Archive for October, 2010


‘Aint no mountain high enough!’

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

As countries go, Laos certainly seems to have more mountains per square mile than any other place I’ve been. The whole country is like a giant version of Tellytubby land, covered with high roads, criss-crossing the ranges. It’s beautiful though.

After our night in the bamboo shelter, we got back on the road and having decided that I felt ok, I wanted to make it to ViengPhoukha that night, where there would be a guesthouse or two and food (of the meat variety)! It was 60km away and we had reason to believe that there were some big mountains in the way:

image

Map my ride elevation map of the some of the route

However, it started ok and we were on empty gravel roads, mostly heading downhill, including an area with a spectacular view of the valley and paddy fields.

valley

We passed through a small village where there were little kids on oversized bikes by the side of the road. Chris cycled by them on the part tarmac / part gravel road.

chris on gravel with kids by roadside (2)

The road meandered for a few miles, mostly flat through more villages with waving kids. I was beginning to wonder if we would be more tired from waving and shouting ‘Sabadee’, than cycling, by the time we reached the Chinese border. In one village, huge swathes of kids above us on the hill sides waved and screamed to us, amazing, I was beginning to feel like a celebrity.

The road quality deteriorates quite badly in places and becomes a bumpy, potholed mudfest. I know that hearing cyclists moan about road surfaces is fairly dull, but with no suspension, riding on a rough surface can make for an uncomfortable, slow ride. Chris, however, would argue that it’s good training!

road quality

So we finally reach a hill, which looks ok, but steep. The road is curving around the hill, so you can’t see how far the climb is, in some ways this is better as it is less daunting – one step at a time. We agree to meet at the top and set off. At first I keep up with Chris, but it’s not long before the gradient kicks in. Our paces differ greatly on the hills, even though Chris actually cycles at a slower speed with more weight. With shorter, weaker legs, I have to pedal faster to keep the bike moving and me from falling off, so it appears that I am exerting more energy in shorter bursts, meaning I get tired out quicker. I wish I had greater stamina and strength. So I pedal, aiming for a certain tree, post or pothole up ahead. I get there and rest for 30 secs, then continue to the next point. It’s slow going but breaking it down into sections make it achievable. We round a corner and continue up. I can now tell that this is going to be a big climb and there is no obvious ‘top’.

After a while, i stop for a few minute to catch my breath properly. On the hillside I can hear voices and chatter coming form the bushes and trees. I can’t see anyone, but it sounds very close. Finally some shouts of Sabadee arrive and I see 4 young women. They climb down and come over to me. In my best Lao I explain that I am going to Laoung NamTha and say how steep it is. They agree and ask me if I am on my own (Nung?)  Meaning: just you? (Shake head, Song!) No two! I say and motion ahead of me to indicate Chris. Ah they nod and look happier. I drink from my water bladder and they are intrigued, as is everyone in Laos, about this contraption. ‘Nam’ I say (water). They are very happy about this. I ask them what they have in their bags, they show me bamboo shoots. I nod and smile, pleased for them. Bamboo shoots are used heavily in cooking.  I set off again, but it’s really steep and I keep stopping – the women must wonder what I am doing, or more to the point why I am doing this at all. How strange for them. I wonder if they think all western women ride bikes up big hills in far off lands. I also think that, at this rate, they may catch me up on foot, however I turn around and see that they have disappeared back into the trees, continuing their hunt for food.

As the climb continues I reach a patch where the tarmac has been dug up leaving a very rough surface. Ahead, I see diggers, trucks and roadworks. By the time I reach them, the road is so bad that I have got off to push. Huffing and puffing as the trucks and machines move up and down, covering everything with clouds of dust. Me included. Then one of the workmen says hello, where are you going? I say Hi but continue, am too out of breath for a chat! A minute later he reverses his machine up the hill and stops just ahead of me, getting out the cab. He’s keen to talk so I stop. His English is good and he is from Thailand. I explain what we are doing and how we spent time in Thailand. Turns out we cycled through his home town, which he is delighted about. I guess not many tourists would go there as it’s not really a big tourist destination. I turn to go now as I know Chris will be waiting. The man rushes into his cab and brings down a big bunch of bananas. He gives them to me. I suggest that I just take one or two, but he insists that I take them all. I take them, very gratefully and thank him for his kindness. I wave goodbye and cycle on up the rest of the hill.

