You gotta be kidding me!!! Another river crossing??? Surely I will get to my destination soon, right? Wrong! So how do you top a day of elephant rides and muddy motorbike adventures in Laos? Read on my friends, I’ll show you how.
(Flashback to Laos)
8:00 AM – Wake up in my nice guesthouse in lovely Tad Lo Village.
12:00 AM (midnight) – Go to sleep in my crappy hotel in Thang Beng.
Of the 18 days I rode my kick-ass dirtbike all over Laos, this was by far the craziest. As a reminder – this was the day after I met Nao in Tad Lo, rode elephants, got caught in a crazy rainstorm, and stood in the middle of a crop fire (see ‘A Day In The Life‘ for that post)
Sure, it would be hard to top the day before, but somehow I did. Between waking up in Tad Lo and collapsing from exhaustion and adrenaline overload in Thang Beng 16 hours later, my day was a jam-packed adventure.
Looking back, I am lucky to have made it through that day without getting hurt or losing my dirtbike and/or my possessions in a river or stream.
But before I begin, let me gently remind you that my 18-day dirtbike adventure in Laos was one of the Top 5 adventures of my entire life. It has been well over a month since I parted ways with ‘Dirty Harry’ (AKA “The Lao-Mower”), and yet my fondness and appreciation and nostalgia for that adventure continues to grow. I have had some unbelievable adventures in my life, so to place this one in my Top 5 is saying something.
I will now try to boil 16 hours of adventure into a reasonably digestible assortment of paragraphs, pictures, bullet points, anecdotes and movies. The times shown here are approximate… the details are 90% accurate (2% fuzzy, 3% bravado, 2% poetic license, 4% pork and pork by-products, 2.5% utter nonsense, 3.75% fluff, 1.5% math/rounding errors.)
OK, here we go.
8:00 AM – Wake up in my guest house in Tad Lo.
8:11 AM – Walk out on my balcony and snap this photo.
9:00 AM – Have a quick breakfast with Nao at Mama Pap’s restaurant down the street.
10:04 AM – Farewell photo with Nao. She then leaves to get a quick taxi to the main road 2 KM away. She is catching an 11 AM bus back down to Pakse. (That’s me on the right.)
10:10 AM – I go back to my room and pack up my crap. Check out of my guest house. Load my crap on the back of Dirty Harry. Time to roll!
10:45 AM – Leaving Tad Lo village I see Nao and a few other tourists waiting at the main road for their bus. They are going south. I am going north for 15 minutes and then southeast towards Attapeu and the monster Nam Tok Katamtok waterfall (the elusive waterfall that was our target the day before in the infinite rainstorm.)
1:19 PM – Arrive (finally) at the elusive waterfall. Talk to two other tourists from France. I drink a lot of water. I’m hot. It’s nearly 95 degrees out, and very humid. The waterfall is about 350 feet high (110 meters), and most/all tourists only see it from this vantage point, as it’s next to impossible to get close to this remote wonder.
1:31 PM – As I am leaving the waterfall to head for Attapeu, the nice French couple snaps this photo of me with the waterfall in the background. Does this protective riding jacket make me look fat?
1:58 PM – Another crop fire on the side of the road. I am still 42 Km from Attapeu. Dirty Harry is making a funny noise. I think it’s the chain, but I fear it might be the clutch or a valve. Note the non-functioning odometer/speedometer/instrument panel, and my ghetto-duct-taped GPS to the right.
2:30 PM – Arrive in Attapeu. Try to find a mechanic who can work on my dirtbike. Mr. Goodwrench is at lunch, so I go to grab a quick lunch myself. I will come back in a bit.
3:00 PM – Mechanic takes my rear wheel off. He speaks no English. His drunk friend keeps trying to show me in sign language, body movements and bad humor that he thinks the crazy sound from Dirty Harry is because my rear brake rotor is warped (I think HE’S the one who is warped)… that I’m in trouble… that Attapeu is not the place to have major mechanical issues.
