The Southern Swing Part 1: Rain chasing

One thing we’ve discovered on the trip so far is motors put Roman to sleep. Whether it was the gently rocking berths in India’s peaceful A/C 3 train cars or a packed bus blaring dramatically screechy movies and bouncing along pot-holed roads, pretty much as soon as the wheels start turning, Roman is lulled into dreamland.

On the other hand, give me a window seat and no responsibilities and my gaze is glued to the scenery rolling by. All I want to do is drink in the shape and colors of the land and the momentary glimpses of every day life while my mind wanders at leisure. Heaven. 🙂

So it worked out that Roman was behind the wheel of our little Honda for most of the southern swing, and that suited me just fine.

There’s an immediacy to seeing a place from the back of a bike, rather than through a bus window, that I just love. The warmth of the sun or the fresh feel of the wind, driving through smells (good and bad), the ability to stop when ever you feel like it for a photo op or just to take something in more fully, the direct feeling of road pulling away underneath and behind you as the bike wends its way along… I just love it.

Stormy weather

Although there are some less romantic parts to it – namely soreness from longer drives and being so dependant on the weather – although that can add to the adventure. I can see that our run-ins with rainstorms are already becoming some of the best memories from the trip. 🙂

The first day was fine – easy roads, a short route and sun the whole way. The next day was wetter, but we got lucky, managing to pull into a simple roadside shop in some no-name village just before the rain got serious. It felt as though the store was just waiting for us to show up. A simple table and plastic chairs and room enough to park our bike was all under a sturdy iron roof. The adjacent room held a small selection of goods and the shopkeeper was blasting Lao pop that was a great soundtrack as we drank a soda, enjoyed the company of some hens and their broods of fluff chicks and watched the deluge going on outside.

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Watching the rain from the safety of the road-side shop

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One of the hens that was keeping us company in keeping out of the rain. It’s not the best picture, but can you see the little chick peeking out from underneath her wing on the right?

Into the clouds

On day three, though, our luck changed. The most challenging leg of the journey coincided with the toughest weather. We left Attapeau in the morning and drove towards the dark hills of the Bolaven Plateau, crowned in tall, grey clouds. A lovely sight but also exactly where we were heading. That day it seemed that if there was any patch of blue in the overcast sky, it was always to be seen in our rearview mirror, while the darkest bunch of clouds gathered above the road ahead of us.

That day the drive included dirt roads through some absolutely stunning jungles. The road was pot-holed, winding, and primarily up hill. Roman was doing a great job of navigating it though, and we were feeling pretty confident. We stopped along the way to see an absolutely magnificent and massive waterfall in the midst of the thick trees. We were enjoying the incredible view when a friendly Lao guy pulled up for break from his journey. He didn’t speak any English, but with sign language managed to communicate that he was heading the same direction as us and that it looked like rain was moving in. We didn’t have to wait long before his forecast proved to be correct.

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The waterfall. This photo does nothing to convey just how incredibly huge and amazingly beautiful it was. Was mesmerizing watching such huge volumes of water falling down over the rocks, seemingly in slow motion from that distance. Just gorgeous.
The photo does capture some of the darker rain clouds that were heading in our direction.

We’d been back on the path just a few minutes when the rain started. It wasn’t a heavy downpour like we’d experienced the day before; rather it turned out we were in for a steady, good long rain. Soon, the road began to devolve into orange colored mud and little gullies of neon, fast moving water streaming down hill. With me hopping off and walking the steeper and more challenging bits of road while Roman and the bike slipped and muscled their way up hill, we slowly but surely made progress, getting more soaked and muddy the whole time. After a lot of work and no break in the weather, we finally made it to the top of the plateau, probably looking like a couple of tired but happy drowned rats.

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The rear wheel and exhaust pipe of our bike completely spattered with ruddy mud (as were we)

On top of the plateau (elevation of 1,000 to 1,350 meters or 3,300 to 4,430 feet; thanks Wikipedia), the roads were happily nice and flat and the rain began to let up a bit, although that blue sky and sun remained elusive and it was pretty cold going. Driving through acre after acre of coffee fields and the small villages was beautiful and relaxing – until we hit a massive construction site with mud even slicker and stickier than during the upward journey. We were happy to see locals slipping and sliding through the muck just as much as we did; happily we were all laughing about it. 🙂

We spent the night on the plateau, in the town of Paksong. I was still cold the next morning and wrapped myself in all the dry clothes I was carrying for the trip back to Pakse, even picking up a scarf to wrap around my torso for an extra layer. It was amazing how quickly the temperature changed once we got out of the cloud cover and into lower elevations; I was peeling off layers as best I could on the back of the bike. 🙂

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