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March 26th, 2011 | Asia

To Pakxe and Saravan…and back to Pakxe…!!

After a quick breakfast at a little dive around the corner from the hotel, we rode out of Savannakhet, heading south on Route 13…

The wind whipped these flags as we passed through Lak 35...

Bicycle delivery man... Weird sights daily here in South East Asia...!!

It was a lot cooler than I had expected and for the first half hour I considered pulling over and either putting my rain coat on to stop the cold wind working its way through my riding jacket, or putting a fleecy on under the jacket…

As the morning wore on, the temperature improved, but the wind did not die down… It buffeted us all the way down past Xe Beng and Sok Pheng, where the road passes between two national parks…

I had ridden in wind that was far worse than this, but with tyres that had far more life in them… A few sudden gusts had us swerving off line on occasion but in no danger of losing control or coming to grief…

This bridge on the road that was supposed to take me up to the Bolaven Plateau, had me thinking about the relationship between nails and tyres...!!

I had decided to take Simon and Lisa’s advice, and ride up onto the Bolaven Plateau to stay at Tim’s Guest House in Tad Lo, a few kilometres south of the town of Saravan… I had punched in the co-ordinates, and Gi-Gi immediatety plotted a route that would take me off Route 13 and on to Tad Lo…

Piles of Jackfruit and Watermelon were on sale at this road stall on the way to Saravan...

This small boy tried to sell me fruit that I did not recognize...!! He seemed quite amused at mt confusion...!!

I left Route 13 at the town of Napong and rode on to the tiny village of Napi…

I stopped the bike where the tarred road turned to dirt and took a sudden dip down towards a swiftly flowing river…

There was no bridge crossing this river, nor was there a ferry or barge that seemed to be operating there…!! I rode along the river bank, down a dirt road that became narrower and narrower the further we traveled…

Houses began crowding in on both sides… I stopped to ask if this was the road to Saravan, and on two occasions got negative nods from the locals… I eventually turned around and road back to Route 13, turned south and headed for Pakxe, the regional capital…

I refeuled on the outskirts of Pakxe and thought my reasons for wanting to ride up to Saravan… It was a little after noon, and I had plenty of time to ride the almost 100 kms it would take to get there… I also knew that it would be a few days before Trevor and Chenty, as well as Mark Baldock caught up to me…

We had arranged to ride to Angkor Wat in Cambodia together, and I was looking forward to spending time with them… I had heard that Pakxe was as boring as Savannakhet, (which later proved to be inaccurate…!!) and I did not want to spend too much time there…

There were also a number of waterfalls near Tad Lo which I was keen to see, so I headed northeast to kill some time…

Typical Lao homestead... Machinery and livestock are kept underneath...

As the road climbed up towards the plateau, it wound through extensive plantations of banana and teak plantations… I also noticed that Eucalyptus trees were being planted on recently cleared land…

The Saisse Guest House in Tad Lo, situated above the falls of the same name...

The GPS had recalculated the route and took us to a turnoff where a number of signs for guest houses were posted… I turned onto a dirt road and gingerly made my way for about a kilometre before coming to the Tad Lo Waterfalls…

They were only a few metres high, and perched on the banks of the river stood the bungalows that formed part of the Saisse Guesthouse…

Most of the staff were enjoying a siesta on the various couches in the reception area… They struggled upright as I entered and enquired what their rates were, and if they had access to the internet…

They sleepily informed me that Tim’s Guest House was across the wooden bridge and on the opposite bank, and was the only place that boasted an internet connection…

I looked out over the bridge that stretched about 50 metres across the shallow river… I did not like the look of it at all…!!

Loose planks were laid cross-ways on the frame, and two rows of three planks each laid on top of these, ran from one bank to the other… A small pickup came rumbling across the bridge as I watched… The planks made alarming noises of protest as the vehicle came slowly towards me….

I stood considering the obstacle before me, and then walked into the stand of trees on my right, that hid the falls, and onto a rickety platform, where I took a few photos of what would hardly qualify as a waterfall anywhere in Africa… A series of rapids was a more likely description…!!

While I was doing this, a scooter rode up with a passenger clinging to the rider… The passenger dismounted while the scooter puttered carefully across the bridge…

Another wooden bridge to cross... And one that I almost came to grief on...!!

Parked outside my first stop in Tad Lo...

So behave yourself, and you will get better service...!!

I eased the Big Fella onto the planks on the right hand side of the bridge, and immediately realized that the right hand pannier was only an inch or so from the railing… Before I had reached halfway across the pannier had made contact with the railing on two occasions…!! Not good…!!

In order to stop this, I was forced to ride on the left hand plank only, which was a mere five inches wide…

I noticed some activity down among the rocks below me, and instead of riding on to get the crossing over and one with as quickly as possible, I foolishly stopped to see what was going on below…

From the bridge over the river, I watched these young guys doing some crabbing... They had no idea how close the Big Fella and I had come to joining them...!!