I ignore his ‘helper’ and his drunk game of ‘Charades’ as much as I can and try to help the mechanic fix my bike. I actually know more about my bike than he does, it turns out, which is scary. I get him to put the wheel back on and tighten and lube the chain. I give him $3 for his efforts and hit the road again. Dirty Harry is still making a goofy noise, but not as goofy as when I pulled into town. It’s getting late, and I have a lot of ground to cover. Gotta move on.
3:54 PM – Snap this photo outside of the mechanic shop in Attapeu. By now I would have liked to have been at my destination, checked into my guesthouse, relaxing with a nice snack and a cold beer. No can do…. many miles to go… more than I could have imagined.
Seriously, looking back, if I would have known how much time and distance I still had to cover, there is ABSOLUTELY no way I would have left Attapeu. What I thought was only another 90 minutes or so turned out to be another 300 minutes. And not easy fun minutes. Crazy minutes. Not relaxing foot massage minutes. 300 adrenaline pushing minutes. Dark driving minutes. Multiple river and stream crossing minutes. Will I ever get there minutes. OK, let’s continue…
Up to this point, it had been a pretty easy day. The waterfall was about 45 minutes off the main (paved) road. The road to the waterfall was dirty, bumpy and curvy. Not hard for me to accomplish on Dirty Harry, but still not an easy road. With the exception of this dirty waterfall detour today, my travels from Tad Lo to Attapeu were on decent paved roads. No big deal. But as soon as I left Attapeu, I was in for a surprise.
When I got to the 3-way junction just outside Attapeu, I stopped to ask a few locals about my directions. I wanted to confirm that I was going the right way. They all insisted that I need to go back the way I had just come from. I knew that my map said I was on the right road. What they were trying to tell me was that the only ‘road’ to Pakse was back the other way. All buses, cars, trucks, motos and sane/reasonable people going from Attapeu to Pakse went on the main (paved) roads. I was taking the dirt road. They thought I was crazy. I thought they were boring. You can drive on paved roads when you’re dead, that’s my motto… Dirt roads here I come!
I was on the dirt road for about 30 minutes, minding my own beeswax. Then I came upon this big river, where the only way to get across was on a bamboo raft. I waited for the raft to come back to my side of the river, carrying a vendor-on-wheels. Loaded to the gills with every conceivable gadget and item for sale. They arrived at the shore. I helped the traveling salesman get his huge load safely off the ferry and across the rocky shore. You can see how the sun is setting and the locals are washing in the river after a hard day at work.
How much crap can you load on a moto? I don’t know for sure… better ask this guy.
4:54 PM – I drove Dirty Harry up onto the raft.
Here are a few pictures and a video of the river crossing and the kids who were my pilots/engines. This first one shows the 3 children who were pushing the front while a woman guided and pushed from the rear.
Can you say “Child Labor Laws?”
A quick video while waiting for the Vendor Man to arrive so I can cross the river safely.
I love this video… The woman is bailing water out of the back of the raft with a bucket while her kids push me across from the front. A tractor crosses the river carefully. I have some weird dirt on the tip of my nose (please don’t laugh at me…). I playfully say “Bai Looie Bai Looie” to the kids, which means “let’s go, let’s go” in Laos.
Safely on the other side, this is a photo of two of my raft-pushing children and the raft. A brave SUV has just crossed the river. As a reminder, you can click on any of the photos in this update to see a slideshow, or you can click on any video to see a bigger version. I hope.
About 10 minutes after this river crossing, I came upon a man and a woman and their moto. Out of gas. The man had been pushing the moto up and down the jungle hills. He was sweating and struggling like crazy. His shirt was drenched. He was bummed out. His woman was miserable too. I pulled up to them, hopped off my dirtbike, and pulled out a rope from my bags. I motioned that I would pull them to the next ‘village’. They were happy. I tied one end of the thick rope to my luggage rack and the other end to their steering column. Let’s rock!