It’s boiling hot now and I am still climbing. No sign of Chris yet so I can’t be at the top. As I go round the corner I see it continue to climb and bend, not as steep but still up. Eventually the road surface improves and it levels out. Chris must be near, so I ring my bell a few times to let him know. Finally as I reach a bamboo shelter by the road I see his bike. Turns out he’s also been meeting people. A couple popped up by the shelter, sat with him for a while chattering away and gave him some freshly picked rice to chew on. We are both amazed at how friendly the people are here, so unfazed by our presence. Sure people who speak some English in SE Asia are usually friendly and come and chat to us, but here in Laos they are happy to sit and chat even if they speak no English and we only speak 10 words of Lao. It’s lovely.

We scoff some bananas and look at the road ahead, there’s more to go yet. My ears are blocked up at the moment and when I yawn I hear them crackle. Despite the difficulty of the climb, I’m buzzing. Those endorphins must be working their magic.

liz mountain top

We get going and the hill goes up up up some more until we finally level out and cycle for a few kms along a plateau. All we can see for miles around are hills and mountains. It’s spectacular (not that photos do it justice!). I’ve been pouring with sweat for hours and the prospect of a nice long downhill is exciting.

hills everywhere for miles

Then we whiz downhill for ages, maybe 10km, finally stopping at the marked boundary for Bokeo/Luang NamTha Province. We are both starving and Chris is particularly low on sugar, I know this as he is pretty grumpy and short tempered, always a sign of hunger.  So we pull out the tarp and I order him to sit down and eat the rest of my chocolate crisp things. I set up the stove in record time and boil some water for noodles. We only have one packet left though and a tin of sardines in tomato sauce. It’ll have to do us for now. Whilst all this is happening, a bus stops full of tourists, who proceed to get out the bus, saying hello and then walk off into the bush. We’re in the middle of nowhere, we think, where can they be going, they don’t have backpacks or anything? However after the number of people we’ve met today popping up here there and everywhere i guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

The coach driver comes to talk to us, turns out they’ve just stopped for a lunch break and have gone to eat their packed lunches. He sits with us while I cook and we ask him where the next village or shop is, what the road ahead is like etc. He’s a nice guy. The tourists come back, they are Dutch but speak good English, as most Dutch people do. We chat with them for a while before they climb back aboard and wave goodbye.

We scoff some more bananas, both feeling better for food and look at the road ahead. The driver reckons there is 3km of climbing to do before we reach the real final top. Then downhill for 20+km to Vieng Phoukha. So we continue up. In one place it’s too steep and I push my bike for the best part of a kilometre. Even the trucks coming past are going really slowly. At this point I tend to daydream and no longer focus on the hill or the difficulty. Having got this far, your know your body can do the work, so your mind is free to wander elsewhere. That said, it’s rare that I achieve this, especially on hills!

At the top top, after passing through a village, we find a small shop and stock up on water, which we were very low on by now. We also buy coke, orange juice and 4 packs of biscuits. One of the men form the village asks to have a ride on my bike. I ask him to trying lifting it first just so he has an idea of how heavy it is. Then I agree he can have a go. After a wobbly start ( it’s in the two lowest gears after the hill) he gets the hang and does a small circuit before handing it back. It’s now 4.30pm and we still have about 30km to do. It’s cold up here in the mountains and rain looks possible, so we start our descent. What can I say, we literally go downhill for 20km! We wind through hills and villages, passed rivers and cows. In many ways the Laos landscape reminds me of New Zealand.

wooden huts at start  of each village

The road eventually flattens out into a valley and we are not far from our final destination. A few more ks, but the last 5 are hard, my legs are very tired now and as the sun starts to set, I just want to get there. The town is meant to be a good size, yet out here it is hard to believe that just round the corner is a big town! We cycle along, side by side, taking the mickey out of each other with daft banter, both in high spirits and attempt to race the last bit. A couple more small hills get thrown in just for good measure and as we reach the brow of the last one, we see the town below us. Hurray, high fives all round. We whizz down and stop at the very first guesthouse sign we see. It’s called Mountain View Lodge and guess what, it’s up another flippin’ hill!