Since fitting the Ohlins shock, the Big Fella is riding a bout two inches higher than was normal, and the fact that was riding on a plank about two inches thick, meant that the ground was at least four inches below where my brain assumed it was…!!

I put my left leg out to steady the bike and those four inches felt as if I had stepped into a hole several feet deep…!! Damn bike nearly topped over on me…!! When this happens with a bike as heavily loaded and as big as the 1200, there is that split second when you are caught between letting it fall, and fighting to get it balanced again…

This split second can feel like an eternity…!!

I felt the bike falling over, then hesitate as it met the resistance of my straightened leg… It is at this precise moment that your brain better tell your leg to push back, otherwise it’s “arse over kettle” for you and the bike…

And considering the state of the centre cross planks on the bridge, the Big Fella might well have been heading for a splashdown in the river, three metres below…!!

Left leg saved the day…!! In fact, it pushed back so hard, that the bike actually came to rest back against the railing on the right hand side…!!

Seeing a large group of backpackers crowding the patio railing of Tim’s Guest House, watching me cross the bridge, I had the presence of mind to make it look like I had leaned the bike against the railing on purpose…!! I went a step further and took a few photographs of the young boys hunting for crabs below me as well…!!

Amazing how the fear of embarrassment can engender superhuman strength…!!

Tim’s Guest House had been recommended by Simon and Lisa, and I can only assume that they arrived there too late in the day to find other lodgings, or were too late to care… Maybe the bridge crossing had been as equally stressful for them as it had been for me…!! (But I doubt that…!!)

Tim walked me past piles of rubbish and rubble in the yard behind the public area, and came to a small thatched hut, which stood in a puddle of water a few feet deep… Four million mosquitoes began warming up their engines, delirious with joy at the sight of me…!!

The walls of the hut were made from woven palm fronds, and Tim proudly opened the door to show me inside… Two single beds with sagging mattresses stood in the room, and sitting in the middle of the left hand bed, judiciously cleaning its whiskers, was a rat that most of the village cats must surely have avoided for fear of being savaged…!!

On a bend further down the river, I stopped to watch an even larger group of crabbers....

The rat gave us a quick glance, and then continued running its hands through its whiskers for a few seconds longer, then leisurely walked towards the head of the bed and disappeared behind the pillow…

Tim was either visually impaired, or just pretended not to notice…!! There was no way I was spending a night beating off mosquitoes while trying to prevent a large rodent from walking off with my half my kit…!!

I mumbled something about having to get back to Pakxe, and then after downing a bottle of Pepsi, got back on the bike and headed further into the village, determined to find another route out of Tad Lo, rather than chance my luck crossing that bridge again…

"Hey there....!! You a friend of Willi's...??" the Big Fella sarcastically enquired as we came up behind this scooter...

Turns out there was a bloody tar road that led all the way back to the main road, and joined it barely a few hundred metres from the dirt road I had taken to get to Tim’s Guest House in the first place…!!

I was not too bothered by the fact that I had ridden almost a hundred kilometres from Pakxe to get here, because I had enjoyed the ride, and there was still three hours of daylight left, enough time to get back to Pakxe and find some decent lodgings…

The Pakxe Hotel, where I planned to spend a few days waiting for my riding companions...

I visited three hotels in town, before I found one that had a strong enough internet connection, to allow me to work on my site and bring it up to date…

The General Manager, Jerome Letemplier, was kind enough to assist me to find the room with the best connection, and ensured that I had everything I needed to make my stay comfortable…

I had been in constant touch with Trevor and Chenty since our chance meeting in Palmyra Oasis in Syria, a few months before, and we had hoped to ride together again, somewhere in South East Asia… They were currently ensconced at the SNK Hotel back in Vientiane, and after settling into my room, I called them to let them know that I would be waiting for them in Pakxe…

There was also a small chance that Mark Baldock would be joining us, and the thought of our three 1200 GS’s roaring into Cambodia together, made me smile to myself…!!

Apartments dating back to the French occupation, line the street opposite the Pakxe Hotel...

"Nearly fell through a wooden bridge today...!! You do anything exciting...??"...

I went for a quick walk in the area surrounding the hotel and then retired to the rooftop PanOrama Restaurant which the Pakxe Hotel is famous for…

A busload of French tourists had arrived while I was out, and were enjoying sun-downers with their host and guide… If you closed your eyes for a minute, you might have believed that you were somewhere in France…!! Even the Lao waiters understood and spoke French fluently…!!

Jerome bustled about, mingling with his guests, until he finally joined me, rolling his eyes heavenward as he pulled out a chair and took a short break away from the maddening crowd…

I asked him to book a double room for Trevor and Chenty, and after he left to make the arrangements, I sat eating alone, lost in the crowd around me…

Before retiring to my room, I went downstairs to check on the Big Fella and found a mud-splattered silver GS800 parked next to him…!! I would meet the owner, Morgan Parker, the following morning, and add a new traveler to my list of interesting people I have met on this journey…

©GBWT 2011

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