I had bought that rope a few days prior, just in case my battery failed or I ran out of gas or broke down. But more importantly, I bought it so I could help others.
On Day 4 of my ride, a generous man pushed me one morning when my battery was dead and my bike would not start. He pushed me with his left foot against my right foot-peg while he drove his 125cc moto next to me. He pushed me for about 10 minutes til I got to a village with a mechanic. Then he disappeared again, wanting nothing from me in return. I was hoping to return the favor.
I pulled the couple on the moto through the jungle for about 15 minutes. I had to stay in first gear to maintain my pulling power, so it was slow going. We arrived at the next village. I unhooked the rope. They said “Kop Chai (thank you)”. I said “Kop Chai” back to them. Then I continued my journey.
I figure the 15 minutes I spent towing the couple through the jungle actually cost me about an hour, as I was towing them at about a 5 km/hour clip when normally I would have been cruising along at about a 40 km/hr clip. But they needed my help. And I ended up having to drive in complete darkness for about 3 hours that night, so this little loss of quick driving time was not a deal breaker in the big picture.
The sun is setting in this thick jungle. Patches of the dense bamboo forest were VERY dark. My odometer and speedometer had been disabled years ago, so I could only guess how much further I needed to go… Surely I’m almost there, I kept thinking. Wrong! Only an hour til sunset… gotta keep going. It gets darker quicker in the dense jungle, FYI.
The road I was on that day was very empty. Very few villages or people along the way. Maybe every 15 minutes or so I would see another moto coming my way, but that was about it. You can see from some of my videos that I basically had the road to myself. This allowed me to go faster down the roads, hoping/assuming I would have no competition coming my way.
5:34 PM – You gotta be kidding me! Another stream to cross?!?! Well, it’s too late to turn back now!
I snap this photo of yet ANOTHER stream that I have to cross. Several of the streams were deep enough that the water level was up to my shins or knees, and I feared that Dirty Harry was going to stall or the engine was going to get flooded. Luckily it never happened, which til this day is a surprise and a deep mystery to me.
This stream was yellow, so I had no idea how deep it was. Or if it had big rocks or boulders or trolls lurking in its depths, waiting to surprise and sabotage my safe passage. For all I knew it was 3 foot deep, and my goofy bloated carcass and my iPad would disappear forever into the murky depths. But, as I have mentioned before, it was too late to turn back. It was getting dark, and I had to boogie onwards. You can see the sun disappearing into the tree and bamboo jungle on the horizon.
Then I switch my helmet cam from photo to video mode and begin to record my hopeful/stupid crossing of the yellow stream.
‘Please don’t be deep… please don’t be deep… please don’t be deep………. wooooohoooooooooo!’
Wahooooooo! I’m still alive! No time to celebrate my successful crossing and relative dryness… miles and miles to go before Lexicus sleeps tonight. Surely this is the last time I have to do a water crossing. Wrong again!
At this point, I was getting seriously concerned about my safe arrival in my destination. I began looking for a big enough village that would have a small guest house that I could call home for the night. No can do. I wasn’t asking for much, just a decent bed and some food so I could call it a day and finish my journey in the morning. OK, maybe I would also like a cold beer and to watch some NCAA college basketball. Not asking too much, I think. But alas, it was not to be. Gotta keep on truckin’.
I recorded this video a few minutes after crossing the yellow stream. It’s a bit long (3 minutes 32 seconds), but it will properly show you a few things:
- Nicolas Cage stinks
- I love bullet points
- I had the road to myself for this entire video
- You can see the different types of bamboo and vegetation and trees of the jungle and forest that were my companions for many hours
- It’s getting dark quickly
- Nicolas Cage’s glory days are behind him (if he ever technically had any ‘glory days’)
- I am pushing the envelope by trying to go as fast as I can without risking my safety. I am hoping/assuming that nobody will be coming around the corner in a big truck or on a fast dirtbike like mine. I try to go as fast as I can along the straight stretches, but the road is bumpy, and there are few straight stretches
- Bullet points are my friends
- Nicolas Cage is not my friend
At about the 2:30 mark in the video, I come into yet another small village. I almost hit a chicken. And surprise, surprise… I get to cross another stream. The water came up above my shins, and the water bouncing off the hot engine was very hot against my legs. But I made it. Notice the men washing their motos in the stream, people washing their bodies, the dog running in the road, and the village kids all running out to wave and shout ‘Sa Bai Dee.” I yell back, “Sa Bai Dee, Nik Noi”, which means “Hello kids” in Laos, or something like that.