We check in to a small bungalow with views over the town. There is no electricity, but the bed is nice. I take a cold shower in the dark bathroom and wash away the layer of sweat, suncream and road dirt. I’m a bit too cold to face getting my head wet, so my hair stays unwashed. After feeling ill and weak the previous day, I was surprised that I was able to do this today and come to the conclusion that I am either not as ill as I thought or am stronger than I knew! Tomorrow will tell.

We head out to get food and order far too much, but are happily full when we return to our bungalow. The generator is on when we get back so we have some electricity (ie lights). We decided to watch a movie on the laptop. A few minutes into it, the electricity cuts off and shortly after that, despite efforts to keep my eyes open,  I fall fast asleep, shattered but content after a challenging ride through the mountains. 

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Sacred Places

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Recently a fellow twitter asked us what we thought about sacred places and where on our travels had we visited, that would be classed as sacred. This is the reply that I wrote…

I guess it helps to define your own personal understanding of the word sacred (as well as the dictionary definition). To me a sacred place or object is of religious or spiritual importance; or place or object that should be preserved, protected and not be destroyed.

Is it the site that is sacred or the event?

For sacred sites that are of spiritual importance, the place can be significant because of the events or ceremonies that take place there. Or perhaps vice versa – arguably the events take place there because the site is sacred, so which came first? For example take Stonehenge, now the site of mass midsummer gatherings, with a history of druids and pagan beliefs, a strong connection with leylines as well as a great stone structure, with some remaining mystery surrounding it. This is a sacred site, to pagans and archaeologists alike!

Places such as the stone pyramid temples at Chitchen Itza, Mexico and Machu Pichu, Peru also attract the title of ‘sacred’, again due to the impressive feats of architecture and the mystery surrounding the people (Mayan, Inca) who built these places and their use. However whether they ‘feel’ scared when you visit, very much depends on your relationship to them. Is it meaningful to you? Does the location or the experience give you a feeling that is somehow spiritual or ‘sacred’?

Other sacred places are holy sites or places of religious significance. Jerusalem, Mecca, the Ganges river all come to mind as places of religious pilgrimage. What is sacred to one faith may be meaningless to another. Is it possible to visit a religious site as someone of another faith or as an atheist and still see it as a sacred place? Or is it the embedded belief system that makes it sacred?

Is there such a place that every human being can agree is sacred, does this place exist?

Personally, as a I don’t follow any organised religious movement or faith, to me the word sacred refers more to places I feel should be preserved or protected, left unspoilt. Initially I would say that places or structures that are:

  • ancient
  • interesting historically and culturally
  • amazing feats of stone masonry or sculpture
  • give people continuity, by way of a story or idea
  • remain meaningful to people, if only some people
  • provide sanctuary

should be preserved and protected. Two most recent examples we’ve seen would be Prambanan Temple in Java, dating back to 14th century with detailed carving of the Ramayana story around the temple; and Kampheng Phet, a collection of ancient Buddhist temples in Thailand. However on our visits to these places I cannot say that I experienced anything spiritual or ‘sacred’.

Kampaeng Phet Prambanan1Prambanan Temple, Java

So to go one step further and really get to the bottom of what is a ‘sacred place’ I would argue that you have to go back to nature, to the start and visit the great outdoors to really see what is sacred.

On my first trip to New Zealand, with it’s huge majestic landscapes and snow capped mountains, I stood staring out, feeling tiny, insignificant and in awe. Whatever worries I had melted away, they were so tiny when seen on this huge scale and I liked that feeling. For the first time in my life I felt truly ‘connected’ to the earth, it was a fleeting spiritual moment.

