March 21st, 2011
Nha Trang beach, Vietnam
(Flashback to February 25th, 2011)
I am in love again. With Dirty Harry, my bad-ass 250cc Honda Baja dirtbike. (No, I’m not gay. Not even remotely curious. Nor am I motorbike-curious. Thanks for asking.)
Dirty Harry and I are racing around the dirt and paved roads of Laos, going faster than we should, getting into villages later than we should (aka it’s been dark for over an hour), ignoring all of the (non-existent) speed limits and warning signs, and dodging all of the (non-existent) traffic cops.
A little about Dirty Harry… I rented him a few days ago from a fantastic French man named Thierry, who runs a top-notch motorcycle rental company in Vientiane, Laos called ‘Jules Motorbike Rentals.’ Sure, you can rent plenty of crappy 100cc motos (basic scooters) all over Laos, but if you want to rent a kick-ass bike that can cruise over the bumpy roads and sustain your tired butt and baggage for many hours a day, a 250cc (or bigger) bike is the way to go. And Jules is the place to get it! Thanks Thierry… You rock!
When I went home last time to the U.S. after traveling around the world for 16 months (501 days, to be exact), some people asked me, “so how was it?” I would always ask, “How was what?” What I heard them ask was, “So can you please boil down 501 days of crazy adventures, 29 countries, scuba diving, Himalayan trekking, beautiful beaches, gorgeous women, gallons of coffee, mountains of pancakes, crazy foods, karaoke bars, bungee jumping from the world’s highest bungee jump, and amazing local people into one or two paragraphs?” No can do.
Some of my friends would have the wisdom to ask more specific questions like, “Where were your favorite places?” (answer: Indian Himalayas, Gili Meno, and Boracay), or “Which is the prettiest country?” (answer: New Zealand, hands down!), or “Which is your least favorite country?” (answer: Egypt), or “Who is your least favorite actor?” (answer: Tom Cruise. Just joking… it’s Nicolas Cage. But Cruise is second.)
Anycrap. When all this is said and done, I will have had Dirty Harry for 18 days. We will have driven over a gazillion kilometers (or a gazillion kilometers x .6 = .6 gazillion miles), and slept in 16 different cities/villages/islands all over the Laos map (Dirty Harry and I always sleep in separate beds/garages of course… I’m saving myself for my silver wedding anniversary.) Usually riding 5 hours a day, stopping for waterfalls or to make kids laugh or to grab a quick bowl of noodle soup or a cold water.
This adventure with Dirty Harry is definitely one of the Top 10 things I have ever done. Maybe Top 5.
I already talked briefly about Day 3 in a prior Lexpedition, where we drove from Luang Prabang to Vieng Tong, mostly along crazy dirty mountain roads. I got a late start out of Luang Prabang, drinking waaaaaaay too many cups of coffee and trying to hunt down another tripod and some duct tape for my jerry-rigged helmet-cam (aka the skull-cam.) Just outside of Luang Prabang, Dirty Harry and I left the pavement for a dirt road that would require 3 hours of riding before meeting back up with a paved road that would take us (in the dark) through a village-less tiger preserve and into Vieng Tong.
But what I didn’t tell you about Day 3 was that, shortly after hitting the dirt road, we stopped for lunch at a noodle shack next to an elementary school. I pulled up, said “Sa Bai Deeeeee” (‘hello’) to the kids and kitchen lady, grabbed a cold bottle of iced tea and had a seat. The kids quickly warmed up to me, and then I pulled out my iPad. That’s when the fun started!
I took pictures of them with my digital camera, slipped the SD card out of the camera and into my iPad, and pulled up a fun app called ‘FaceGoo.” FaceGoo lets you pull up a photo and then distort it by touching on the iPad screen and dragging or pulling or twisting it into a badly contorted image. So the kids were able to totally dis-figure and re-shape themselves and their friends while I was eating my soup.
Then we played “Talking Tom”, which is another app that features a cat who mimics what you say, only in a higher pitched voice. The kids took turns yelling crazy Laos stuff into the iPad microphone and listening to their distorted responses from the crazy cat. Talking Tom speaks every language on the planet!
