Vieng Xai to Sop Lao- Our Motorbike Tour And 5 Kilometers Into The Pits Of Hell

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Begin the Day From Hell

We woke up today after another good night of dreaming. It's strange how some places you stay you have more vivid dreams than other places. Both Shelly and I had pretty vivid dreams. We awoke fairly early and got packed up and ready to leave Viang Xai. We ate the last of our crackers and choco-pies for breakfast and headed out early as we had no idea where we were going to rest our head that night. The only village I knew, was next was quite a distance called Phou Lao.  No info in the Lonely Planet book, or otherwise, as to where we would end up that night, but figured we would .... "figure it out" as we usually do.   This just goes with our philosophy of letting it go, and life will provide. Little did we know that life had it out for us today. We must have pissed life off somewhere along the way.

The Hills of Laos

Vieng Xai to Sop Lao

 

The morning was great. We rode the motorbikes into the hills of Laos without a hitch. We were making decent time and passing hill village after hill village. The weather was a little overcast and cool, but no rain and no problems. Alongside of the road there are stone blocks that say what highway you are on and how many kilometers until the next major village. The next major village Phou Lao, was about 25 kilometers away when the first catastrophe of the trip occurred.

Flat on The Side Of The Road

Vieng Xai to Sop Lao

Life Getting Pissed

I ride my motorbike ahead of Shelly due to my experience in riding and to set the pace. I frequently get further ahead of her at times, although she is getting much better at keeping up. I looked back in my mirror about once every 2 minutes (literally) to make sure she is still there through the winding mountain roads, it is sometimes tough to see her behind me. I suddenly noticed that she was nowhere to be seen so I stopped. When a minute went by and she didn't appear..... panic set in.

I turned around and as I rode what seemed like an eternity, I started to get really panicked and looked at the road sides for signs of her possibly crashing or going off the road.  All I could think about is how I was going to tell her Father who said "You take care of my little girl.  Don't let anything happen to her." that her little girl went off a 100 foot cliff in the middle of Laos.  After what seemed like an eternity, I went around a corner and saw her standing next to her bike with Buddha our dog out sniffing around. As I rode up my panic turned to anger as I asked her what the fuck she was doing.  She then pointed to her flat rear tire .  If felt like a jerk for yelling at her like that!  I guess when you think someone is dead and they are casually smoking a cigarette on the side of the road without a care in the world while you are panicking, that worry turns to anger, then immediate relief.  

Fixing the Flat

We expected some flats along the way and I preemptively bought a tire pump, patch kit, and two spare inner-tubes for just such an occasion while in Hanoi. I sat on the road and tried to pry the back tire from the rim without any luck. About a half an hour later, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to use either the 25 dollar useless bike pump (that didn’t fit motorbike tires) or get the tire off the rim and that we had to ride to a village and get it fixed. I also realized that the repair kit I bought must be for bicycles, not a motorbike.  I rode ahead about 4 kilometers ahead leaving Shelly alone for the first time in weeks. Realizing that there wasn’t a village close, I turned back and headed the other way to a village I remember passing earlier. It was about 2-3 kilometers away. I gave Shelly my bike and rode her bike back slowly  to the village with the flat tire thumping the whole way.

