[Written Sunday, February The 19th, Night]
Nitzan loves the falls possibly even more than do I myself. He was off this morning to make his second visit. I considered joining him; but instead wished him godspeed, and set about to find a bicycle.
I thought it’d be easy as pie to just grab one from the guest house. But the staffer, when I told him of my plan to ride to the cave, said it’d not be a good idea. Their bikes, he related, would do fine on the paved portion; but after covering the dirt portion (which comprises about a third of the total distance), I’d need to put the bike in, like, a burlap sack, and bring it back to town in a Tuk-Tuk.
So, I found a place in town that had pretty sturdy-looking bikes.
The rental officer agreed that the bike could get me there and back; but was skeptical that I’d be able to pedal that distance (about forty-five miles for the round-trip). I said that I thought I could manage it, and so, he asked me for my passport.
Oops. It was back in the guest-house locker. Crap. Was walking away, considering whether I wanted to hoof it all the way to the guest house and back, and remembered that I’d a copy of my passport on my person. With that, and my driving licence, the rental officer agreed to rent me the bike.
Everything seemed to be proceeding smoothly, ‘til I got a look at the fine print.
Could this really be true – 30,000 Kip to replace the ding ding?? Sometimes, I just can’t help wonder what the fuck this world is coming to. All the same, I signed on the dotted line, and was off.
And do you believe it? Riding an inter-city route in shorts, t-shirt, no shoes, no helmet, no glasses (normally only worn while driving). I would never even dream of trying a stunt like that in the States (nor even Thailand, by a long shot). But in Laos, you just go with the flow.
The motorists, even the truckers, are very good about not running down the cyclists and the pedestrians. Anyways, a few kilometres North of town, the traffic became very negligible. The riding was quite good. Somewhat hilly, but not too much. The weather had cooperated immensely by bringing some clouds, so it was not overly hot/sunny.
Was happy to’ve reached the turn-off, as the “Hobo Map” describes the next section as, “Serene cycling on good dirt road, with some shade, and views of the Mekong.”
“Serene”, I’ll definitely give ‘em. But, dustier than fuck-all; so even though there wasn’t a tonne of traffic, what traffic there was kicked up a tonne of dirt. Luckily, I’d purchased a dust-mask yesterday morning, so this was manageable. And after a few kilometres, the road became hard-packed, and the dust was much less.
Wouldn’t exactly call the road “good”, however; “quite bumpy and rocky” would be my description. Also, very hilly. It’ll be good for me in the end, but my legs will be sore tomorrow! The views of the Mekong, while spectacular, were only few and far between. However, the mountains and trees made up for that with their always reliable awesomeness.
After the dirt road, I was kinda thinking, “You know, maybe I oughta get a Tuk-Tuk for the return trip.” Lo and behold, I’m riding up to the village sited across from the caves, and there’re four or five Tuk-Tuk drivers gathered around. “Sir, you take Tuk-Tuk back?”
“Maybe! How much?”
They wanted 50,000; I wanted to pay 20,000. We got to haggling – one driver offered 40,000 — and finally I just said, “Whatever, I want to see the cave first!” Yes, yes, of course, they assured me. But, come back in an hour, and grab a Tuk-Tuk.
“Maybe, but I’m paying 20,000.” They just laughed and laughed.
Walking through the village to the boat landing, noticed both a captive monkey and a captive owl. Damn, that was depressing.
The caves (an upper and a lower) are a repository for unwanted Buddhas, Isn’t every Buddha beautiful? Isn’t every Buddha loved? Well…I guess not. The place is fucking surreal, man. Who ever got the bright idea to just start chucking all these Buddhas in the damned cave? Don’t know — but I’m glad they did.
Nobody loves the Buddhas!
So many unloved Buddhas!
In a side-passage of the Lower Cave, there’s this killer Naga with its neck broken and turned ‘round backward, and wearing a scarf.
Most of the visitors arrive by slow-boat from Luang Prabang – about a one-hour journey each way. Don’t know the fare; presumably not cheap. So they just drive right up to the cave, the tourists get out and look around, and when everybody’s done, they drive right back to the city. Well, on the roof of one of the boats…
Weird. Taking the stairway to the upper cave, I realised that the bike-ride had turned my legs to mush. Needed to stop and rest a good two or three times. Did arrive, however; and the Upper Cave’s even trippier that the lower. Some of the figures are just outright freaky.
While some of them are just damned weird.
Plus, unlike the Lower Cave, the Upper is very dark. A Frenchman, not seeing that I’d brought my own small one, offered to let me borrow his “torch” (AKA flashlight) as I was entering and he leaving. Just wanted to point out the fact, as though I’ve been slagging them for their nasty, ugly smoking the Europeans really are very friendly.
I like these figures for the strange shapes and placements of the hands.
