30 November 2011
The weather's cold, the sky overcast, the locals are wearing coats. I have to put my fleece on until I've warmed up. I stop a few times on the way out of town to make certain of the route. It starts spitting rain. Not rain. It's like the jungle and sky are sweating, water drops forming around me rather than falling from above.
There's a couple of short uphills soon after leaving town, and then the road settles down into a damp undulating run through the trees, through villages, past banana and rubber plantations. There's years with me now, riding along wanting to be crushed and reduced to echoes. They're hiding there behind me, avoiding my eyes when I try to glimpse them. A deep turgid oily flow, about to be drained from the sump of China, and creep trickle to the depths of the sea.
The first sign I see to the border has 29km marked on it. The sun cuts through the clouds. Around 56km, I reach Mohan, the border town. I eat a pile of food. Border formalities are straightforward enough, though the China side is not exactly set up for bikes. The Laos side is only set up for bikes because it's not set up at all. They've been working on a new immigration building for at least 18 months. 37 USD for a Laos visa, and I'm in.
The remaining 18km to Na Tuey is easy, but I'm feeling tired from pushing it on the China side. Three small girls line up and chorus a sing-songy 'sabaidee!' which makes me think about the confidence of a country able to address foreigners in its own tongue rather than by spewing out mangled hellos.
Na Tuey has changed - Chinese influence seems to have waned. Communication is an issue - I'm so used to switching to Chinese to get things done. So far my knowledge of Thai numbers has come in handy, but some verbs are going to need to get added.
I run into a cycle touring Dutch couple who are staying in the same guesthouse as me. They've ridden in from Thailand. I suggest we eat dinner together, they select a Chinese restaurant, and all goes smoothly with communications. A wall hanging has the characters 马到成功. Seems we're on the same three day itinerary to Luang Prabang, so chances are I'll run into them again.
76km, 20.3km/h, 3hr46min, 1117km