February 27 – March 8, 2013
We had a long wait in Vientiane while our visa applications were being processed. We didn’t do a whole lot besides eat, read and watch a few shows on the laptop before going to sleep. Every morning we went to the Scandinavian Bakery, where we get the same big breakfast and spend some much needed time catching the blog up. We spend the afternoons reading at our guesthouse and eating plates of delicious noodles covered in spicy lime sauce at the Three Sisters restaurant.
The highlights from the week in town: We found a wonderfully quiet guesthouse run by a very friendly family. When we pay for another night each morning, they always give us bananas or watermelon or corn. Every evening, when we arrive back in the courtyard, there are some strange little chickens to greet us. They sleep up high, on top of the fence where we park our bikes.
The big news was that we got our Chinese visas! We really had no idea if we would be approved, especially after we talked to a couple that had been denied. We are very excited for the next part of our journey. I had read on the Indian Embassy’s website that they processed visas in Vientiane in 8 hours, but turned out, it takes 5 days. Quite a difference. The Indian visa turned out to be more of a pain than the Chinese one- we had to fill out an online application on a really clunky website that lost all our data 3 times. So, we ended up spending 12 days or so in Vientiane, and have been off the loaded bikes for almost two weeks, but it was a good place to be stuck, and a nice break from riding.
We visited the COPE visitor center which was the highlight of our touristy ventures in town. COPE makes prosthetic limbs for victims of unexploded ordinance (UXO). Before and during the Vietnam War, Laos was heavily bombed by the US both near the Laos/Vietnam border but also much deeper in the country as part of a CIA-run clandestine bombing campaign against communist forces. Many of the bombs, including small cluster bombs, about the size of a baseball, did not detonate. Lao villagers salvage the UXO for scrap metal or for the explosives themselves using cheap metal detectors. Obviously this is a dangerous enterprise which often results in injury or death. Many people also detonate the bombs by inadvertently stepping on them, cooking over them or otherwise accidentally disturbing them. People injured in rural areas often make do with homemade crutches or fake limbs made of wood and scrap metal. COPE provides injured people artificial limbs of high quality constructed by technicians with internationally recognized certifications. COPE has a small but well done information center with examples of UXO, artificial limbs and several films set up. It was pretty sad, but also uplifting to see the films of people’s lives being changed for the better through the efforts of the people at COPE.
We also stayed with our first warmshowers hosts, Ian and Aine. (Warmshowers is a website similar in concept to couchsurfing, but aimed at cycle tourists) They are an Irish couple who just moved to Laos a few weeks ago. Ian recently completed a huge ride from from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina. We had a fun time with them and they got us really excited for cycling in Ireland. The real treasure of our stay with them, was Aine’s banoffee pie. I could probably write an entire post on how amazing her pie was. Chandler and I have even been discussing how we can make banoffee pie on the road. Great stuff.