Friday, February 24, 2012

To Market to Market to Buy a Grilled Duck, Home Again, Home Again...

Originally, we were only going to overnight in Luang Prabang since we spent several days there on our last adventure, but over dinner last night, we decided that it would be nice to spend a day and go out to the waterfalls.   Which is what we did.  After breakfast.  When we stepped onto the street, we saw a big, blue BMW bike with a foreign plate and a tall rider pass us.  It's Hubert from the ferry crossing!  We shouted his name and tried to catch him, but he was gone.  Oh well.  We continued on to get our sandwiches and brought them back to enjoy them on our guesthouse patio with a cup of coffee (this time, Colin had ham, and I had Laos style with tofu, omelet, and meat floss...and lots of salad on both.  We do like veggies too). After wiping our faces, putting on our swimsuits and riding gear, we got on the bikes for the 20 mile ride to the Tat Kuang Si waterfall. 

  As I hopped on my bike, I noticed that the Buddhist prayer cloths that I have been riding with since India and Nepal seemed to be disarranged, but I didn't think much about it.  We pulled out from the guesthouse and made our way onto the road to the waterfall.  Almost immediately, I noticed that one of the bungee cords that holds my jerrycan on the front rack was not in its customary position.  Hmmm. I am intimately familiar with the way this can is strapped to my bike since we have been strapping and unstrapping it one to two times per day for the last 150 days or so.  The position of the bungees matters, since if they're not on correctly, the fuel can tends to shift around and can cause a slight headshake in the front end. 

We continued our ride to the waterfall, down a pretty, twisty, country road.  Along the way, we passed several groups of serious bicyclists on fancy, imported bicycles, wearing their stretchy, colorful pants.  Have you ever noticed that you never see anyone over the age of 12 smile when they ride a bicycle? No, you probably haven't.  We've seen many people touring the world on bicycles, and not a one of them looks to be enjoying it.  Regardless of the terrain or weather conditions, the common expression is a pained grimace.  It has become a bit of a running joke between us.  We did meet up with some of the riders we passed on the way to the falls while we were locking our gear to the bikes.  They were an older bunch of Germans who were touring Laos and northern Thailand on bicycles, and they actually did seem to be having a good time.  

We cable-locked our gear to the bikes, and then I investigated the fuel can mystery.  When we arrived in Luang Prabang, my fuel jug only had about two liters remaining in it, but now, there was less than half an inch covering the bottom of the can.  The five liter can on Re's bike is our ICE supply (In Case of Emergency) and usually has about four liters in it.  A quick look at Re's can (hehehe), I mean, uh, fuel can, revealed that it was missing about three liters, and indeed, the bungee cord was also not attached the way we attach it.  Grrr.  The good news is, this is only the second time that anything has been taken from our bikes in nearly seven months on the road (the other being the carabiner clips that disappeared in Mumbai).  We do remove the fuel cans if we feel that the area warrants it, but we felt safe with the bikes behind the locked gate at our guesthouse last night.  The thing that struck me most odd was that the thief did not take all the fuel out of the can, or take the cans themselves.  My prime suspect was the young man who took over at the front desk late last night and seemed very interested in our motorbikes.  But the world may never know... . 
Tat Kuang Si is another gorgeous set of falls, with several large pools in which to swim, and unlike Erawan, involves an extremely easy walk to get to them.  We strolled the path, stopping along the way to watch the rescued sun bears enjoying life.  They have a huge enclosure with hammocks, swings, balls on the ground and on chains to play with, stumps, water features; in the bear entertainment market, you name it, these bears have it.  Since it seems sensible to climb to the top of the falls and work down, that's what we did.  We did stop at a particularly lovely place, parked ourselves on a bamboo platform, and talked about our plans for the post-trip future before we reached the top.  We didn't come to any conclusions, but did discard one of the two plans.  Unfortunately, we added a third (the two remaining plans somehow became “Plan 1” and “Plan C”).  

Not me, but I did jump from here
At one of the pools, we stopped to have a dip.  Wading in, we only got about as far as our hips, because the water was really cold.  There is a tree growing at the edge with a perfectly shaped limb to jump from.  Someone has tied a rope around it, and that's just what people do.  We did not.  Instead, we aimed higher (Colin often tells me to do so) and walked across the rocks to the middle of the falls at this level.  It was only about 15 feet high, no big deal.  Except that from the top, it more closely resembled Niagara Falls.  The water streaming over our feet became class 4 rapids.  We walked out together.  I went first.  The water was bracing but felt good once I resurfaced and caught my breath.  I tread water in the pool, waiting for Colin to take the leap.  Did I mention I am afraid of heights?  Re and I walked out onto the rather slippery limestone edge, and after just a few seconds, Re leapt in, which left me, standing on the edge, looking down.  There were between 30 and 40 people at the pool, and even though I didn't have my glasses on, I knew they were all looking at me.  I thought seriously about punking out, but you know how it is.  If a girl can do it, then I can do it.  So with the logic of a 12-year old, I stepped to the edge and jumped.  Once my feet actually left the rock, it was a blast, until I hit the cold, cold water.  As I surfaced, the combination of exhilaration and cold water led to me taking a sharp breath and the sudden rediscovery of my broken ribs.  My ribs have gotten better, but sneezing is still very painful.  Now I can add jumping off a waterfall to the list of this that make my ribs hurt.  Somehow this was much harder than walking off the side of a mountain to paraglide for him.  But he did it!  We spent the better part of the day soaking and enjoying the beautiful surroundings and each other's company, but before we left, I had to jump once more.  Colin got it on video. We had to turn the computer sideways to watch it. 

That evening, as we were heading out for the night market to get some dinner, the proprietress of our guesthouse was sitting on the patio with several friends.  We had noticed that under the glass counter out front was a shelf of various Laos treats for sale, and we wanted to buy some river weed to have as a snack.  She got out a package for us, but in the conversation said it wasn't cooked.  We had no way to fry it and thus declined to purchase it until she offered to cook it for us if we'd like.  Fresh, hot, fried river weed?  Sounds great to us!  It's like nori sheets only fresher and better tasting.  To make it, people collect a certain type of river weeds during the dry season when the water level is lower, pound them, form them into thin, flat sheets, and air dry them on racks outside in the sun.  Then, the sheets are brushed with paper-thin fried garlic, dried tomatoes, and sesame seeds, and left to dry again.  Then, you fry them in a very hot wok for, I assume, a matter of seconds.  It really is a terrificly addictive snack.  She said they would fry it when we returned from dinner, so we headed to the market.  There, we found a bustling, narrow lane with food stands set up along both sides.  We made a dinner of half a grilled duck, a large plate of mixed vegetables and noodles, and spring rolls.  It was pretty decent, not the best meal ever, but good enough.   

Stefano and Annamaria's bikes!
When we got back to the guesthouse, we noticed a pair of large motorcyles parked on the street in front- it was Stefano and Annamaria, the Italian couple we first met in Kathmandu!  They caught up with us!  After they checked into their room and got settled, we pointed them toward the night market for dinner.  When they returned, we spent the rest of the evening talking, laughing, and comparing travel notes with them over coffees and beers, until the young man at the front desk told us he was closing the gate and shutting off the lights.  So we said goodbye again, for now, and went inside to bed.

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