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Return to Pakse and the heat (87/10,875 ks)

(written by Nancy)

First a quick report on dinner last night. We ate our third meal in two days at Mama Pap’s cafe. Mama Pap is about 5 feet tall and quite a character. She serves really good food in completely ridiculous portions. I was ready to try something different but with Rene, Hans, Lieneke and two new travellers (Christa and Johann, overland car travellers from Switzerland to Laos, so far – www.chrigikoelbi.ch) all wanted to go back to Mama Pap’s. I tried to eat less by having the soup but when she brought it to me it was close to a full tureen in size. While Mama Pap serves massive portions, she doesn’t seem to expect customers. She never has any change so paying the bill is as much fun as eating. Most all of the travellers were staying another day at Tat Lo so we bid them goodnight and goodbye but we could still cross paths again – that’s how this trip has gone.

We both slept very well at the Thad Lo Lodge last night. No air-conditioning, just a fan but that is all that is needed up at that altitude. A bit of naturally cool air makes a big difference. And the quiet was very nice as well. I was tempted to try to convince Dave to stay another day so we could just hang out and relax and watch the elephants but knew we should move on to make our schedule for Phnom Penh. We packed up and were over at the restaurant at 6:30 for breakfast – good breakfast included with the room so we were not going to miss that!

The ride today was a bit of up and down, with a couple of relatively long (for Laos) sustained climbs. Nothing too hard, but enough to cause us to drop into granny gear a couple of times. From Tat Lo we climbed for several kilometres and then started crossing ridges, which meant down to the river and back up again. The river crossings were over bridges that were very narrow (one car only) and in pretty bad shape, some with boards running the direction of travel and included tire sized gaps between the boards trying to grab your wheel. This meant killing all of our speed as we reached the bridges. Bummer, no taking advantage of the downhill speed.

We passed by many small villages with very simple huts surrounded by dirt. Lots of little kids out wandering around, yelling out to us as we went by. I don’t think they use diapers here much, which is good in that it does not contribute to the already bad rubbish problem but it means you often see little kids wandering around without much on! We passed by one little girl on her way to school who was standing on the side of the road trying to push her crank arm (the part that holds the pedal) back onto her bike – it had come out completely and she could not get it to stay in. Dave pulled over and mimicked to her that he would try to help her fix it. She looked a little bit shocked and did not say a word as he got a tool out of his handlebar bag and quickly got the crank arm back on and tightened. Two other little boys came along on their bikes and stopped to watch, seemingly fascinated by what he was doing. I tried to get a picture but Dave fixed it too fast. She rode off looking at him and her pedal – not sure she ever said a word!

There are always lots of animals out wandering the roads around these villages. Cows plod along the side of the road munching on grass – there is usually (though not always) someone around the cows keeping an eye on them. Goats are also everywhere – they wander back and forth across the road sometimes oblivious to traffic. Cars usually slow down a bit and honk and honk until the animals get off the road – we haven’t seen one get hit yet, which is pretty amazing given the normal speed of the cars and the nonchalance of the animals. We have also started to see lots of pigs – today we finally stopped to get a picture of some of the piglets that scurry around the mama pigs. They are very cute. I am sure they are very tasty too when their time comes!

We stopped for a cold drink and something to eat at the junction where the loop up around the Bolaven Plateau starts. A little schoolgirl was conscripted to help us in the shop – she just giggled when I asked “how much” for our drinks and yoghurt and called out to her mom next door. Between the two of them we figured out how much (30,000 kip ($3.75) for 2 ice teas, two yoghurts and a 1.5 ltr bottle of water) and we sat at their little table and ate up.

From our stop it was only another 20k or so back into Pakse. It was quite hot in the sun – we could certainly feel the temperature go up as we headed back into town. It was mostly downhill from the junction so that was nice. We stopped at the big market on the way into town to pick up another immersion heater that Dave had seen at the market when we were here – the one that we bought the other day is a bit big and hard to pack. We now have two heaters, purchased for about $6 dollars total – I’m sure that one of them will work out – we are not taking both as we leave Pakse for sure.

We had lunch at the Bolaven Cafe (again). Dave and Mama Tan, the owners, were both here and happy to see us again. Dave came and sat with us while we ate, giving us the chance to ask more questions that we have about Laos. It is great to have a semi-local in these countries that can help you better understand what you are seeing. We came out of the Plateau thinking that most of the residents there were probably happy to see someone, really anyone, win the Indo-China wars. Lots of the folks are subsistence farmers and the last thing they need are bombs and tanks messing up their rice fields. Dave confirmed this, noting that the average Laotian is very non-political.

After lunch Dave went to the bank and came back with a photo of Marx and Lenin – just what you would expect in an official building. Since we’ve entered SE Asia we’ve also seen lots of car/scooter stickers of Che Guevara, the famous Argentine revolutionary (one of Fidel Castro’s mates). In Malaysia and Thailand we were able to confirm that “Viva Che” is 100% marketing hype targeted at the cool guys, sort of anti-establishment. There are not a bunch of Marxists revolutionary types running these parts any more. Of course Laos is a communist country but everything here is very civil and there is nothing that discloses the nature of the government, at least to travellers. For example, we would see more police in a day in Portland or Sydney than we have seen here in our two weeks of travel in Laos. And there is a very high chance that the motorcycle tank in the photo Dave took today is all about pimping the ride and nothing more. In a very informal poll in the restaurant, all of the Laos staff knew Marx by photo but they could not place Misters Lenin and Guevara.

When Dave returned from the bank I went for a foot massage. These $5USD, 1 hour massages are hard to pass up. I was nearly asleep when I had to get up and join Dave for a drink on the top of the Pakse hotel. This is one of the must-do activities and the sunset did not disappoint. We had a nice break while I recovered. For dinner we headed back to our new favourite pho restaurant (it is nice to return to the same town and know a bit about it before you get there).

We are heading to Champasak tomorrow. It is a pretty short ride on a nice new road, or at least that’s what Dave from Bolaven Cafe has told us. We’ll get in early as Friday is Laos national day and we want to make sure we find a place to stay for two nights. We are planning on checking out Wat Phu on Friday, and perhaps watching some fireworks – not sure what they do here in Laos on national day but we will let you know.

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3 responses to “Return to Pakse and the heat (87/10,875 ks)

  1. That’s some soup and SOME sunset…gorgious!

  2. Very nice that you stopped to make the bicycle repair. That girl will have an interesting story to tell today. I think the website for Christa and Johann is “www.chrigikoelbi.ch” (ch not com). I am really enjoying following your travels.

    • Good spot on the link. Thanks, corrected it. The bike girl was so scared that she could not speak. Her bike fell apart and these aliens from another planet stopped to put it back together. Quite entertaining really. – dre

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