You can hear me accelerating as much as possible on the straight-aways, and then down-shifting or slowing down while approaching a turn or some bumpy patches… riding the proverbial razor’s edge between fast and safe.
TO BE CONTINUED……
As you can logically infer from me posting this update from Sri Lanka, I made it safely. To be more specific, if I would have died that day, I would not be typing this crap and uploading pictures and videos today. I will have to finish this long story in an upcoming update. Stay tuned!
In my rear view mirror…
Since my last update from Siem Reap, Cambodia on April 15th, I’ve been a busy boy. Here is a quick recap…
Spent a few weeks in Siem Reap again exploring the glorious Angkor temples and helping The Spitler School Foundation there (a magnificent school that my good friend Danny Spitler from Phoenix helped create several years ago.)
Spent 3 nights in Bangkok, eating tasty food, getting booster shots for my rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, and Tetanus. These shots (at a world-class clinic) cost me about US$80. The travel clinic back home in Louisville, KY wanted about US$430. I also spent a whole day at the Burmese Embassy (Myanmar) arranging my 28-day tourist visa and trying to track down enough clean U.S. dollar bills to take with me to Burma.
Traveled for 25 days in Burma with a Spanish couple (Jorge and Alicia) I met on the plane from Bangkok to Yangon. We saw the Golden Rock, Mandalay, Yangon, and the amazing temples and pagodas of Bagan. We also spent the last 6 nights relaxing on the beaches of Ngwe Saung, where we were joined by Manuel from Chile. We had a blast!
Stayed with my old friend Lucas Krump at his ‘involuntary hostel’ in Singapore. Luke hosted me a few years ago when he lived in Bangkok, and it was great to see him again. His newest venture is Go Bedrock, a new platform to connect ‘flashpackers’ like me with reliable hotels and activities in Southeast Asia. Thanks again Luke… and good luck with GoBedrock!
Slept on the floor at the Kuala Lumpur airport, waiting for my 6 am connecting flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ouch!
Arrived at Colombo, Sri Lanka, my 48th country so far. So far I have seen Colombo and Kandy, and I have now spent the last 4 nights up in a lovely, quiet tropical village called Ella. My friend says it reminds her of a ‘Tropical Switzerland.” I think that is a very good description.
Today I begin month number 6 of this current Lexpedition adventure. 5 months down, infinity minus a few months to go. Wahooooooooo!
Through my windshield I can see…
I have been in Sri Lanka for about 10 days already in Colombo (the capital), Kandy, and now amazing Ella. I have another two weeks here. I plan to climb a very high mountain, make people laugh and smile, visit some world-class ruins in the ‘ancient cities’, play golf for the first time since leaving home (I wish my father, Rockbox was here to play with me), and finish up my Sri Lankan visit with a few days on the beach in Trincomalee.
On June 15th I fly from Colombo to New Delhi, India. I flew into New Delhi on August 2nd, 2006 to begin my previous Lexpedition, and then again in late July 2007 (with Jenny.) I’m not a big fan of Delhi (or other massive polluted cities), but it’s the best way to get to the glorious Himalayas of Northern India. This will be my third trekking season in the Himalayas, and I can’t wait! As I have mentioned several times before, my trekking adventures in the Himalayas are my all-time Number One favorite experience in my life. Seriously, it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done! Wanna join me???
