Friday, January 28, 2011

Three Days On A Bike

Three Days on a Bike

The baby is almost due. The College For Which I Work And Shall Remain Nameless is closed for two weeks. I managed to carve three days out of those very busy weeks to get on my bike.

My route was totally classic. I did not “go where no man had gone before”, to quote Captain Kirk in those pre-politically correct days. I very simply went up Route 10 until I hit Taalat and then over to Route 13, down to Ban 52 (see separate entry: Ban Fifty-Two Revisited) and then I threw the Specialized on a pickup truck down to the capital. Filthy and tired, I made it just in time to enjoy the Guinguette at the French Language Centre.

So, some words about the trip. One of the things you notice on a bike is that the country is filthy, absolutely filthy. It reminds me of the way France was 25 years ago, before the government invested massively in environmental education. So there is hope. As a matter of fact, a group of us farang get together every weekend to clean up the play areas by the Mekong and the Lao are most appreciative. It is only a question of time, but in the mean time, the country is sinking under the weight of plastic bags, garbage thrown from cars and the stink of burning garbage.

I made it as far as I could make it the first day before my knees, untrained for the trip, begged for rest. The guesthouse was a simple affair: dirty airless rooms for rent by the hour and nicer rooms at the back. The beer garden area was animated by three bored ladies of passion who stared at the television and asked me, without much hope: Passey? Lady?

But I had a great time with the locals at a nearby BBQ place where you buy roast pork skewers by the handful and can wash them down with BeerLao, the veritable local religion.

Lots of fun, glasses raised.

The next day I made it to Taalat. Many thanks go to the incomparable Reb Dovid who knows every nook and cranny of this country. Because my map ended before Taalat he was of great help telling me how to get there and where the 14th Century fort wall was hidden away along the way and where the ancient Khmer statues of Buddha were. Reb Dovid scours through old French documents and then goes off on his old bike to see if things are really where the French said they were. I do appreciate an original thinker.

I loved crossing the river by boat. I loved stopping in Temples to catch my breath and talk with the monks. I loved my lunch time pho.

On the way south on Route 13, at kilometer 62 there is a fish farm where you can go in and sit in a sala overlooking a lake and enjoy a really excellent roasted fish. The place is calm and beautiful and, like the rest of this blessed land, totally filthy. The grounds are overrun by plastic bags and a huge pile of waste waiting to be burned stands between two very pretty artificial lakes.

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