So, it was back down to the boat landing, to catch the return trip to the village. The captain’s first-mate was a take-no-shit badass.
…but a good worker as well.
I think he’s got a future in the hospitality industry, as his welcome-aboard hand-gesture is so good it oughta be used in training films! Kid’s a fighter and a lover.
When we got to the other side, I thanked the Captain, and reached into my pocket to get the 10,000 Kip to pay the fare. Meanwhile, he’d written his proposed 30,000 Kip fare on his hand. Utterly shocked and disgusted, I kept repeating (in my best are-you-kidding-me? voice), “Come on…come on…come on.” Finally, the First Mate began repeating it as well (don’t think he spoke English either; but rather just liked the sound of the phrase) — which, I had to admit, was pretty funny.
It took a good five minutes’ haggling to jew him down to 20,000. But as I was leaving, I gave him a two-ton glare, and proclaimed, “This is not good!” Not that he understood it; but I said it anyhow.
As I was walking up the bank to the village, I began to feel guilty for my little outburst. I had ended up paying double the usual cross-Mekong fare, true. But, the extra 10,000 Kip amounted to…$1.25. Really going to get all upset over that?
Besides, with most of the tourists arriving by slow-boat, the ferry Captains don’t appear to be doing a very roaring trade – certainly I was his only passenger for each crossing (and I was there right in the middle of the day, on a weekend). And which he’d damaged the craft on the way over, trying to squeeze into too tight a spot, and getting part of the railiing broken-in between two other boats.
But I was too lazy to go back and apologise.
As I’d made very good time on the out-bound leg, and as I was quite tired enough already, I decided to just take it slowly on the way back, and enjoy the scenery. (The Tuk-Tuk drivers had all departed, so this wasn’t even an option, as it turned out.)
Laos is so bad-assed. Even this podunk little bridge out in the middle of nowhere offers up such heart-stopping beauty.
On the other side, a sunken vessel.
Happened to pass by a bumpin’ party. Not sure if this goes on every Sunday; or if it may have been a weddiing or similar. In case you’re thinking that it doesn’t sound very “bumpin’”: the music was much louder in person.
On the way back into town, I turned off to re-visit the villages I’d enjoyed earlier in the week. There weren’t as many people out-and-about as there had been then; but those that were were of course inordinately friendly and delightful.
In real life, this mountain o’ corn is as orange as orange gets. Huhn, never seen a mountain o’ orange corn before. In fact, don’t think I’ve ever even heard of a mountain o’ orange corn before.
Almost to the end of the village area and back into town, along come the Good Humor Man.
I myself declined his offer to purchase an ice cream; but I did see one little girl running down a hill, arms flailing madly, to get her some. It’s not easy to resist the Good Humor Man’s wiles!
Couldn’t wait to turn the bike in and have them check to make sure my ding ding wasn’t broken. But…they never even gave it a second thought! Oh, well.
Got some watermelon, and arrived to the river just in time to see the water and sun playing this fascinating pattern upon the sides of some of the boats.
Back at the hostel, the night-time staffer (name of “James”) was in rare form. This guy just cracks me the fuck up. Always refers to me as “Edward!”. That’s what it says in my passport, and thus on the big board; so it makes sense. But it’s still funnier than Hell.
The best is when he busts meself and others for not fastening our lockers up tight. I could be standing twenty feet away, brushing my teeth, and…pointing to the scene of the crime, “Edward! Very bad!”
There’s an outdoor bar here, and he spins the tunes and serves the drinks ‘til 10:00 in the PM, when he sprays the common area for mosquitoes (“for me and for you”), and hits the sack right there on a long table in the common area. The other night, he had to kind of bring the hammer down on two dudes who were placing their Beerlaos on the table – noting that that was his bed, and he didn’t want it to get sticky; apologising profusely all the while, and pleading with me to confirm that Beerlao shouldn’t be placed upon his bed.
Couple nights ago, he was playing some really great Lao Rock and/or Roll. When I told him how much I was loving it, he threw it all down onto a thumb drive, and let me copy it. No MP3 tags, so I’ve only the file-names to help me figure out tracking information:
He plays English-language tunes, too. Each night he seems to get fixated in a different English-language song, which he ends up playing five, six, seven, or more times throughout the night. Week or so ago, it was a rap song whose chorus goes:
I’ve got hoes (I’ve got hoes)
In different Area Codes (Area Codes)
Best of my recollection, the lyrics are to do with, basically, the convenience of having hoes in different area codes. But it’s the backing vocals on that chorus that really slay me. Nary a day goes by without me walking down the street and spontaneously belting out those two lines over and over again (including the backing vocals!).
One time last week, there had been some sort of problem with one of the other guests, and James called up one of his co-workers (I think it was), and absolutely reamed him a new one (all in Lao). Myself and the aggrieved guest were both laughing our asses off; and when he’d finished with the reaming, he triumphantly declared, “That’s right. I say something!”