Since then I have spent some time at home in the Borrowdale Valley, Lake District; cycling though the empty hills and mountains of Scotland; walking in the Hogbacks rainforest in South Africa; cycling in the Rainbow road and passes in New Zealand. I now know that it big wide open spaces, with huge mountains and rugged pathways, with lakes, gorges, forests and waterfalls along the way, that are sacred places to me.

 

liz 134New Zealand

Ancient and even modern day tribes have always worshipped or feared mountains, so my feeling is not new. In fact many wild places can be described as having a positive energy, with certain sites identified as being a place of ‘good energy’. If you are interested in the idea of energy take a look at Robert Coon’s site on earth chakra sites, energy lines and ley lines, unsurprisingly most of them involve mountains.

So in the end my final definition of a sacred place has to be somewhere that is life-sustaining, a place of beauty, a place of truth, a place of sanctuary and space, but most of all a place that connects you to the earth itself and all your senses simultaneously.

Quite simply, a place that makes me feel alive.

Final Thought

The Aborigines of Australia are known to have many ‘sacred sites’ which to the uneducated may just be a couple of rocks or a small stream. The Aboriginals connection to their land was far deeper than anything we know of today. In the book Songlines by Bruce Chatwin he describes how the white man, wishing to the build a railway line across Australia but avoiding these ‘so called sacred sites’, is trying to negotiate a meeting so that he may identify these ‘sacred sites’. The protagonist says something like “thing is, what the white fella needs to realise is that as far as the Aboriginals are concerned, the whole bloody country is a sacred site! To them, Australia itself is sacred.

I guess once you understand that, then you understand what is truly sacred.

The Three SistersBlue Mountains, Austarlia

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Day 2

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Having escaped the hornets, we discovered that the 8% gradient sign was actually for a downhill rather than an uphill – bonus!

Not long after, we stopped to buy water, we had river water with chlorine in it to drink, but a cold bottle of drinking water was very welcome. The little shop was surprised to see us, but the lady owner had a young baby boy who was fascinated with Chris and kept pointing to him, giggling and copying his facial gestures. He then blew Chris a kiss, very cute.

I wasn’t feeling too well, my cold was still lingering and I was very blocked up – sinuses and ears. On top of that I also felt wobbly and queasy today. We asked about the road ahead and the young man there made a long oohee sound and gestured that it was a long big hill ahead of us. The hill wasn’t too bad and we had some cloud cover.

liz climbing up (450x600)

We then had a big downhill and the road was very gravelly and dusty for a while. We passed through a village and waved and said “Sabadee” to everyone. I was feeling very strange, low energy and just weird. I stopped to rest for a minute and lady tried to talk to me. It took all my energy to focus on her and smile, and not be sick by the side of the road. I cycled on and came round a corner into a huge ball of dust and loose gravel, I really needed to stop now (despite the smiling in the photo to below!).

liz very hot at the top (600x450) (2)

Chris had stopped already by a clearing and we wheeled the bikes over to an old bamboo shelter. Food was the answer we decided.

bamboo shelter3 (600x450)

Being a bit low on fuel, with a temperamental stove, we opted for a fire instead. There was plenty of wood around and it was evident that whoever used the shelter before had made a small fire place, with 3 nicely positioned rocks. I sat down whilst Chris played bushman and got a fire going. He collected some more water from a nearby stream and we got a brew and some noodles on the go.

chris making fire4 (600x450)

The shelter had fallen apart, it was probably only temporary, but as I was feeling so rubbish, we decided to stay here and rebuild the bamboo shelter. Using the skills we learnt whilst trekking with Ten and Ben, we knew how to put it back together, using bamboo twine to join the poles. With our ground sheet and tarp for cover we manage to rig up good sleeping platform. The European desire to keep improving things and making it better, meant that after a while I had to stop Chris as he was in danger of adding a whole new section to the shelter. We unpacked, got our thermarests out, had a wash down and gathered firewood to keep boiling more water on the fire. I started to feel a bit better, but not 100%.

