Motobike Trip Day 6

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June 18th 2007
Published: June 18th 2007
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Monday June 18, 2007
Laos Motorbike Trip - Day 6 (The Road to Paksan and back to Phonsavan) 140 Km Covered

The day began, once again, early. We ate some breakfast, purchased some rubber boots in the market and various foodstuffs for the long trip into unknown territory. We had to make a few other stops before the fun could begin. First, we had come all this way and had to at least see the Plain of Jars. We stopped at the first site and checked them out…making sure to keep inside the white and red markers along the path. On the white side you were considered safe as the area had been cleared of surface and subterranean UXO….on the red side things weren’t so safe. Bomb craters with signs saying “American Bomb Crater” surrounded the entire area. It was strange to see such old objects amid huge holes in the earth that had been created only 30 years ago. The Jars were cool. We had heard an English kid in the streets the night before saying he didn’t understand what was so great, “they are just a bunch of jars in a field”. We appreciated them a bit more I guess. Each one seemed to be carved out of one large rock. Daragh jumped up on one and could fit right inside. Not to say he is some sort of giant or anything, but some of them were huge! Especially considering that they were possibly moved there from another location? It was good to see them. Another tick box checked. Next stop: Moung Khon - another city totally destroyed by US bombing. The main attraction here is a Buddha statue that some how managed to avoid being bombed. It was one of only a few structures that survived the bombs. We rolled out of the Plain of Jars and made our way south 20Km to Moung Khon. It took a while to find the Buddha. We kept asking where it was and no one seemed to understand what we were after. All of sudden it was right in front of us. We found and it and no one was there. We climbed over the entrance gate thinking we would escape the entrance fee. Amazingly, a woman came over moments later brandishing tickets. We gladly paid the fee and took some pictures of the massive Buddha surrounded by rubble and broken pillars of what must have at one time been the building housing the statue. With not much else to see in town we headed into the unknown. From this point out our guide book was useless. We had no idea exactly how many kilometers laid between us and Hwy 13 in Paksan. Our map had let us down the day before on actual distances. Our best guess was that we had 260Km of dirt/mud road until Paksan. We were winging it from here on out. We came to a fork in the road and had to ask a group of women which one was the road to Paksan. They pointed right and we took a right. About 2km in the road turned to gravel. Here we go. We proceeded with caution as we rounded corners into the unknown. We passed more men armed with automatic rifles and continued into the jungle. After a few big corners we came up on some sort of military vehicle. I thought it was an abandoned tank from the war and prepared to stop and take some photos. An army man came running out of the hut next to the tank. It was their make shift army base. We would later learn that they were the Lao government army who patrolled these parts to maintain peace and prevent Hmong insurrections. Needless to say, we didn’t take any photos and got out of there.
About 20kms down the road our bike really started stuttering. I couldn’t believe it. Why did we have to pick the bike with the Native American stickers. Damn. Once again D and J were in front of us. The bike stopped on a steep incline. I tried the starter button. Nothing. I tried turning around and popping the clutch on the downhill….nothing. It so happened that there was another van broken down at the bottom of the hill. I rolled down to the men, who had already removed the radiator of the van. This was a big problem. Not another easy tire fix…this was an engine problem. Earlier that morning we had been coughing up some white smoke, but I thought it was just the cool mountain air that had caused the rough start. Something serious was wrong. We tried and tried and nothing seemed to help. We thought it was maybe the spark plug..or the timing? With no tools we were out of luck. The mechanic working on the van put the radiator back into the van and off they drove. We tried to catch a ride with them…and inquire how far the next town was. Our Laos just wasn’t good enough to communicate properly. A truck carrying two elephants rolled past as we debated what to do next. We were about 70Km from Phonsavan. Should we go back or press on? The van started right up and rolled out. It was finally decided that Daragh and Jo would ride ahead to the next village. We were pretty sure the next village forward was closer than anything behind us. Kelly and I waited anxiously as huge logging trucks rolled past every few minutes. Here is Daragh’s version of what they encountered: We only had to go seven km’s when we came across an open-backed truck. This was fantastic. It was our ticket out of here. Now if only we could find the driver. There was nobody around. We shouted…“Sa-ba-dee”, “Hellooooo”. Nothing, except some wild pigs. We went up to a few of the huts but no one was around. As we were about to leave, a man appeared and we turned back (easier said than done on a dirt track). Then we proceeded to try to explain the situation; the other bike, our friends, etc, etc, I mean we were in at the deep end and I was actually learning some Lao. I could count to a hundred by this time, and had plenty of useful words in my Lao repertoire. Even still, the ground drawings were the best. And everyone understands the ‘dollar’! Still though, it appeared that they could or would not do take us, and kept pointing to their knees? What was going on? It was so frustrating. We moved on. The gathered group that had formed waved us on. We drove another eight km before the road became really bad. Then it all made sense. They had been trying to tell us that their truck would not make it to Tha Vieng (the next main village) as the mud ‘…was up to their knees..’. We decided to turn back.
So here we were again in the middle of nowhere relying on complete strangers for help. While Daragh and Jo had been away another group of men stopped. We thought they were just stopping by the creek for lunch. It turned out they had been told by someone that passed us that we were broken down. This is all I could guess because as soon as they finished eating they pulled out a bag of tools and began trying to fix the broken bike. In the end they were unable to remove the spark plug. They kept motioning that if it was a moped like the one they were driving it would be no problem. Unfortunately we were on a beast of a bike that they rarely had contact with. They took off before D & J returned. Kelly and I waited patiently. When D & J finally did return we decided they better head back to Moung Khon to find some help. Just as they were about to leave the van they had seen in the village came chugging down the hill. They were headed to Phonsavan. We were saved. We negotiated a price for the ride back to Phonsavan - $15. I jumped in the back of the truck with the bike and Kelly sat in the front. I attempted to talk with the others in the back of the van with the help of the phrasebook for the 70km ride. In town they dropped they us off at a mechanic shop. Mechanic #5. This one was a real shop. Two young men worked together to solve the problem. I hovered around trying to be of any assistance. We had lost Daragh and Jo on the way back when they stopped to cover up when the rain came. Kelly caught a ride back to the hotel we had stayed at the night before to see if we could find them. She found them at the Australian guys place having a beer. By the time they all made it back to the garage the mechanic had found a spark plug that worked and fixed the timing with a few small tweaks. I didn’t really think he knew what he was doing, but as soon as he put everything back together and hit the starter button it purred like a kitty. I was completely overjoyed. I slapped him on the back and ran circles around the bike thanking him. We got on the phone and called the guy who rented us the bikes and told him we weren’t impressed. He spoke to the mechanic and said he would reimburse us the $15 for the fix. We rolled back to our hotel and went out to dinner to discuss what we would do next.
Over some amazing Indian food it was decided that we would press on and do the “undetermined” road. It took about an hour to reach this decision. 6 days and 5 mechanics certainly wasn’t a great track record. But I was feeling confident that our bike was running great now. We decided to get up before sunrise and try again. Even if we turned around we still had miles of curvy roads between us and Vientiane. The decision was made. We went to bed nervous.

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