Tales of the Final Month – Part 1

Hello again – these are very late I agree – couldn’t remember the website password or face using the tablet anymore for blogging so as they say better late than never and here are ten tales from the month after Lucy left split into three manageable posts. So in no particular order here we go….

As I sit at the airport in Ho Chi Minh, very expensive by the way, thought I would just put together a few of the high and not so high lights from my last month cycling from Vientiane across northern Laos into Vietnam and down to Hue. At Hue I was forced to catch a bus for the last 1064km or miss my plane back to the UK. Can’t deny the temptation was great….

1) Vientiane to Luang Prabang with Mr Ma. Cycling for four days with Mr Ma who hails from Xinjiang province, China were some of my favourite after Lucy left. We caused great gossip amongst the hoteliers and expat Chinese community Mr Ma unearthed wherever we went. He kept being asked “Was I his wife?” I urged him to say yes just so I could clock the expression on their faces. Sadly he was too polite to ever do it! A great benefit of travelling together was finding a Chinese restaurant in every town we went through – I hadn’t eaten so much chinese food since leaving China…. Also thanks to Mr Ma my facebook picture may get updated after 10 years. I m just awaiting the promised photos….

To pass the hours on the bike Mr Ma endeavoured to teach me Chinese as we rode along. This involved him saying a sentence and me repeating it as trucks crashed past, potholes threatened and his weaving bike wobbled about mine. Our different uphill speeds meant he would be bellowing phrases at me until need for breath made him pause in his efforts to drum useful phrases into a slow pupil. The words for uphill and downhill I have now forever emblazoned on my mind. Surprisingly, actually got to use them (never thought they would be the least use) when I met another Chinese man atop a mountain while covered in bees…. another tale!

For such a diminutive man, Mr Ma could sure make alot of noise especially if cold water was involved. While in Vang Vieng we went swimming in what was erroneously called a lagoon and resembled more of a stream. Mr Ma despite being unable to swim, “I can float,” he announced, was soon stripped to his boxers and howling and oohing and huffing so much the other occupants left. About 5mins later my shrieks and squeals added to the general cacophony as what I thought was a fish swimming oddly turned out to be a foot long brightly coloured leech which had attached itself to my swim suit. I was out that water in seconds!

A great travelling companion is Mr Ma, currently beetling somewhere round India on his bike, game for anything, loves to bust a Uighur or Kazak dance move or two, enjoys a beer, takes hundreds of photos and reels off Russian songs especially to impress the ladies at the marriage blessings or christmas drinks at which we found ourselves. I hope I’m half as enthusiastic about life at the age of 64!

2) Christmas week in Luang Prabang. I did nothing of any note and it was bliss! Sat chatting and being merry with a group of fellow travellers who all happened to wash up at the hostel on Christmas eve and then, despite repeated assertions that tomorrow they were leaving, failed to go anywhere. Russians, French, Polish, German, American, Brazilian, Chinese and the Brit. We went midnight bowling, ate and haggled at the night market and drank local whiskey which was cheaper than a litre of water and about as potent. One day Monsieur Julian got a bit of deli belly, he blamed the food, not the previous evenings thirst quenchers, so bowing to upbringing and his mothers’ strictures found and bought a huge bottle of pastiche, purely to settle the delicate tum of course, so local whiskey was ignored by all for a night in favour of medicinal aniseed….

The city is beautiful lying on a cliff above the Mekong with lots of temples to see if you want…. One of my more energetic forays was to the Chinese market where I did find a nice cheap tent and pink angry bird blanket ready for my foray into the mountains of northern Laos. Also thought I ought to get brakes fixed so watched fascinated/alarmed for a couple of hours as the bike man repaired the front calipers with super glue and spare parts he had lying around his shop. Worked a treat til I hit Vietnam by which point I’d left the mountains so had no more need of brakes.

3) The road from Kasi to Nameuang. This is not the main route to Luang Prabang but cuts 40k off the journey. However, this “time saver” is negated by a 9km stretch of road that was built straight up the mountain. 12% incline and more the whole way. Before you take to the road on a bike % inclines have absolutely no meaning. You soon learn – granny gear and alot of toil =10% and above. Well it took me four hours! Juddering legs, sweat sodden, granny gear standing up, and the bike desperate to roll downhill whenever I stopped to rest. Used a bamboo water spout to soak my t-shirt and fill the water bottle with a nice chlorine tablet added just in case…. Naturally, Mr Ma, who was still with me at this stage, had found a group of Chinese business men at the top who heartily hailed me as I panted to a stop. A theme developing I feel!

The road then cuts through a ring of mountains devoid of everything before dropping 20km down the same gradient through the most dramatic scenery I saw on my entire trip. Mighty karst pinnacles clad in forest dropping into gorges and rolling off into the evening. Sorry, due to minor, minor brake issues (bike man in Vientiane failed to hold up to my faith in his skills), stopping was out of the question as just slowing down was tricky enough. Well ok, I did sacrifice the soles of my shoes to get one photo of a bizarre looking tree (have a tree soft spot) the stench of burnt rubber was quite incredible and prevented me from repeating said act. Instead I hung on like grim death, prayed I wouldn’t meet any trucks on the wrong side and had a hair raising ride down.


X Tash


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