For a few years now we have been toying with the idea of buying a large plot of land with Jesse and Nick and building homes on it. We've had several late night conversations, sharing a few bottles of wine, sitting around a campfire discussing our “commune”. In all reality it really would be a four person commune of sorts........
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It's three hundred some odd kilometers back to Vientiane, but it's mostly long straight road so we think it won't be too big a deal. The first stretch of road climbs up through yet more impressive karsts and then it's back to the main highway. We'd already driven this stretch but as usual there's always something new to see. .........
Konglor Cave is probably the most famous cave in Lao. It's seven kilometers long with a river running through the whole thing. It's only a forty kilometer ride from Khoun Kham so we have a lazy morning and head out after lunch. Natasha takes a turn driving and does quite well. It's a pleasant ride, worth the trip even if we hadn't been going to the cave......
We leave our cozy bungalow to hit the road which is a little worse than the day before. It's rocky and bumpy, but with none of the “bull dust” that we had experienced on other dirt roads. We don't have far to go so we take it slow, stopping often for brakes and the many photo opportunities that are everywhere.......
There's a set of roads in central Lao that creates sort of square. It has become so popular for motorcycling that it's now simply known as "The Loop". We had already ridden the eastern section to get to Thakek, so our plan was to do the southern, western, and northern sections and then head back to Vientiane. The eastern section follows the Mekong river valley, and there isn't much in the way of scenery, but there's always plenty to see. The rest of loop on the other hand is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas of the country......
Seven years ago I purchased a digital camera. At that point in my life my new interests were fleeting. For six of those years I rarely used it and when I did I shot in automatic mode, letting the camera do all the work for me. I even lost my English instruction manual, leaving me only with my Spanish version to look at if I needed to figure out how to use a different setting. I know about twenty Spanish words and none of them have anything to do with photography so obviously this was no use to me. Nine months ago if someone used the words aperture, ISO, metering or bokeh they might as well have been speaking Swahili......
Seven years ago I purchased a digital camera. At that point in my life my new interests were fleeting. For six of those years I rarely used it and when I did I shot in automatic mode, letting the camera do all the work for me. I even lost my English instruction manual, leaving me only with my Spanish version to look at if I needed to figure out how to use a different setting. I know about twenty Spanish words and none of them have anything to do with photography so obviously this was no use to me. Nine months ago if someone used the words aperture, ISO, metering or bokeh they might as well have been speaking Swahili.
After the blinding dust of the previous day, I awake with a mission to find some riding goggles. Motorbikes are so ubiquitous in SE Asia, that every town, large or small, we've passed through seems to have a shop selling helmets and other riding accessories. Our first stop is the market where you can usually find anything and everything under the sun.
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.
I will begin this journal entry with a disclaimer...... Pete and I LOVE animals, especially dogs. We have an old beagle named Petey, being cared for by Pete's dad, and who is eagerly awaiting our return (actually he's so melancholy he probably hasn't even noticed we are gone, but we miss him). We also had a great dane mix, Rylee, who followed a close second to Pete as being the love of my life.
Ever since the first time I sat down on a motorcycle, let out the clutch and felt the bike take off, I was hooked. I've since ridden for a few years and at best would call myself a mediocre rider, but I have learned what to appreciate in a road. After three weeks, and well over two thousand kilometers on a bike in Laos, I can say that it is a motorcyclist's dream. Sometimes a fantasy, and sometimes a nightmare, but a dream none the less.
I feel as though I am missing that maternalistic gene that most women my age seem to possess. I do adore my niece and nephew. I have a few close friends that have kids and I think they are great, because I see the same quirky characteristics in them that I love about their parents. The average stranger's baby is another story.
We wake at 630 am, which is a little too early for my taste, but everyone else wants to catch the 9am ferry and I am outnumbered 3 to 1. When we walk to the ticket office it turns out that the boat doesn't leave until 11. All I can think about is how I could be snoozing away in our cozy bungalow.
We are up early, only because we never really got any sleep. It's cold and rainy. We are joking around and all smiles, but I am not looking forward to getting back on the dirt road.
For our week with Tara and Tyler, we decide to do a loop north and east of Luang Prabang. There are two possibilities for our first day heading north. We can either take a paved road straight to our first destination, or we can take a dirt road that traverses a series of high mountains that comes out on the main highway east of where we're going, where we would then backtrack a little on pavement.
The topic of getting a motorcycle came up before we even left for SE Asia. I love riding but to be honest, it seemed a bit daunting. The traffic and road conditions seemed dangerous, and the possibility of breaking down in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country was a little scary. Since being here we've eased our way into it, getting bikes for a day or two at a time and taking long rides out into the country. It's not nearly as scary as it seemed from half way around the world, and is so freeing after all of the miserable bus rides and public transportation nightmares. So it wasn't hard to come to the decision to spend our whole time in Laos on a bike.
On our first night in LuangPrabang we go to a restaurant named Rosellas. We are drawn to its welcoming white lanterns, its view of the Khan river and the group of guys playing guitars and singing at one of the tables. Our waiter, Deat, is incredibly friendly and speaks impeccable English.
According to our guide book and various other travelers we've spoken to, Laos has a reputation as a laid back place. The book describes a cultural idea that they have called muan(fun). Apparently, if anything they do doesn't contain some amount of muan, it isn't worth doing.
I feel as if we've got our travel legs under us now and we can handle just about anything. But no matter how many times you do it, crossing a border is always a mix of excitement and nervous jitters. So even though we wake up at 4:45 a.m. to catch the 10 hour bus ride into Laos, we're both a little wired.