Then we finished off with a few minutes of “Roller Coaster”, where the kids got to move and turn the iPad to control the roller coaster car while it races along the tracks over New York city.
So Dirty Harry waited patiently while I played with the kids and finished my lunch. Dirty Harry yelled at me halfway through my village visit saying, “Lex, come on dude. We’ve got a long day ahead on unfamiliar dirty mountain roads. It’s hot, and if we don’t get going soon, we are going to be riding in complete darkness through a wildlife preserve where there are more tigers than people. And you can’t drink beer until we arrive safely at a guest house tonight. And tomorrow when you wake up, my battery is going to be dead. Come on dude, let’s hit it and quit it.”
Dirty Harry knew what he was talking about. This wasn’t his first rodeo, as he had made this trip with many other riders over the years (but none as cool or funny or handsome or rich or humble as I.) But since I don’t speak motorbike, I didn’t hear Dirty Harry’s sagely advice or warnings. My grandfather, the amazing and loving Leonard Latkovski, spoke 28 languages (no joke.) But even Grandpa didn’t speak motorbike. But boy, that man could bake some bread! I miss you grandpa! (a tear.)
Anycrap, here are a few shots of the kids playing with my iPad.
And here are two videos of the village kids playing Roller Coaster on my iPad. You gotta understand that these kids probably don’t have TV in their homes, and they most definitely don’t have a Wii or PlayStation or X-Box, or even a DS. So this was a treat for them. Watch them giggle!
And a photo of the kids as Dirty Harry and I were hitting the road again.
And here is a photo of some kids and grown-ups who (slowly) gathered around me while I stopped for a quick break around sunset. I stopped to make sure I was going the right way and to rest my weary butt. The people were, as always, very welcoming and helpful. I love Laos!
Here is a photo of several houses in this village at sunset. This style of stilt house with bamboo walls is typical in villages and rural areas throughout Laos. Very simple, but very beautiful.
MORE VIDEOS PLEASE!!!
Right around sunset I pulled into another village. You can watch the little kids racing out to the dirt road to scream ‘Sa Bai Dee’ to me (‘Hello’.) You can also see the sunset shadow of my skull-cam. I stopped briefly to confirm that I was on the right road. I learned after a while that you never ask a village woman or girl for directions or questions.. they are almost always afraid to interact with strangers, and many times they would run away or step back if they saw me (or other tourists approaching.) I’m used to women running away from me in America, so this wasn’t hard for me to get used to (a tear.)
Another thing is that you never ask a closed question, such as ‘is this the way to Vieng Tong?’ or ‘is the moon made out of mustard?’, or ‘Am I the most handsome and hilarious man to ever visit this village?’… because they will always answer ‘yes’ to avoid upsetting you (even though the correct answer to all three of these questions actually is ‘yes’.)
So all ‘yes or no’ questions will almost always be answered with a ‘yes’. So if you need a serious answer, you have to ask an open-ended question like, “Who is the worst actor on the planet?’ (answer: Nicolas cage), or ‘Which way is Vieng Tong?’ or simply ‘Vieng Tong?’ and wait for them to motion with their hands (or puke, when they are mentioning/thinking about Nicolas Cage.)
In this case, I could not remember which city I was going to, as it was not my final destination for the day. I was just trying to find the turn-off so that I could take a right and drive (unknowingly) through the Tiger Preserve and get to my guest house. You can hear me trying to remember where I was heading, and then while stumbling for the answer, I look up into the sky and hope for an answer…
The man in the village helped me remember where I was headed, and then even walked over to draw me a rough map in the dirt with a rock. I told you Laos rocks!
I actually think while he was drawing the dirt map, he was also saying something like, ‘White boy, you go up here about an hour, and then it will be dark. And then take a right and drive for 2 more hours. In the dark. Through a tiger preserve. And you are crazy. And you are scaring my women. Do you know what you are doing? You should just sleep here with the chickens. Oh well, good luck!’
