Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Feeling better for some Kip

No, not sleep silly, Laos currency. We did actually sleep well in Don Det, the guest house was nice but not as nice as it looks here

Anyway, back to the Kip. There are 12,000 of them to the pound meaning that a bottle of water can be over 6 notes. My wallet is bulging!

What 'needing Kip' really means though is there'll be no 'whities' for a day or 2. In touristy areas the restaurants and guest houses accept $US but we were heading back into the real world so needed some proper Laos cash.
Due to the bus schedules on the mainland the little ferry boats don't start running until after 9am. We wanted to get going earlier so chartered our own boat - well the extra 75p on top of the usual £4 seemed worth it. We ate our breakfast as we watched El Capitano bailing the worst of the water out

then we got loaded up and were soon under way. How about this for the cover of the next book?

Once safely back on the mainland we get pedalling north along the long, hot, straight, flat, boring road. We had a tail wind though so were breezing along at about 20-25km/h. Luxury!
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We had a cunning plan though to alleviate the monotony of it all. According to 'Maps With Me' which we have on our phones, about 50km north we could get some kind of ferry across the river and then ride up the western bank on a small track. The condition of the track was unknown (just shown as a thin brown line), as was the crossing of the main Mekong river and also a little tributary that ran into the Mekong that it looked like we should come across after about 40km of riding. Was the map accurate? Would the ferries exist? Would there be a ferry on the smaller crossing? Maybe the water level would be too low (dry season) and the boat couldn't run? Maybe it would be so low we'd be able to ride across? There was only one way to find out. Lets go!
Pedal, pedal, pedal for 50km and then turn left down towards the river. After a few K's the road stopped and the river came into sight. A couple of trucks were parked up at the top of a dirt slope down into the water. The ferry, a kind of barge type thing, was on its way over. We waited in the shade and once the trucks were on board we rolled down the slope, bumped up the ramp and we were off.

Tracking our progress, this App works on phone signal only, no wifi required which is great.

Well that was easy. For some reason it didn't even cost anything but we tipped the guys big style (another 75p) which they were well chuffed with. Up the dirt slope and off we went north along the western bank.

Well, the track was there and conditions were 'variable'. Some of it was lovely smooth fine gravel, some rough and horrible and other bits were more like pictures I've seen from deepest darkest Africa. I've read so many accounts of "potholes big enough to swallow a truck" and wondered how this could be? Well, these holes weren't quite truck sized but you could easily have hidden a couple of Ikea wardrobes in them! Some of the ruts were about 2 foot deep and we had to really concentrate to not slip into any if them. Some were full of bull dust or feche feche (basically dust as fine as talc), some not, it was impossible to tell until you rode through it. If you hit a deep soft patch, the bikes would skid and slew all over the place, not helped by the weight of the bags on the back.
Here is an easy bit of track

It was a fun afternoon. We shouted "Sabai Di" (Hello) in return to so many little kids calling out, some so excited to see us they could barely contain themselves. "Wot shoe nam?" "Bye bye" "Good morning" "thank you".... Where did all these kids come from? We were so busy concentrating on the road that sometimes we couldn't even look over or wave, just call out and keep going.
Kate nearly getting some kip

So, the second water crossing was looming up. If this didn't work it was going to be a right old ball ache of riding a 40km back track, back on the ferry and then 40km north on the original highway. Fingers crossed... Then, there it was. About 50m wide of water at the bottom of a steep, rutted slope. So, we definitely needed a boat, but where was it? 

Tied high in a tree a rope headed off over the river, running at an angle so we couldn't see what was at the other end. Some locals were sitting in the shade of the tree so whilst kate waited with the bikes, I walked down the slope to investigate. "Please let there be a boat" was all I was thinking. I barely dared look but when I did I saw the rope went straight across to a dirt slope up the opposite bank about 100m down stream. At the bottom of the ramp was a little barge. Well, that would do except there was no one over there to pull it across. "Sabai Di" I called. Nothing. I shouted again but this time the group of locals joined in. They also jabbered away in Laos and we recognised the word "Falang", meaning foreigner. I saw someone stir and stagger sleepily down a path to the barge. We were in business! I ran back up to the bikes and we rode down the slope. 
By now the barge was nearly with us

Once it docked we thanked the locals and pushed the bikes on board. Then to our surprise, they all got up, heaved up the big sacks of stuff they had and humped them on board with us.
How long had they been waiting? Was the barge ever going to come for them if someone else hadn't turned up to pay for it? No idea but we didn't care, this was a major hurdle that was now sorted which was bloody good news.

Once safely across we paid the ferry man (what is that stupid song that says not to?). 80p? Oh go on, here's a couple of quid, keep the change. Fandabidosi, we'd done it!

The road then headed inland a bit and after another hour or so we arrived at Sukhouma, our chosen destination for the night. Now you might think that after all the gallivanting around the world we've done that we'd be good at hunting out somewhere nice to stay? Well, we're not, especially not after riding 93 hard kilometres. We don't enjoy shitty towns with shitty restaurants but they are a necessary evil if you want to get off the beaten track and have a proper adventurous day like we'd enjoyed.
Are these pictures of grotty, dusty towns feeling a bit repetitive?

What about this £4 "living the dream" guest house?

Once showered (neither of us enjoyed using the grungy towel supplied by the 9 year old girl who seemed to be the only one running the place) we rode up the street and typically found a much nicer guest house. We were tempted to move but just couldn't be bothered. We had a beer on their little terrace (again, it looks way nicer than it was)

 followed by a pretty damn suspect dinner. On the pitch black ride back Kate got another puncture. Front wheel this time. That could wait until the morning to sort out. Now safe in our cell for the night, all that was left to do was get some kip (sleep of course)

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