As the afternoon wore on, people started appearing from a path nearby, coming from their fields. All local villagers, they were surprised and amused to see us cooking away and re-building the shelter. Not exactly your average tourists! We waved and said hello, to put them at ease. The children were all excited and waved shyly back, the adults too. With a steady trickle of people coming up, it was funny to have an audience and it all felt a bit Robinson Crusoe.

bamboo shelter1 (600x450)

Finally one person, a young guy came over to speak to us. He was confident and friendly, and didn’t seemed to find it too strange us being there. With our few bits of Lao vocab and lots of gesturing we managed to have a conversation.

tea and coffee (300x225) Water had just boiled so I seized the opportunity to offer him a tea or coffee. We carry 2 plastic cups and 2 collapsible cups – our reason, so that if we meet people we can offer them a drink. Finally after many months of carrying them, we had the chance!!  He accepted and I brought him a coffee. Not sure who was more pleased, me or him! He suggested that we sleep in the village but we were all set up here now and quite happy, so we declined. His friend joined briefly and then they went on their way.

We were both enjoying our mini adventure and providing there were no flying things tonight, we were pleased with our efforts and our campfire. It was soon dark and we were both ready for sleep. The temperature dropped quite a lot and after a while I was cold. Like in need of my sleeping bag cold. But instead I put on a fleece and socks and huddled inside my sleeping liner. Should have got up and found my sleeping bag, but in that sleepy hazy way I convinced myself that I didn’t need it. I woke in the night to a noise and found Chris pulling open the foil space blanket that we carry in our first aid kit. He was cold too. We must be higher up that we realised. The space blanket made all the difference though and we were warm after that.

Dawn broke around 6am and by 7am the villagers were starting to arrive ready for another day’s work. We got up, ate the cold rice cooked the night before for breakfast, I abandoned that as it wasn’t very nice and made some noodles instead. Then we hit the road, ready to take on yet more hills, gravel and children waving!

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Escape…

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

So the buzzing in fact turned out to be a swarm of hornets. About 50 rather large and rather noisy hornets. Inside our tent. Where all our stuff is. Nice. And there are more outside, gradually finding their way inside.

Having watched Wild China last night, where the narrator pointed our just how nasty a hornet sting can be, we were not exactly delighted to confronted with 50 of the buggers. Cocooned in the inner tent, we had a laptop, 2 sleeping liners and sleeping mats, my journal and well… that was about it. Everything else, all the useful stuff, was in the outer tent, in our pannier bags. Great. Both sleepy and trying not to laugh and panic at the absurd nature of our predicament, we decided that mosquito coils was the answer. We carry these toxic rings with us, which you light and the smoke keeps the mozzies away. I don’t like them smoke from them so I’m guessing hornets won’t either. Only problem is the coils are in a bag in the outer tent and the lighter, well we don’t know where that is. Chris thought it was in his pocket but no, maybe we left it outside on the grass last night. Sigh.

Chris’s clothes bag is right by the zipper of the inner tent, we reckon if he can get that and we can see what’s in there. Last thing we want to do though is let a hornet inside here, it’s our only sanctuary. I have visions of us being stuck in the tent all day or both being stung all over and going into anaphylactic shock, right here in the middle of nowhere.

Luckily Chris’s bag has socks, long trousers, a mosquito head net (result!!) and long sleeve top. And no hornets follow the clothes bag in. Next job, get the big red bag with mosquito coils and other useful things. There are a number of hornets on the bag. Somehow, Chris managed to bring the bag inside and miraculously no hornets come too! Phew.

The bag has a Gore-Tex jacket and the mosquito coils and a candle ( plus a whole bunch of other stuff which is no use whatsoever). So Chris gets fully kitted up, beekeeper styley and announces he’s going outside. Now for a man who hates bees and wasps and any flying things, this is a brave statement. I’m deeply impressed. I offer to go in his place, but no, the challenge is too great to resist! Instead I film as much as I can on out little camera.