Could go on an on about this guy.
Tonight, he served a newly-arrived Frenchman, name of “Eric”, some Whiskeylao, and demonstrated its potency by pouring some in a little cup and lighting it on fire.
Then, after the Frenchman had drunk a few shots, he (James) showed him the bottle. The Frenchman was freaking out, trying to figure out what was in there, and had to hold it up to the light – but still didn’t know.
Finally, James told him: “Centipedes…and vitt-amins.” I can’t, personally, vouch for the vitamins. But, yes, it’s true: Each Whiskeylao comes with a centipede in the bottle.
“What the fuck?” broke in a newly-arrived guest from L.A. (also name of “Eric”), “Centipede and vitamins???” Ah, the magic of Luang Prabang!
The Frenchman was performing a bunch of magic tricks, one of which involved a handful of playing cards each featuring pictures of apples, along with one featuring a picture of a caterpillar (name of “Gigi”). After doing some hocus-pocus on the cards, the Frenchman revealed each of the apples to now be eaten apples, and threw the “Gigi” card face down on the table.
The astonished James asked if he could look at the last card. The Frenchman permitted it; and when revealed, it had now become a butterfly. “What the fuck! Where is Gigi?!?!” cried James. It was a pretty good trick, all right.
Later, he told me he had something to show me, and brought down an, er, anatomical bottle-opener. Wanted me to take a picture, as I’d done with the Whiskeylao fire. I told him I wanted him in the picture too; he refused, but as he was busy setting up the shot, I was able to steal one of him.
Laos is the best!
Nitzan, the Israeli, has also been cracking me up pretty good. His English vocabulary is oddly incomplete (knows “square”, but not “triangle”, for example; and would have called an outlet an “electricity hole”); but the words that matter he’s got down pat.
Eric the Angeleno, also a fascinating chap, has been in Asia for six months’ time, three of them in Nepal. Another vote for Nepal. He, as the Brasilians are planning to do, had hiked up to the Everest base camp; as well as the Annapurna Circuit.
I was looking at some of his pictures, and, gawd damn, I think I need to go there. He says the best times to go are March and September. So, perhaps the latter. Apparently, you can get very good cold-weather gear at very reasonable prices in Kathmandu. The big question will be, fresh fruit? May have to subsist on cooked rice for a few weeks!
Anyways, I was asking him about the Nepal visa situation; which it turns out is not bad at all (he’d paid $100 for the ninety days). He noted that in China, Americans can pay $160 for a one-day visa…but that the price for a one-year visa is the same $160.
Upon hearing this, Nitzan kind of went berserk. “What are they, fucking idiots?”
“That’s just the way they do it.”
“But, who makes a one-day visa?? A fucking retard???
And thus began an hilarious tirade. As you can see, I was well and truly entertained all night long.
[Written Monday, February The 20th, Afternoon]
Hoofed it down to the Southern Bus Terminal to purchase my ticket for Phonsavanh. Very sad to leave Luang Prabang, but also very stoked to see the Plain Of Jars. (Although, it looks as though my pocketbook won’t be very stoked when all is said and done.)
There are watermelons for sale everywhere in the city. But, the quality’s pretty hit-and-miss. Except from this one major vendor at Phosi Market, whose fruits are quite consistently good.
And why is this dude so happy? Because I’m taking his photo, of course!
Ditto these ladies.
Passed a strange scene during the schlep. Two caucasian ladies riding bicycles, each with a young local boy occupying the pillion. And what do you think the four of them were singing?
[…] big disgrace
Waving your banner all over the place
I think the ladies may have been the boys’ English tutors, or something? So strange!
After lunching, stopped by Utopia, which is kinda the hottest place in town. I had never been. It’s pretty cool.
Back early to the hostel, James brought his laptop in to-day, for me to give him a bunch of music, returning his favour of last week.
Also, he brought the bottle-opener back out for another photo-op. Here’re he and Nitzan arranging yet another photo-op.
He also took a picture of me with my face down there and a big shit-eating grin upon it. I dunno, maybe it’ll be in the Internet somewhere…
And my project for the afternoon is to learn how to sew. Popped the button on one of my two pair of shorts yesterday returning from the cave relieving myself at the side of the road. I have a little travel sewing kit; which I’ve only ever used it to dig slivers out of the soles of my feet with its big needle.
Slivers in the soles are fucking murder. Well, not murder really; but the tiniest, tiniest, tiniest little speck of crap, if buried within the sole, causes just enough pain with each footstep to annoy the living fuck out of you. So, if you don’t wanna be annoyed, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to find the damned sliver.
Which I’ve only needed to do once so far in Asia. But now, I’m going to try to learn how to sew this button back on.