Lao Village

Vieng Xai to Sop Lao

Lao Villagers

Vieng Xai to Sop Lao

The Laotian Mountain Village

We arrived at the little village nestled in the highlands of Laos and found the only guy who worked on bikes.  The Village was about 500 feet long and it was easy to find him.  This villagers were dirty and very poor and not very accustomed to seeing two foreigners with a dog riding 100cc motorcycles through the mountains.  We were the biggest show to hit the town in a long time.  The guy immediately began work on getting the tire off the rim by banging on the motorbike with a hammer.  Shelly and I stood on the side of the road at 4pm with a small crowd of people standing around us. I began to realize that we were not going to make it to the village called Phou Lao before dark, and was in for another mountain ride in pitch black conditions. The people here were not as amicable as some of the other villages or the other places we had been in Lao. The children in particular were shy and we were hard pressed to get any response from any of them. We took our dog Buddha out of his bag and had him doing some tricks. He was barking on command, walking on his hind legs, giving hugs, and generally charming the pants off everyone who sees it.  However, the adults of the village were laughing and pointing at him, but the children were solemn and straight-faced. It surprised me. All the children had snot running down their faces with no desire to wipe or snort it back into their nose.  Some had what looked like staph on their skin. Some were naked.  It was getting dark and cold and we just needed to get the tire fixed and get out of there, we felt unwelcomed and I am sure they were wishing for the same thing so they could get back to what Hill People do.  In the hour that the guy banged on my rim to fix the tire, I counted 65 people standing around us staring at us in a church choir stance. One behind the other.  Some were on the other side of the road, but I am sure every kid in the town was right in front of my motorbike, Shelly, and Buddha... simply staring. It was surreal, creepy, uncomfortable and absolutely magnificent all at once.  We got the motorbike fixed just before the sun went down at about 5pm and headed for Phou Lao. 

Slow Ride to Phou Lao

The next 25 miles were slow... really slow.  The road was winding and pitch dark and our headlights were inadequate.  Mine kept flickering on and off.   I kept wondering if we would have to spend the night on one of the many bamboo planks attached to the cliff sides along the road if we didn't reach civilization soon.  We finally reached Phou Lao in the pitch dark. There was a power outage in the area which really made the place spooky.  Starving and tired, we made our way to a little roadside-stand with a candle that had some cookies, crackers and drinks.  We bought a whole bunch of Twinkie looking cakes called "Tasty Cakes", two orange juices, 4 Nescafe espresso drinks, and couple little round cakes with cream in the middle.  We asked in our regular game of charades, if there was any place to stay in Phou Lao and their reply was no. They said that 7km up the road there was another town that had a guesthouse. (not in English, mostly charades) As we headed down from he main road to the cross-road in front of the store, there was some loose dirt and gravel... and Shelly went down.

The Wreck

She wasn't going more than 1 km per hour but as she had her front brakes on.  Her front tire washed out and she laid the motorbike down. Nothing like our wreck in Hanoi however. No damage to her body at all but shaken up, she got back on her bike for the 10% grade downhill to the town where we could sleep in blackness. She was a little jittery from her spill so the ride down the hill was especially slow... deservedly so. About two kilometers down the hill we stopped to see if she was feeling ok and the third FU from life kicked us in the ass.

Running Out of Gas

Shelly's motorbike ran out of gas. From dumping the bike on the hill earlier, she must have lost some fuel.  Now... we had gas in a can...  but stopping on such a steep grade to fill would be more dangerous than getting to the base.   The road itself was only about 10 feet wide and a truck moving down the hill would take us out for sure.  Besides, for two kilometers we were going straight down... the bottom had to be coming soon right?   So we putted at the same speed we did with the flat earlier, and she stayed close behind me using my tail lights for light to see the road. It was a moonless night and cloudy. 

Road To The Pits Of Hell

Vieng Xai to Sop Lao

Into the Pits of Hell

Virtually no light but what we could see in front of us. The weather in Phou Lao was cool and we needed a jacket.  As we got lower and lower down the grade, the temperature increased rapidly causing us to sweat in our clothes and helmets with no breeze from the movement of the bikes to cool us.  We felt as if we were going down a dark, steep, highway to Hell.  We finally made it down to the pits of Hell and the road began to flatten out a little.  We had a chance to stop and put some gas in Shelly's tank, 5 kilometers later.  We jumped off our bikes, ripped off our jackets, unlatched the luggage rack and took off the packs and I left my motorbike running so we could use the headlight to see what I was doing.  And just as I filled her tank... my motorbike stopped and wouldn’t restart.  I have had problems when my bike gets low on fuel and the sediment in the gas tank clogs the line.

