Thursday, February 6, 2014

Get Thee to the River


Getting to the Nam Kham was only half the fun. Or, as Jane Aston once said, 'One of the wonderful things about life is never knowing in the morning how the evening will be'.

I left Nam Man with great reluctance, dressed to face a day of cycling in the cold – layers upon layers, with one side-saddle ready to receive my warm clothing as the day wore on and the sun rose loyally in the East.

The East. The East! What wonders can compare with this fabulous continent; this delicate, cruel, sparse, rich Asia as full as she is with her fair share of fanatics, of calm wisdom, of rain and of parching droughts? She starts in Istanbul, this Asia of mine, and has led me here, today, to these steppes north of Phonsavan and south of the Nam Kham. In Laos, in pacific Laos.

As I left that strange plateau the rolling hills began, green and tree covered. In my inner ear – that truthful vibration of who we really are – rang the old refrain:

מה, מה לילה מליל
דממה ביזרעאל
נומה עמק, ארץ תפארת
אנו לך משמרת.

To get up to the Nam Kham you have to follow a stream called the Hou. The road runs above the villages that line the stream, but you can visit the villages just by going down a steep hill if you are ready to climb its sibling at the far end of the village. Electricity in the villages is provided by generators that look like outboard motors with their propellers stuck in the water. The stream turns the propellers and the village has lights (and, inevitably, music...).

I took a few of those roads and visited a few of those village. A kettle sits on pieces of burning wood, water simmers to a boil; I dig into my saddle bags for coffee and milk and invite the village for a drink.

I know the large river is before me and I had planned to take a boat from this road to Donkham, a few kilometres downstream. I also knew that on the other side of the river the real riding would begin: the savage hills and the northern vistas. I was not to be disappointed.

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