February 23, 2013
We woke up in wonderful moods and excited to cycle. We had a short day planned of only about 20 miles. When we rolled our bikes out of our room, we were surprised to see the sky was completely gray. My dreams were finally coming true! We headed back to the restaurant we ate dinner at and had a solid omelet and rice breakfast, minus the squid.
The ride was easy going, rolling hills with a tailwind. We were flying down and up every hill. The scenery was not as lush as Vietnam, but still mountainous and beautiful. Children and adults called out to say “Sabaidee” to us in each small village we passed. Laos is the first country that people mostly greet us in their own language, not in English. It is surprisingly refreshing. We saw lots of goats and pigs wandering on the side of the road and sometimes in the road. We passed through a village where everyone seemed to be making charcoal. Tractors piled with wood that smelled like cedar frequently passed us, delivering their loads to the villagers. We saw piles of smoldering sand where they had buried the burning wood slowly transforming it into charcoal. Villagers with black hands raked the sand away from the finished piles, and extracted the blackened remnants of the wood. The charcoal towns were full of dense sooty smog and were not all that pleasant for riding.
After a while we stopped at a café for some coffee and enjoyed watching some puppies wrestle with each other. We got to our original target destination after less than 2 hours of riding, but were still feeling fantastic. It was barely 1030am, so we decided to keep going for a little while longer. A little while longer ended up meaning that we would nearly triple our distance. We had entered a particularly rural stretch of the road and the only guesthouse we saw was abandoned. With the blanket of clouds overhead and a tailwind at our backs, we contemplated going all the way to the next day’s destination.
We were getting a bit hungry, so Chan stopped and found some local food products for our lunch. I turned this down, much to his disappointment.
In the end, we found a decent guesthouse in a random strip of development that seemed to exist only because of a small market that mainly sold parts for motorbikes.
It was another newly built or remodeled building, so the room was very clean. There was nothing around though. The only restaurant was closed and we didn’t have any fuel to cook with our stove. Chan walked around the market and besides spare electric starters and motorbike rims only found a pretty sad collection of wilted vegetables and the inevitable gray chickens. So, we dined on Ritz crackers, tuna, spreadable cheese and Oreos, which was becoming our signature dish. Knowing we would probably end up riding the entire distance of 110km to Savannakhet the next day, we went to bed early.
A few hours later we both woke up to loud, angry men’s voices outside our window. Chandler groggily asked me what was going on and I replied that people were arguing. Luckily all our gear was inside, including our bikes, so we just sat and listened. Things started to get really heated, with furniture being shoved around, then a glass shattered which raised the shouting to a crescendo. Next, we heard the dudes start slapping each other. The sound of open palm slapping is unmistakable. Any of our feelings of nervousness were gone. Chandler and I whispered words of confusion due to the unexpected turn the fight had just taken. Slapping? Really? As quickly as the fight started, it was over. Engines revved and cars peeled out of the parking lot. It was perfectly quiet and we fell right back to sleep.