Tues Feb 19 86ks -ride time 5hr:17 downhill mostly out of the mountains.
The air felt so fresh this morning, following the rain through the night. We had to dodge muddy puddles and Nickie dropped her bike on the slippery boards on the bridge, when trying to avoid a headon with a tuk tuk. Nearly lost the suncream when it flew out of her front bag and skidded to within centimetres of going over into the river. Mama Sababa were happy to see us for our last meal with them. Here we talked again with Stuart, the civil engineer. He told us he has a 32 ft boat named Maori and prior to that he had a Hartly 26 ft, so some NZ connection there. On the road at 9.45 and we enjoyed country riding past huge cement works. We played leapfrog with the cement rucks that almost stalled on the slightest of hills. Kilometres of gentle ups and down, and very little traffic, we felt very relaxed until a sudden “crash and skittering “ sound……what the heck???......sounds like serious bike failure?? …a 2L water bottle had hit the road and skidded metres trailing precious water. We rumbled over many roadworks through the villages, spread out every 10ks or so. Some village dirt roads had been sprayed with oil to smother the dust, but in 35C heat it was stinky to breath and the oily dirt spattered our legs and gummed up the chains and gears. At about 30ks we came to the Nam Ngum lake village, and stopped at the roadside market for fruit and a cold Pepsi, it was 38C. See the photos. School kids everywhere, yelling, Hello, where you from? “Good afternoon,” and giggling whenever we spoke to them, some of the wee girls were so cute, walking in groups holding hands, the boys lined up for hand slaps with Pete. There were a few hot climbs from the lake and we lunched in a road shelter but it still felt just as hot in the shade until our sweat cooled us. It was a rollercoaster road, pedal like heck on the down and that was almost enough to coast to the top of the next rise, most “hills” only being as long as Bluett road. About 4pm we looked with despair at the road climbing up, this must be the last one surely? 3ks later ..Wow what a view from the top, looking over the plains, a bit similar to the sight of the Waikato from the Kaimais. Damn , we forgot to take a photo from the top. We collapsed on the roadside and refuelled with bananas…then right behind us a very heavily loaded van pulled up behind us, water pouring out of the radiatior,…. at least we don’t have to worry about radiators !! The young guys poured litres of water into the van and came to chat, waiting for the van to stop billowing steam. We raced the 5k downhill, loving the cooling effect. And at the bottom, what luck, there was a service station with clean loos, and Pete slurped down a mango shake. We figured we could go another 15k to the next town, but we saw a roadsign “ Namlik Eco-village” 7ks off the main road. Pete phoned and yes we could camp there. Riding the country road was so relaxing and the scenery washed in dusky pink. Magic. The eco-village was really more like a resort, not a “working, real-life village we thought it would be. 4 girls from the host family followed us to swim in the river. Pete was washing his shoes at the rocks and slipped in on the mud…splash!!!. Luckily he had good hold on his shoes as they would have sunk immediately due to the weighty metal clips. Nickies turn was next, slip,.. crash ( on her right hip) .. splash!….the little girls sure laughed and then came to the edge to help her out. Nickie then realised with relief that her glasses had stayed on her face! We asked for chopsticks, to eat our noodle soup, too difficult with a spoon. We were ready to sleep at 8pm but hours later we were still kept awake with frogs dogs and unidentifiable forest sounds.
Wednesday Feb 20 85ks 4hr:50 ride time (20k short of Vientiane)
Nickie crawled out of the tent to see Bing, out little 9yr old friend, sitting by the tent watching. Waves and smiles and Bing got on her bike, probably to school. Breakfast included in the pricey sum to camp 160,000 kip (27$) was a meagre fried egg and baguette with the most delicious pineapple jam, and Lao coffee, which is now our favourite brew. The wet tent, it had rained in the earlymorning was dry within 30mins of the sun reaching it. Ants had invaded our food bag, loving the cheese and crackers and strangely not touching the honey. Nickie had a very ticklish time dealing to this mess with ants crawling all over her as she shook everything out. See the photos of the spiders and scorpions of these parts and the ants are not worth worrying about. There were jars of preserved snakes along with the insect specimens. We guess this is an educational and adventure centre , we saw helmets and kayaks, bikes to rent, whiteboards etc. The bungalows to rent were $35 US and I would rather pay that money to stay here than in a “concrete bunker” village hotel. Luckily the dirt road was dry on our ride out to the main road and 15 ks later we hit the next dusty little town, searching unsuccessfully for a café that looked safe to eat at. Desperation drove us to stop at a shack and gulp a ghastly green soft drink…yuk. Pete then checked his bike, another broken spoke…..decision time….try to fix it here or risk breakdown on the way to Vientiane. Back we went into town and a motorcycle mechanic had a try, but didn’t have the tool to take the gear cluster off. So with his bike in bits, Pete rode off on Nickies bike to get the wheel done somewhere else. Nickie in the meanwhile melted to the plastic chair she sat on, while oddly enjoying the Lao popmusic blasting out from the shed behind her and praying gently Pete would return. She knew where the Hospital was as they had biked past it earlier, so it would be the first place she would check if he didn’t make it back. Pete arrived back, no luck with the wheel. 45 mins of effort and unable to fix the wheel, the mechanic would not accept any kip for his effort. The heat beat down on us and we made good time on the very gentle rolling hills, at times bombing along at 20- 25kph. Hunger hit us at 3pm and while Nickie bought bread, a family living beside the shop invited Pete to join in their lunch. Pete tucked into the chilli noodles, saying to Nickie “ its not that hot” . Nickie bravely took one mouthful and nearly passed out, everyone thought this was hilarious. For 10 mins with her mouth on fire Nickie had to politely engage with this family, but trying to “make a break “ so she could put the fire out! 15 mins up the road Nickie bought a small carton of milk to relieve the burn. Aahh. At the next snack stop on the side of the road, Nickie created “Bikers Baklava” …honey drizzled on lunchime’s stale baguette, topped with salted peanuts, and seasoned with dead ants, that had somehow gotten into the “sealed” peanut bag. Delicious washed down with “just off the boil” water. The traffic got steadily busier and smellier, and after seeing a truck crashed into the back of a small car, that just reinforced our feeling ,that it wouldn’t be safe to continue riding into the city in the dark. Just 5 mins later we found a very peaceful guesthouse 400m off the mainroad. There were no shops nearby so our humble dinner was cucumber salad, with sardine a la tomato, and crushed cracker croutons.