Good morning from the Lao jungle, somewhere east of Ban Na Di!
Quite a nice spot we found, eh?
Poor Brian had come down with a mean case of Lao-belly in the night and slept in while Oddvar and I built a fire and cooked up some coffee.
Some more pics of our 5-star lodging
Oddvar and Brian had strung up their hammocks under the shack, while I set up inside-
My “room” even had a little “balcony”
I hiked back up the trail a bit to get some pictures of this handwoven foot bridge-
Before hitting the trail we cleaned up in and around the shack, leaving it a lot cleaner than we found it, and left a bag of food suspended on a hook from the ceiling as a way to say thanks to whoever owned this place
Back on the trail- water crossings galore!
Steep and slippery- can’t make it out at all in the pics…
In many areas the creek is the trail
Imagine this area must be pretty inaccessible during the rainy season…
Here comes Oddvar! Where the rocks were covered in algae it was super slippery!
The trail dipped in and out of the creek more times than I could count- really fun stuff!
I love these kinds of trails!
Can you see Brian?
We followed the trail that Brian had plotted out on Google Earth and converted to .kml and .gpx but soon ran into a massive pile of cut bamboo that completely blocked the trail… As I was trying to find a way around a guy with a big machete emerged and indicated we could not get to Muang Fuang this way. We asked him how to get to Muang Fuang and with a lot of sign language it seemed we need to go back a bit to where we’d passed a fork and that the other trail might get us to Muang Fuang…
Here’s a record of all the dead ends we found on this epic day!
Here’s the .gpx track: http://www.asianconnection71.com/2014-02-27%2008.55.13%20Day.gpx
Besides the track that Brian had plotted (in red) there were other trails indicated on OpenStreetMap.org that were tantalizingly close.
Come to another junction that’s not on any of the maps, Brian and Oddvar flip a coin to decide which way to go
A lot of logging, slash and burn farming on the hills, and rice paddies in the valleys that you can’t see on Google Earth. No real burning yet, but the sky is quite hazy today.
We chased up a lot of trails but each and every one eventually petered out or was impassible on bikes-
One might still get through on foot?
More obstacles on another trail-
I must confess I did something really stupid here- in my search of every little trail I lost my riding buddies I went down a small trail that I was sure would dead end, and sure enough it did, but by the time I got back to the main trail I wasn’t sure if Brian and Oddvar were in front of me or behind… Bonehead move on my part- I should have waited before going off the main trail, or at the very least left something to indicate where I’d gone. Apologies again to Brian and Oddvar for losing you guys!
I still wasn’t ready to give up on finding a way through and continued to explore a number of small trails. This one looked promising, until I realized I was headed in the wrong direction…
This was an awesome trail- super steep and it got me to within about 1300 meters of Brian’s plotted trail, but I ran into a slight obstacle…
Had I not lost my mates we might have considered dragging out bikes under this large fallen tree, but on the other side the trail was pretty much washed away-
If I had more time and more water I’d have hiked this trail to see if it connects, but I was running short of both, needed to find my riding mates and fuel was getting low too…
Time to turn around-
On another track I stumbled through what I’m guessing was an illegal logging camp-
No one around and I wondered how they would take to a foreigner on their turf… The deforestation in Laos is sad and shocking in its scale… At the rate they are felling the forests there won’t be much left for the next generation…
Alright, I probably shouldn’t loiter here too long…
Another great single track that dips in and out of a small creek-
Riding back the way we’d come I was relieved to find the fellas at a shack near one of the junctions we’d passed. But, it turns out it wasn’t really a planned stop- they’d been riding in the direction of Ban Na Di when some little Lao soldiers carrying some really big guns appeared on the trail and “escorted” them to the “shack” which it turns out was an army checkpoint…
They weren’t exactly unfriendly, but they also made it pretty clear that we were not to leave. They looked at our documents, made some calls on their radios and we sat around, trying to keep smiling and not lose our patience. I was out of water so walked down to the nearby creek to refill my hydration pack. Brian and Oddvar had already been waiting quite a while with the soldiers and Brian was feeling and looking pretty ill. We somehow managed to talk the soldiers into letting Brian and Oddvar ride back to Ban Na Di, while I remained in their custody. I still didn’t realize at this point that this detention was actually a bit serious… My mates have “escaped”, I’m still “stuck” here:
I was a hot sweaty mess and shed my jersey, armor and sweat soaked shirt which I hung outside in the sun to dry. In hindsight was perhaps not a very “polite” thing to do? The soldiers didn’t seem to care, but as I was chilling in the shack, with a pile of automatic weapons within easy reach, a pickup truck appeared with some senior officers. Damn, I could tell they were not impressed by this dirty shirtless farang lounging in their checkpoint, and they had a bit of a powwow to decide what to do with me. The soldier running the checkpoint got a good tongue lashing for letting Brian and Oddvar leave. Oh well. The officer told me to get in the truck and that one of the soldiers would ride my bike to wherever they were taking me. The hell with that! No way I was going to be separated from my bike, my bags, etc. Besides, none of them were more than 5 feet tall, there’s no way they’d be able to ride my KLX back to Ban Na Di. They didn’t seem very happy with my refusal to cooperate, but they didn’t push it either. Back in the truck and off they go while I’m “compelled” to stay put.
