. So I kept my distance and took it slowly... only to be overtaken by locals who couldn't care...!

About 30 km before our destination of the day, we wanted to stock up on food as we were about to stay put in a small place, close to the border with Vietnam for 3 days and use it as a base to have a proper look at the surroundings. We weren't expecting to find much food there, so we thought we'd better stock up in the last major town before it. But even there food was hard to find. Plenty of restaurants mind you. One of them provided us with an egg fried rice, and a very good one too, for US$ 1.50 a plate. 

We continued on towards or destination for the day, found that once again the coordinates given by booking dot com were incorrect... (note to booking dot com: this is getting boring!) but found it with the help of a few locals (and in a totally different location). The owner/manager didn't speak a word of English, had no idea there was a booking made but had two rooms available. Actually all the rooms were available... and we soon found out why... The first one turned out to be not cleaned at all and in a terrible state, the second had no lights anywhere... good start. The third one we looked at smelled worse than the other two... We also weren't quite sure what sort of place this was supposed to be. It didn't look like a hotel, more like a Laos version of Walmart? Strange. Mike cooked up some noodles (not the soggy version) and I washed up as usual. Works fine for us as I can't cook for shit and he doesn't like washing up :-)

The day after was a wet one. Very wet. I was pondering how much rain we'd had already seen in Laos, while this was supposed to be the dry season. We hadn't continued further south yet as we would be riding in the rain then. Now we were in Laos and found it both wet and cold... Climate change? Who knows. We decided to make it an indoors day, sort photos, write blog etc... and then the power cut out... and remained that way until 3 in the afternoon... Meanwhile it was pissing down with rain all day, so any plans we got were soaked as well. The power came back on for 5 minutes and then went again. By the end of the afternoon the rain eased a little, meaning it went from pouring to normal rain, but by then it had become freezing cold too.

In the evening we tried an Indian restaurant, barely 200 mtr away from where we were, which was quite good and very reasonably priced. We keep going back to indian food while in Asia, partly because we are having more and more problems with how animals are treated here and the Indian vegetarian options are very good. This morning we were unfortunately again witness to a chicken being handled like a bag of rags, the poor thing screaming its guts out from pain... and while I'm not going on a crusade here I'm entitled to choose if I want to be a part of this or not. For me the choice is easy and like I said, Indian vegetarian food is very good.