From Delhi, I will quickly take the train to Shimla and then a bus to Manali, where I will begin to arrange my horseman and cook for my first big trek. I plan to do the 21-day trek from Darcha to Lamayuru again, and the 11-day trek from Kibber through the Tso Moriri and Tso Kar areas again. And maybe some new treks in the Zanskar and Spiti regions. Wahooooooo! I’m a happy boy! Maybe I will do these treks alone, or maybe I will meet up with some cool people on the same wavelength. Or maybe you will come join me?
Then on August 8th, I will fly from Delhi to Beijing. I will spend a few days in Beijing again before finding a train and bus combination to get me to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. My old friend Gilly now lives in Beijing. I met Gilly in 2001 in Dali in the Yunnan Province of southern China. He has offered to show me Beijing, put me up at his house, and cook some amazing Italian food for me. Thanks, Gilly! See you soon.
In Ulaan Baatar I will meet up with Segev, an Israeli buddy I met while trekking in Laos a few months ago. We plan to buy a couple of horses and ride around Mongolia, camping, and cooking and having a blast… can you say ‘Mongolian Barbecue?’ Quite a few people have told me on this trip that Mongolia is amazing, so I am very excited. And Gilly has mentioned that he might like to join us for the Mongolian adventures… how cool would that be??? Wanna join us???
Then Segev has to meet a friend in Nepal around September 15th. Maybe I will go with him and see Nepal again. Or maybe I will stay in Mongolia. Or maybe I will go see Uzbekistan and some of the ‘Stans. I really want to see Samarqand in Tashkent – It’s supposed to be more amazing than the Taj Mahal. Or maybe I will go back into China and explore more of that country and re-connect with some old friends (my friends from America, Laura and Dena are teaching English there, and my friend Hebe that I met in the Philippines lives near Hong Kong.) Or maybe I will go back to India. Not sure right now… So many choices and not one of them sucks. Wanna come join me???
And then… and then… and then… my very good friends Bruce and Kiel from back home in Louisville are planning to meet up with me in Bali and Gili Meno in Indonesia in October. I love Indonesia, and Gili Meno is one of my all-time favorite places on this planet. Lots of scuba diving and swimming and laughing is on the menu. The first round of cold Bintang Beer is on me… make it happen, guys! (And please bring me some new socks and underwear!)
After that… who knows? I may stay in Indonesia for a while and get my scuba diving instructor certification. Or just explore more of that great country. Or hit the pause button for this side of the globe and go back to South America. I am really excited about seeing Bolivia, Macchu Picchu, Patagonia and Buenos Aires there (my college nickname was “Macho Picchu”, but that’s a story for a different time.) Or maybe I will go back to America, dust off my important shirts and my monkey suits, and get a real job and make some more money. Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. What a stupid idea…you can work when you’re dead, that’s my motto.
And Mongolia will be my 49th Country – Wahooooo! Which country will be my 50th? Damn good question. I don’t know for sure. But I am getting ready to unveil my new Lexpedition Contest – If you correctly guess which country will be my 50th country, you will win $50.00. Stay tuned for more details.
I am doing my best to keep up with all the emails and Facebook and this website, but it’s tough. Burma had the worst internet system I have ever seen, so that set me back a while. I still owe many of you an email or response, so please be patient.
Well, I think I just broke the keyboard with this typing-diarrhea outburst.. please forgive my ramblings and tangents. Now please leave me some funny (or sincere) comments below. I hope you are all happy and healthy.
Peace & love from beautiful Ella, Sri Lanka,
The Original ‘Macho Picchu’
First man to use the word ‘at’ to describe the ‘@’ symbol for emails. Prior to my new term (circa 1990), people would say something clunky like, ‘my email is Steve, then the small letter ‘a” with the curly circle around it, then something dot com.’ Or they would say, ‘my email is Linda, then hit the shift button and the number 2, then something something dot com.’ True story. Look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t believe me.
Less Talk, More Music… 91.9 FM, The Lexicon
P.S. I don’t like mottos… that’s my motto.