To their credit, the soldiers did invite me to lunch, but I was pretty pissed at this point and besides, the food they were eating looked positively dangerous. I suppose it was rude of me to refuse their hospitality, but I must confess that by this time I’d been sitting around for a couple hours and was getting a bit hot under the collar.
Soldiers came and went, always leaving their machine guns neatly stacked at the entrance to the shack, just feet from where I was lounging. No idea if they had bullets in them and I couldn’t figure out a polite way of asking… Again, while they were friendly enough, they were quite adamant that I was not to take any pictures of them or their weapons.
FINALLY a call comes through and they tell me I can leave. Just like that. Weird. So, I go out, put on all my gear, go to start my bike and discover that someone has stolen my key!
What the hell?!?! I ask them quite directly who has STOLEN my key and they don’t like me using the work “kamoy” (thief) one bit. A well, suck it! Confusion and radio calls and it’s revealed that one of the soldiers in the pickup truck had snatched my key, I guess to make sure I’d stay put? One of the soldiers tells me, using sign language, that I should hot wire my bike. Screw that dude! I’m going to sit here and annoy you guys until my key shows up! Cutting a long story short, they key did eventually materialize and I got the hell out of there.
You’d think that would be the end right? Wrong!
Leaving the trail and getting back onto the main road a couple soldiers with AK47’s blocked my path to Ban Na Di and wanted me to go the other way. I kept trying to explain that my friends were waiting for me in Ban Na Di and they kept insisting I go the other way… Finally the pickup truck with the officers showed up and they told me Brian and Oddvar had gone the other way and weren’t in Ban Na Di, which, as it turns out, was a bit of a lie… Oh well, who am I to argue with dudes with guns. I turn around and whack it. This was a brand new wide dirt road that doesn’t even appear on Google Earth of any of the GPS maps and it was actually a really fun ride:
Reach “civilization” and my bike is running on fumes, so top up, then set about looking for Brian and Oddvar. I’m wandering around town when the soldiers finally catch up with me. They want me to go to the police station. Egads, what next??!? We interrupt a police soccer game and some cops in soccer jerseys escort me to the Muang Meth Police Station. Yep, that’s right, we’re in METH town!
They stick me in a room but don’t lock the door, which I take as a good sign. Then a bunch of coppers come in and start asking me all the same questions the soldiers had asked several hours earlier and asking to see all the documents I’d shown before. Passport, drivers license, insurance and customs forms. Tedious! One thing that creeped me out a bit was that they asked me if I had a camera, I told them honestly, just my camera phone, then they went through all my pictures. $hit I’m thinking to myself, do I have any pics on there that they might consider illegal or offensive? Probably I do! Are they going to flip out when they see my pics of the illegal logging? But, in an odd twist of fate, the Lao Telecom SIM card that I’d purchased a couple days before had really messed up my phone, setting the date back to January, 2013, so all the pictures I’d taken in the last couple of days were at the very BOTTOM of my picture collection, and with several thousand pics on the phone, they never got close to seeing the logging pics.
On a positive note, Brian and Oddvar got picked up somewhere along the way and were also escorted to the police station, so our merry little band was reunited!
The ranking officer, in his Emirates soccer jersey was actually a really friendly guy. I asked him “pen arai” (what’s the problem) and he tells me “mai pen rai” (no problem), which is good news. Seems they just need to fill out a bunch of reports to document who we were and what we were up to…
As with the soldiers, the police couldn’t quite wrap their heads around the idea that we were riding around in the jungle for fun. I reckon that just doesn’t compute in rural Laos. They even made comments like, “Why aren’t you cruising on a big bike and staying in nice hotels”?
Tick tock, tick tock. Brian had visions of riding to Kasi or even as far as Van Vieng, but I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to reach either in daylight. Eventually they let us out of the “interrogation” room and we moved outside. We thought we were free to go, but no, once again, we have to wait and wait and wait… Every time we thought we were about to be released they’d tell us to wait some more.
Poor Brian was really in pretty rough shape-
One highlight for me though was inviting the soliders and police to sit on my bike. Such a shame we couldn’t take pictures- I swear none of the guys were more than 5 feet tall and they’d climb up onto the tallish KLX with it on the side stand with a look of accomplishment on their faces, then I’d pull the bike upright and everyone would howl in laughter as the “rider’s” feet dangled in the air
It was getting late and the soldiers and police started going home, but still we waited. Finally, shortly before sunset our passports were returned and we were free to go. Again, the friendly cop in the Emirates jersey said there was “no problem”, BUT, we should NOT ride in to the area where we’d been apprehended. My only guess is that they don’t want foreigners witnessing all the illegal logging going on in there.
Freedom baby! It was definitely too late to get to Kasi or Van Vieng and we were all beat! I found a really nice guesthouse- the Kham Phiane:
Big clean rooms for only 50,000 Kip and a sunset off their veranda that can’t be beat!
Sunset beers at the guesthouse then we wandered in to town where we enjoyed some tasty jungle bat with sticky rice- a local delicacy apparently
I know it looks a wee bit freaky, but trust me, jungle bat goes great with Beer Lao and some sticky rice!!!!