The inner tent zipper is opened and Chris moves slowly, like an astronaut stepping out, into the outer tent and zips me back in. He opens the tent door and goes out. So far so good. However the lighter is nowhere to be seen. So, slowly Chris begins taking our bags out of the tent, one by one. The lighter turns up in a bar bag and we light a coil. The hornets don’t seem to react. So we light two more. They are pretty horrible, so I’m guessing they will leave soon. Gradually they leave, they seems determined to cling to the side of the tent, despite being slowly poisoned “fly” i tell them,”you have wings you idiots!” and there are two exits! It’s been a while now and the sun is up, making the tent very sauna like, plus I’m busting for the toilet. I’m just wearing shorts and t-shirt, but I reckon it’s time to leave the tent now. Slowly I get out and move across the camping spot about 20 metres away. Not too bad out here. Most of them are on our cycling clothes, the ones we had hanging in the tent. They must like the sweat or something. So we pack up slowly, every so often having to move away and do comedy runs around the site to flee a persistent hornet.

Chris is now pouring with sweat in his beekeeping outfit and he strips off, back to normal layers. It’s pretty later now, about 9.30am, so much for our cool, early start eh!  But hey we’re alive and we didn’t get stung, so all is good and Chris has now been elevated to number one boyfriend in the world and extra clever, brave man, conqueror of the hornets! Hurray… let’s get on our bikes and get the hell out of here!

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An amazing Laos adventure

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Leaving the border town of Huay Xai, we were headed to Luang Nam Tha, through the mountains, hoping to get our first true taste of Laos. Like Thailand the language is written in a rather pretty, but unintelligible (to us) script, so road signs are difficult to read. Occasionally place names may be written in our alphabet so you can identify where you are, if it happens to be on your map that is! However, it’s not hard to navigate, there is only one road for the next 190km.

So we follow road 3 and it’s not long before we are in splendid isolation, the roads are very quiet, there is very little traffic, mostly trucks, the odd scooter, or a slow long tractor. Having been sick for a week, it’s nice to be back on the road, outside in the fresh air.

bikes at school

We pass a school and I’m delighted to see a massive collection of bicycles – the kids here all cycle to school, often with more than one to a bike. We stop near one school to have a bite to eat and manage to ‘order’ some sticky rice (kow neo), some cured pork wrapped in banana leaves, morning glory leaves and green beans, with some unidentified chilli paste. The girl running the show is pleased that we have stopped and chats away to us in Lao, we guess at what she might be saying and tell her where we are going, that it is is hilly and hot etc she joins us as we eat and has some sticky rice too. She is very smiley and seems glad to have company, even company that can’t speak her language. So she chatters away and we talk back in English, all of us happy to be talking even if we can’t understand each other.

Then we go on our way. It’s only 9am, but it is already getting warm. We pass a herd of cows walking along the road and cycle around them. The countryside is pretty, very rugged and unspoilt, with low lying mist across the mountains either side of us.

After 30km we start to climb, we literally turn a corner and there in front of us is a semi vertical slope! Hmmn. Off we go, slowly. It’s a big steep hill and goes on forever, or so it seems. It is very hot now and I am pushing the bike as much as cycling – alternating between tired legs and tired arms. There is no shade, so I stop next to the smallest bush or any small trees I see for a moment to shelter from the sun. I keep thinking it is the top but them another corner comes and the road keeps going up. I stop and scoff some biscuits and a banana. By the time I reach the top I am exhausted and feeling weak. Chris has rigged up a tarp, for some shade while he waits for me.  He was relieved to see me, I think he was about to come and find me!

And now for the downhill, always fun. We whizz down before arriving in a village, in the search for a cold coke. Within seconds we are surrounded by about 30 little kids. I’m guessing they don’t get many tourists stopping by. We crossed over to the little shop and like a swarm of bees the children moved with us excitedly. At the shop we managed to buy a coke and and orange, neither were cold, but hey they were sweet. The kids were crowded round us just staring at us, so we decided to move on to find some shade and have our drinks. It was all a little intense. As we cycled out of the village, children waved and people shouted ‘Sabadee’ to us. We found a shady spot not far from there and decided to stay there for a bit. We had baguettes (yes baguettes, Laos used to be a French colony) and a tin of tuna that we’ve been carting round with us for ages.

