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May 6, 2007

The Loop – Day 2

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Back on the Road

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Back on the Road

 

Since I was further than planned I decided to take the dirt road north for an hour just to see what was there and double back on the same road.  The road had dried up nicely during the night and was packed down well so there where no problems.  It was a very nice drive.  Clouds were still around and very low covering the tops of the mountains on both sides of me.  I passed a few more small villages and took some pictures of them with the clouds and mountains in the background, very picturesque.  I double back and got on the paved road.

Clouds are ClearingClouds are Clearing

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Clouds are Clearing

 
Village in the CloudsVillage in the Clouds

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Village in the Clouds

 

What a luxury that was, you could just let the bike run and not be bouncing up and down every few seconds.  At noon I was pulling into the town to turn at for the cave I wanted to go see, but headed to a guesthouse I’d read about for lunch and to get the latest info on what to see.  I spent an hour and had decided that I could make it to the cave and do the tour that afternoon instead of the following morning and comfortably make it a three day trip instead of four.  I was heading back onto a dirt road for a 50 kilometer ride to the cave.  This road has also been improved over the last couple of years primarily as tourism to the cave has increased.  The cave is unique in that it is a five mile long cave with a river running through it that you can take a boat on all the way through.  There are a few shallow areas where you have to get out and wade through the water or along an outcrop while the guides pull the boat for you.

It took about 1.5 hours and I was at the cave entrance where I payed my parking fee, cave entrance fee, and hired a boat to take me along.  The boat can take up to three people, plus a driver at the back and puller in front.  There weren’t any other people (tourists) around so I had to hire the whole boat myself.  The guides each have a headlamp and I had brought my own otherwise you just get to look at where ever they happen to be looking.  The cave is huge!  

Cave Entrance CloserCave Entrance Closer

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Cave Entrance Closer

 

Not just long but the smallest area we were in was probably 30 yards across and 10 high.  At times you couldn’t see both sides of the cave (over 100 yards) and a good 30-40 yards tall.  As the serious rains hadn’t begun yet the water is lower so you have to get and walk a little bit more, but also go a little slower because of it and get to see more.  A couple times one guide would take me to a little side are where we could see some of the formations in the cave.  All too soon I could see light and realized we were at the other end.  We walked a little ways towards and then got in the boat and headed out.

As soon as we got out of the cave there was a big clap of thunder and dark clouds above us.  We hurried to the launch point where they dropped me off.  I was going to do a homestay in the village that night where you get to hang out with the locals, have dinner and breakfast, and take of the next day.  My guide said that I could stay with him and shouted something in Lao as I was getting off the boat.  He and the other guy continued driving up the river and I walked up to my bike.  I thought that he was just going to park and would come get me in a couple of minutes.  At this time it started to sprinkle so I walked to the other side of the bamboo I was standing buy and settled in by the base to stay dry.  Little kids where running around picking up fruit being knocked down by the rain, but they were the only ones around.

I'm in the CaveI’m in the Cave

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I'm in the Cave

 

The rain really started picking up and I was getting soaked quickly.   I got on the bike and pulled under the first roof I saw where me and the bike could fit.  As soon as I did someone was coming down from his hut and waved me to come up there to get out of the rain.  That is just what I was hoping for and hurried on up.  His wife and two kids were there while he took his buckets and headed down to the river for water.  The kids took a while but eventually got used to having me there and brought me some of the fruits they had been gathering.  I think they are called honey melons, but they were the size of a large egg with a big seed in the middle.  You just sucked the pulp off the seed and sides of the skin and through everything down onto the ground below were there were some chickens and pig waiting.

Word must have gotten around of where I was hanging out because the guy I’d left my helmet and water bottle with came by after an hour or so. I had two small oranges left from the market that morning and gave them to the kids for the fruit they’d given me.  The fellow that came by asked about the homestay which I said I wanted and pointed that I would stay over in that direction and someone would come by for me in a bit.  The older boy got out his school book and was showing me the pictures in it and eventually started making a drawing of a tree.  The other person for the homestay showed up then and told me to follow him.  I went down and decided to push the bike instead of tearing up the path through the village.  I could just see the bottom of his legs under the next house and this point and hustled to catch up.  After the next turn he had disappeared, but I thought I remembered the way I had come.  I did well and came to the entrance to the village a couple minutes later where I thought he would be.

Other End of the CaveOther End of the Cave

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Other End of the Cave

 

Nope, I stood around in a light rain looking about.  Finally a new person came up who didn’t know much English, but knew homestay.  He was pointing that I needed to drive up the main road and it would be on my left.  I tried explaining (unsuccessfully) that I was following someone and supposed to be in this area.  All this time the baby pig in the bag he was holding kept squealing which wasn’t helping me concentrate, he didn’t seem to notice it at all until it ripped the bag and tried to make a run for it.  This was also when the mother figured out where the screams where coming from and was approaching.  I decided that driving up the road wasn’t a bad idea after all.  The road was super slick and I had both feet down just creeping along in first gear.  Every house I passed I looked for any sort of sign of where to go and asked a couple people for homestay, but just got blank looks.

It was not long before dark now and I really didn’t know what to do.  I remembered seeing a sign for a lodge not far up the road (on the left) and decided maybe that is where the homestay was.  Off I went as the road conditions got worse and worse.  30 minutes later I was pushing the bike when two people pushing theirs along the side of the road waved to me to come over that way as it was easier.  I tried to get over there and discovered so much mud had built up around the front tire it wouldn’t spin.  The three of us wrestled the bike over and grabbed some sticks to push out all the mud.  I was able to drive again and made it to the turnoff for the lodge about an hour after I started, I think I covered maybe 1 mile.  The road to the lodge wasn’t any better and I eventually made only a couple minutes after I’d lost all natural light.

The guy showed me the room and said they would make dinner which were the only two things I cared about.  After ordering I realized how much physically and mentally getting to the lodge had taken out of me and I could barely keep my eyes open while they made my meal .  I scarfed it down once it came and was in bed right afterwords.  It kept raining off and on throughout the night and one more hard rain in the middle of the night.  I didn’t know what the roads would be like or if I would be stuck there.  I figured worst case I could hire a tractor to take me back to the paved road.  They use their tractors as a mode of transport and have wooden beds with sides that hook to them where people, motorbikes, hay, whatever go.

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