So I took off the fuel line.... went to put it to my mouth to blow out the debris, and realized my helmet was on, and I couldn’t reach it with my mouth.  I then took my helmet off and realized my gas was again flowing all over my bike and the ground.  I grabbed the line and re-attached with haste, bumbling the whole time. So now I smell of gas to add insult to injury.  The motorbike still wouldn't start.  I filled the tank with the remaining gas from the can, and put my mouth to the gas line to suck the debris out.  You guessed, it.. mouth full of gas.  Sweating, stinking of gas, tired, and beaten, we got back on the bikes and went another kilometer into town of Sop Lao and the Nam Noen River to the guest house we heard about.  All I could think about was eating my tasty cakes in a nice room and getting some sleep. Well... of course what I pictured in my head was nowhere close to reality.

Our Lovely Bathroom

Vieng Xai to Sop Lao

Squatty Potty Misadventures

We got to the guest house and the room was the most basic we have seen. Bamboo beds with pads that were reminiscent of my jail stay years ago. The beds had mosquito nets, and the room surprisingly enough smelled of cedar which was what the house was made of. Much better than Quan Son's wonderful stench. There was a shared bathroom with a squatty potty. What's a squatty potty you ask? Well to be absolutely honest... it's a horror show. A hole in the ground with foot pads on each side and excrement caked on either the wall floor, cracks in the bathroom floor or all the above. The smell is sometimes enough to make you vomit. There was power in the guesthouse, but about an hour after we arrived, the generator went off.  Shelly of course was in the squatty potty with her pants down yelling for me to come give her some light.  I brought her a candle, being the gentleman that I am.  

Our Room

Vieng Xai to Sop Lao

Tasty Cakes and Shadow Puppets

After that, I retired to the room to eat a Tasty Cake.  The last real thing we ate was some pho soup at lunch which was round 11am.   It was already 1o pm and I was starving!  I wanted to eat something, drink a little orange juice and get some sleep. Well even that wasn't as expected. I popped my share of the two round cakes into my mouth and devoured it in one bite. , I then opened up one of the Tasty Cakes and began to devour it in the same way when I realized it tasted terrible.  It was stale and tasted funny... not tasty at all. It might have been made with durian fruit.  It almost made me regurgitate my round cake.  Buddha however loved the rest of mine tasty cake.  Shelly finally made it out of the dank squatty potty.  I told her "You must try the Tasty Cakes they are delicious!".  

She was suspicious at first. wondering why I was pushing the cake so hard.  She began to eat one, and it was all I could do to keep the laughter in, as her face contorted when she took a bite and immediately spit it out.   We had such a tough day of riding and issues having only eaten  choco-pies and crackers for breakfast, some pho soup for lunch and one tasty and one nasty cake for dinner.  We finished the night by candlelight, laying on our jail cots, making shadow puppets on the wall and talking about our day.  We finally fell into a deep sleep after pulling our mosquito nets over our beds. It was kind of like being in a tent, and actually despite everything that happened that day.... we were in good spirits. We were simply glad to have a bed and a roof over our heads, alive and something in our stomachs.

Change In Perspective

Vieng Xai to Sop Lao

Change In Perspective

We realized something extremely valuable this day.  Life was crap!  It was the worst day we had riding motorbikes in the three months we rode Southeast Asia.  We were exhausted, cold, hot, hungry, annoyed, worried, disgusted, beat up, disappointed and happy in the end.  It's not the day that matters, it's what you make of it.  We realized as well, that we didn't need to worry as much about the day to day BS that binds us to a life of worry and stress.  We realized that what will be, will be and we have no control over it.  We realized that the only thing that mattered was that we were alive and safe and still in love.  These are the only things that truly matter.  We were able to spend our day in absolute misery and end it making shadow puppets and laughing ourselves to sleep.  Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you make of it. 

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