Tuesday 19 March 2013

Hot As - Southern/Central Laos

Current Location: Vientiane, Laos (click on Where We Are above, to see map)
Tomorrow's Predicted High: 38 Degrees Celsius
Distance Cycled: 9,297 km
The sun climbs into the morning sky, and so does the temperature.
Ahead two figures stood in the road. A long way off, a truck was coming towards them. We were closing on them as well, at 20 kph plus on a slight downhill. I figured we would all meet about the same time.
The figures became a woman and a girl of perhaps, 10 years. As the gap closed I could see the woman spraying liquid from a plastic container onto the road. The girl stood watching, in a world of her own.
The truck was bearing down on them rapidly and at last the woman moved from its path to the safety of the edge. The girl was in the centre of the road - still doing nothing - and I willed her off the road. At the very last moment, she seemed to rouse herself and began walking slowly away from the truck and directly into our path.
Judy escapes into the shade of a farmer's shed in central Laos.
I yelled, “look out” and the girl halted. She seemed to shrink and her hands came up over her chest. She wasn’t looking at us, but her manner was submissive as if waiting to be struck. I had the brakes on hard but we had barely slowed before we swept by. A miss is as good as a mile, they say, but this was too close. As we passed, I glimpsed what looked like a damaged motorcycle helmet on one side of the road and a motorscooter on the other.
When the tandem was under control, we looked back and they were tiny figures again, stationary in the road. I thought of going back to make sure they were ok, but our glimpse of them suggested they weren’t physically injured and not in need of first aid. And what other help could we offer? With no Laos language skills we would probably be more nuisance than help.
Farmer and his three sons on the roadside, central Laos.
We continued on, asking ourselves what they had been doing. Had they had an accident? Or had friends or relatives had the accident? Somehow the latter seemed more likely and mother and daughter had gone to the scene afterwards. Whatever the answer, the image of that child with her arms folded and her head bowed will stay with me for a long time.
We rode into a day heating up rapidly as the sun burned through the haze. We figure the temperature has been in the high 30s/low 40s lately, and for the first time we have really been feeling its effects.
On our ride off the Bolaven Plateau what should have been a pleasant downhill jaunt became an endurance test made worse by not enough to drink. We reached Pakse hot, thirsty and so exhausted that I took myself off to bed almost immediately - leaving Judy to dine alone.
One of the highlights of our stay in Vientiane has been meeting two other
tandemists, Steve and Kat. Their bike is a Thorn, similar to ours, and they
tow a trailer. Their principle goal is to see as much of the world as they can
over a couple of years, but another goal is to try to break the tandem
touring distance record which stands at more than 38,000 km. Their story:
The next day I struggled to get out of bed, almost too tired to move. We took a day off and held a brief strategy meeting to decide how we could change our tactics to deal with the heat. The plan goes like this:
·         Start earlier and aim to be on the road by 6.15 am at the latest.
·         Reduce our daily distances to about 70 kilometres.
·         Ride first and breakfast later, so we cover some kilometres in the early morning cool.
·         Aim to be at our destination as soon after midday as possible, before the heat really kicks in.
·         More drink stops, but keep them shorter so we don’t lose too much time.
We’ve given it a try, and it seems to be working. And it’s pleasant cycling in the cool of the morning until the sun lifts through the trees. The real test will come in the days ahead as we cycle from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. It’s over 400 km, the days are getting warmer and the route is very hilly in places. It’s also said to be extremely beautiful and we are looking forward to nudging our way up into the mountains.

As for that young girl and her mother, we’ll never know what was going on there. It will have to remain another of life’s little mysteries.
Small niches house 2000
Buddha images at Wat
Si Saket, Vientiane.

Wat Si Saket, Vientiane - images mostly from the 16-19th

This is Patuxai, Vientiane's most prominent landmark. Loosely
modelled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it is made
 of cement which according to Lonely Planet,
 was given by the Americans for a new airport. LP says it is
sometimes called the "vertical runway". A sign inside the
building admits it looks like a "monster of concrete".
The sign outside the Laos immigration
office in Vientiane includes a sinister
line: Foreigner Control Department.


  1. Wow guys! Hope your plan works - don't want you both expiring of heat exhaustion! Take care - enjoying your blogs. x

    1. Hi Jennie, Thanks for your thoughts. We'll be fine, I'm sure. Have extended our Lao visas by another 20 days so we can set a very leisurely pace from Vientiane north to Luang Prabang. Plenty of guesthouses along the way too. Looking forward to a few hills.

  2. Wow awesome you have met more tandem cyclists! How exciting! Will have to Skype again this week, I am free in evenings tonight and Thurs and most of the day Sat/Sun :) Couldnt hear you guys all that well on Sunday xx


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