Another Village and more ‘Sa Bai Dee’ at sunset. I say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ (Cope Chai’) to the kids and villagers and then head on. The young man next to me was in a wheel-chair-bike and was super sweet and helpful. Watch as I am leaving the village… two brave/stupid chickens were playing ‘chicken’ with me. Maybe because I slowed down and did not run over them/eat them, the tigers spared my goofy life a few hours later???
Another Laos Village at sunset… I thought by now I would be safely in my guest house drinking a cold one. No can do. Still had 2 more hours to go. But I was enjoying every minute of my adventure. Here is another video of the kids yelling ‘Sa Bai Dee’ and running out to greet me. I was giving them five as I drove past. Hear them giggle after that? I also learned to to drive with no hands while holding up the double ‘peace’ sign or waving with both hands. Like Evil Kenevil. The kids always found that amazing. That’s just how I roll.
On good roads I would also pull up quickly behind a loaded pick-up truck or local transport wagon, flashing the double peace sign as I almost slammed into the back of the vehicle, stopping just before impact. The people would always smile and laugh. Then I honked and quickly passed them. ‘Peace out sweet Laos people, check my website often for updates and crap.’
A few days later I had to cross a river. ‘Go over the bridge’ I hear you suggest. No can do. Bridge washed out. New bridge under construction. Bridge ready next summer. So I had no choice but to take the bamboo raft across the river. The rapids were swift. There was a kid playing in the rapids in an innertube (lucky kid). I got on board the raft with Dirty Harry and started taping.
Was I scared? No. Was I concerned? Hells yeah. Why? Because…
- I was in Laos
- All my possessions are strapped to the back of Dirty Harry
- If Dirty Harry goes down, game over!
- The river was swift and deep
- I still had 3 hours to ride, and it was (again) getting dark
- I love bullet points
So here is the video of Dirty Harry on our first of many bamboo raft river crossings. Notice how swift the water is at first, and then it gets really quiet and calm right after that.
I was trying to hold Dirty Harry while video-taping my adventure. At times the water was creeping up through the bamboo bottom and getting my feet wet. But we made it…. Wahoooooooo!
‘This wasn’t part of my plan’
About 30 minutes after my bamboo crossing I saw a huge cloud of smoke up ahead. In Laos and many SE Asia countries, they burn the crops during the dry season to clear the land and get ready for the rainy season and a new crop cycle. So I pulled up to yet another massive fire and shot some videos and photos. Here is a video of the fire raging in the high winds.
Here is the featured photo from this Lexpedition of me in front of the raging crop inferno. Like the ghetto-duct-tape for my skull-cam?
‘Crazy man, Crazy. Crazy Day!’ – Another video of the crop fire. The winds were picking up, and the fire was eating the dry grass at a rate of about 1 foot every 10 seconds. That is twice Oprah’s previous record… Can you say ‘Global Warming?’
Right after I got done shooting this video and getting ready to hop back on Dirty Harry to drive the last hour or so to my next village (or so I thought), some random dude pulled up on his moto (scooter.) He asked me where I was going. I told him (mangled) the name of my destination. He politely signaled in the direction where I had just come from. Back toward the bamboo raft man. I double-checked with him, and he was insistent that it was back the other way. He was right.
As you could see from the previous clips, the sun was almost setting. I thought I had maybe an hour left to ride. No can do. Now I had to backtrack towards the bamboo man (25 minutes) and then head west into the sunset. Long story short, I ended up driving in the dark. But I made it (hence this update.)
By the way, if the videos on this page do not play correctly, you can see them (and some others) on my Youtube page at…
You should also be able to click on any of the photos in this Lexpedition to open up a slideshow of all the photos, and they should be even bigger and better. Go on, try ’em.
