We have two route choices to our next destination, the Lao capital, Vientiane. We can take Hwy 13, which is one of the main backpacker paths and legendary for its scenery. We had seen part of this road on our northern loop and it definitely lived up to its reputation. Our other option is to go southwest, a less touristed road. Being at the point in our journey where we don't particularly want to see other travelers, we choose the latter. We leave Luang Prabang after eating breakfast and saying our goodbyes to Tara and Tyler knowing we will probably see them again in Vientiane in a few weeks. We start out slow because we only have about 120 Km to cover to get to our first stop, the town of Xayabury. The first 20 km are on exquisite, smooth pavement.
We then turn onto the dirt road, whose orange dust instantly invades all our facial orifices. Regardless, I am enjoying the ride, taking in the views of the rice fields, whose emerald greens I will never cease to enjoy, when I hear something fly out of one of the bags that is strapped to our bike. All I can think is “Please don't let it be my one of my lenses” and.....yes it is.......it is my favorite.......my love.....my wide angle. We stop and go back a few hundred meters to scour the road to try and find a missing piece. Just so happens that all this occurs in front of a school, and hoards of kids come out to see what the commotion is about. Some just look on in awe. I think this is still a part of Lao where tourists are an oddity, but most join in the search. One kid finds what we have franticly been looking for. I want to hug him, but think it may be a bit inappropriate so I just give him a high five. After being thrown a hundred meters from a bike the lens still works. Go Canon!
A few miles later our bungee cord holding our gear breaks. Every time a vehicle passes Pete has to pull over and let the dust settle so he can see. At this point things are becoming a bit less enjoyable and we are rethinking our route choice.
We stop for a cold soft drink, and a woman is sifting rice. I ask to take her photo. I think the women here, much like the children, are beautiful. I tell her, “Ngam Lai” (very beautiful) which I learned a few days earlier and have been eagerly waiting to use. The language here is so tonal that I think I get it wrong and tell her she is “very water”. Water being the word “Nam.” Regardless she smiles and pats me on the arm.
We wash some of the dust, which has transformed into an orange goo, off us in a nearby stream, where a little girl is crying while her mother bathes her. For a minute it makes me think about my niece and nephew who at that age hated bathing as well. Then my wandering mind leads me to consider these small similarities our different cultures share and it makes me smile.
The hours pass and we aren't making very good time, only able to go about twenty km an hour. Our moods darken until we start to see rows of brightly colored checkered umbrellas coming toward us. School's out and the kids are returning home. They all have the exact same umbrellas in different colors to shield themselves from the sun. Under each one is a teenager who usually giggles when I take their photo. This simple, enchanting sight reminds us why we are riding this bike, and why we have chosen this harder, less traveled path.
Once again we cross the Mekong.
We trudge along on this rocky dusty road, passing more small villages and construction sites. The road just gets worse and Pete lays down the bike for the first time. It is not as scary as I thought it would be because we are going slowly, but I let him continue through the muddy construction site without the constraints of my extra weight.
We reach Xayaburi without seeing another tourist or tour bus all day, just in time to see the sunset from our hotel balcony. We are too tired to find dinner so we buy some ramen noodles from the hotel clerk downstairs, and after our veritable feast, we are fast asleep by 9 pm.