We both had a headache, and in the heat of the day we decided that cycling much further wouldn’t be much fun, so we rested in the shade. I went over to the river to have a wash down and try to cool off. On my way down I spotted a snake moments after he had spotted me. He slithered away very quickly and vanished into the rocks, He was about a metre and a half long and the closest and biggest live snake I’ve seen yet. I cautiously went to the water and got in. It was lovely and cool, but I didn’t hang around too long.  Chris did the same and felt a bit better after that. We agreed to cycle on a little bit to find a place to camp, sooner rather than later and preferable without anymore hills to climb. We filled three 4 ltr water bladders with river water and set off.

We cycled on but saw nowhere and then started going up hill again. We both groaned at this. It was still so hot and we were tired. A rainbow appeared in the sky much to my delight, and I silently asked the rainbow for a nice place to camp (yes as well as talking to the clouds and the wind, it now appears that I also talk to rainbows!). We passed a sign with 8% gradient marked. Hmmn not quite what we had in mind. And then second later a big open, flat area appeared to our right, a perfect camping spot! Once again the universe provides!

After a quick recce, we were happy and unloaded the bikes to get set up. It was a lovely evening, prefect for biving. However without mosquito nets and with the threat of a heavy downpour, we opted for the tent. It always amazed me how quickly the time goes between 4pm and 8pm when you are camping. One minute you are making a cup of tea, next minute it’s dark and time to sleep! Our 4 hours was quite eventful though…

In Thailand we stayed in guesthouse and hotels mostly as it was just too hot and sticky to camp. So lets just say we’re a bit rusty. Our stoves hadn’t been used for ages and we only had half a bottle of fuel, which is enough, but with the stoves being temperamental it may have been good to have more. Chris set up the Dragonfly and went to light it. It lit but the flame travelled back up the pipe and set fire to the pump and top of the fuel bottle. seriously not good! I grabbed some water and we put the fire out. But not quickly enough, the damage was done and the pump melted.

Luckily we have a second stove (Whisperlite), pump and second fuel bottle ( as back up) and we set this up.  It lit without any problems, but puckered and didn’t produce a good strong flame. after a couple of minutes it just went out. I could see Chris was losing patience with this situation, so I took over. There seems to be an issue that if the fuel bottle isn’t full, then the tube inside doesn’t always sit in the fuel. So with some repositioning, I got it going and boiled some water for tea and noodles. We polished them off pretty swiftly with our two remaining baguettes as the sun was setting.

We had enough water for a proper wash and helped each other to have a ’shower’. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to have a wash and a change of clothes. In the distance we could hear a loud, screechy noise echoing though the mountains. We thought it was trucks braking, but it was too regular and anyway there weren’t that many trucks going down hills round here! As the moon appeared and the sky filled with stars we climbed into our inner tent and decided to watch an episode of BBC Wild China. (If you’ve never watched them, you might want to download the series of 6, amazing footage of people, rare wildlife, ancient culture, scenery and so diverse a country. Beautifully filmed) As we are going there soon, we have been trying to learn a little about the country. This episode was on Yunnan, the province we will be going to first. It showed film of wild gibbons and their call. Now I’m pretty sure that the sounds we could hear this evening were gibbons. There is a ‘Gibbon experience’ place near the Laos/Thai border so there are gibbons in this region. Funny to think you are surrounded by wild animals yet unable to see them. Who knows there could even be elephants around.. we both agreed that if a wild elephant was to appear right here, we would both be bricking it, ever so slightly!

So time for sleep at last. It was quite warm so we left open the little window at the back of the tent (porch area) and just had the mosquito mesh down up on the door of the tent, that way some cool air could come in. Some time in the night I woke up and it was was raining very heavily, I could hardly hear myself think, but manage to go back to sleep.

I heard our alarm go off and rolled over to escape the noise of it. I hate getting up. I continued to ignore it and saw that Chris was sound asleep still. It stopped and I continued dozing. Somewhere in my brain, a buzzing noise was registering and slowly I began to wake up properly, I opened my eyes and looked into the porch of the tent. I shook Chris awake…” er babe, I think we have a problem, you might wanna wake up now”.  Chris sat up and had a look. It now dawned on us both, that we were trapped in our tent!

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