Drunk Snake Guy On Moto – Different Day
‘Do you know where a man can get a dead green snake around here?’ was the question on the tip of my tongue as I pulled into yet another dusty Laos village. Luckily, I stumbled upon this guy… who was not only drunk at 2PM, AND driving a moto, he also happened to have a mangled, dead green snake hanging from a piece of wire… for sale. Not a fresh dead snake, mind you, and definitely not a clean one. But hey, if you want snake, you might not have many choices in this one-snake town. And Drunk Snake Guy is your go-to man.
It was a ‘photo finish’ in the ‘Worst Stink in The Village Stink Marathon’… Here are the final results…
1st place – Drunk Snake Guy’s Breath
2nd Place – Dead Rotting Snake
Congratulations Dead Snake Guy. You now move on to the semi-final round (aka ‘The Stink-Off’) where you will try to out-stink Nicolas Cage. Good luck with THAT one! Now go take a shower and gargle!
Seriously, the snake smelled almost as bad as his breath. He wanted me to drink some ‘local hooch’ with him. I politely declined, pointing towards Dirty Harry, the 2PM little hand on my watch (the big hand was on the 12), and then doing a bad acting job to try to show him that my drinking ‘hooch’ now would result in my driving Dirty Harry into a tree or off a cliff later. He laughed and then drove off in a zig-zag dusty trail with his stinky snake. I drove off like a sober fast fragrant bullet in the opposite direction.
Objective number one when you’re riding a dirtbike on unfamiliar Laos roads: Don’t die. Mission Accomplished (not like President Bush’s hilarious 2003 ‘Mission Accomplished’ photo-prop (i.e. photo propaganda – I just made that up) scam on the aircraft carrier while floating safely off the coast of San Diego.) I am just saying that I did not die that day, which is good, because I had paid Jules in advance for the trip, and it’s very hard to get a refund when you’re dead.
Sidebar… Scientists have recently proven what travel agents and medical professionals have been claiming for millennia… Namely, we now know scientifically that it is impossible to travel while you are dead.
I’m not talking about time travel or science fiction or your soul going to Heaven or Hell or coming back to life as the 27th reincarnation of Vishnu or Shiva. I’m simply saying that you can’t board an airplane or ride on a rickety bus or climb a Himalayan mountain or scuba dive with sharks or drive a motorcycle when you’re physically dead. And I’m not talking about a ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ kind of travel where they prop your rotting carcass in an upright position to fool people or get you from point A to point B. You know what I mean.
People always tell me to be careful, and I call those people my parents. I am definitely trying to be careful, but I am also having a blast, even if sometimes I push it a little too far (aka waaaaaaay too far.) But I am still here, my heart is still beating, and I plan to go back to the U.S. again at some point. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to get hurt. I want to play with my 8 goofy sweet nieces and nephews again, and my neighbors’ kids again, and see all my amazing friends and family again.
So Dirty Harry and I had 18 amazing days together. I will soon try to calculate how many miles we drove together across the stupendous country of Laos. But it really won’t matter, and I definitely won’t be able to approximate how much fun and adventure we had. I don’t know when, but I am pretty sure I will do another motorbike tour across Laos in the next year or so. If you are interested in joining me, please let me know soon. I enjoyed doing it alone, but I would also enjoy sharing this amazing adventure with somebody cool who can race up and down the Laos roads with me. But get your own bike…
So now after 3 weeks in Vietnam, and 7 amazing weeks in amazing Laos, I am now back in Vietnam for a few more weeks. So far I am about 11 weeks into this current adventure, and I’m just getting started. A few days ago I went scuba diving (in Nha Trang) for the first time in about 3 years. Wahoooooooo! I go back into Cambodia next week for about a month, then into Burma for about a month, then back up to the Himalayas of Ladakh (Northern India) for the summer trekking season. Waaaaaaahooooooooooo!
Thanks to all of you for your love and support. And as my good friend Patrick always says, ‘I’d make this shorter if I had more time.’
Peace & Love from way over here,
First man on the Moon
Only man in America to have never worn a pair of Crocs
AKA ‘Chocolate Thunder’
AKA ‘The Funky Honky’
AKA ‘Lex The Lutheran’
P.S. Nicolas Cage totally stinks! Now please leave some funny witty comments below.