Cell Block Number Five

Kasi to Phou Khun
44.89km, 5:04:01, 8.8km/hr

We woke up fifteen minutes earlier than usual today. Normally I wouldn’t be too happy about that, but today we were going to have bread and cheese for breakfast instead of riding on an empty stomach like we usually do. It turned out to be a bust though because the bread was spongy and to top it off it was infested with ants. We have become so used to ants in food here in Laos that we picked as many off as we could and ate it anyway.

We basically just grinded up the mountains all day and enjoyed the views. The first 8 kilometers were flat, and then the next thirty kilometers were a constant climb into the mountains. We climbed at a steady pace for 4 hours and topped out at 1500 meters. I went slow to stay with Sarah because I didn’t want to get too far ahead of her on such a long climb. Our average climbing speed is 6-7 km/hr. At the lower elevations, the hills were entirely covered with corn. It was amazing how steep the slopes were that had corn planted on them. There was a thick cloud cover the entire day, so we couldn’t see all the mountains, but the clouds did keep us cool. I was a little depressed at first that we weren’t going to get to see the mountain tops, but I think we got the idea. I wonder if it is pretty rare to have no clouds up here anyway.

We went through half a dozen Hmong villages where the kids usually went nuts greeting us and the adults were very friendly too. One strange thing we saw was a lot of kids with blonde hair, but no adults. We also saw a lot of young men carrying AK-47s around. I’m not sure if they were with the government and fighting Hmong people or if it was the other way around. Some people were wearing one piece of the traditional dress like pants, a vest, or a head-wrap, but no one was in the full garb. The kids were usually filthy.

We also saw a young boy playing guitar in front of his house, which was on top of a big hill overlooking the valley. There were steep stairs cut into the dirt leading up to the front door. We stopped to listen for a while and then gave him a round of applause before taking off.

More mountain views from the ride:

We arrived in Phou Khun around noon and had lunch of noodle soup. We thought about going on to Kia Kou Cham, which was 50 kilometers down the road, but then the weather took a turn for the worse and it was so cloudy you couldn’t see anything so we decided to wait until tomorrow and hope for better weather. Our room was basic: cement floor, no running water, and a shared squat toilet. We dubbed our room “Cell Block Five”.

We both took “showers” in the bathroom. It was already pretty cold outside (like a wet day in Seattle in February), but we had to dump ice-cold rainwater on ourselves from a giant bucket, soap up, and then rinse off. Sarah just rinsed off, but I did the whole shebang. After the initial shock it wasn’t too bad.

We then spent the evening hanging out on the guesthouse balcony and watching people below. Every time a bus pulled up, the women selling vegetables would run after it and try to sell something that looked like leafy grass to the passengers. There were a bunch of little girls selling corn too. It is sad to see the kids working, but they looked like they were having fun.

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