Brilliant blue skies stretch out above us, more heavenly than any magnificent cathedral's dome. The scent of woodsmoke (one of my favorite smells) drifts through the air, and I am filled with happiness, hugging Tyler as he pilots our motorcycle down a quiet dirt track. We couldn't ask for more perfect weather, stunning scenery, or amiable companions. How cool is this!?
As we ride, weaving our way through tiny villages, chickens scatter and piggies run around, ducks dorkily quack about, and adorable children wave hello. Everyone we pass is working directly towards their survival; we see people foraging, preparing grain, making brooms, cooking and sharpening tools in every village. Meanwhile, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and grandparents alike, take turns caring for babies and small children. Already, I have so much respect for these people.
Every five minutes or so, we halt so we can say hello, buy drinks and snacks from tiny little roadside shops, and photograph our surroundings. We're enamored with the kids, usually a bit scruffy with dirty clothes. Some run towards us, excited and curious about the big white strangers, while others stay back, shy and wary.
At one of our breaks, we're have bowls of noodle soup at a tiny wooden restaurant, while we're befriended by a feathery flock of ducks! Tyler manages to catch one of the little quackers, and it is surprisingly content to hang out in his hand!
As we continue further into the mountains, the terrain gets progressively poorer and the track turns sharply upwards. The most hair-raising sections are easily a 30% grade (whatever that means; let's just say it is remarkably steep). The ride isn't too technical, but revving up the rocky dirt roads is a little daunting. With our luggage strapped over the rear tire, and Tara behind me, the slightest ham-fisting of the throttle on the steeper ascents readily lifts the front end of our bike off the ground.
Throughout the ride we're treated to verdant vistas, the sky opening into the mountains as far as the eye can see. I can't remember where, but I once read this area referred to as The Rooftop of Indochina. While we navigate the increasingly rutted tracks, I keep coming back to the phrase, a smile exploding on my face each time. We're riding motorcycles on The Rooftops of Indochina!! I feel as though I could burst at the seams from all the joy I'm feeling: this is SO COOL!
Every village we pass has several looms, each with a silk scarf or blanket of some kind in the process of being woven. Ceaselessly drawn to all things hand-made, Tara calls us to a halt at one of them, wanting to run over and have a closer look. We saw these patterns at the night market in Luang Prabang—that must be where they sell them!
While Tara is admiring the handiwork, a friendly guy on a scooter pulls off the road, and gives us a perfect English greeting. With a smile and a handshake, he welcomes us to his home country and tells us about the silk weaving they do here. Apparently, loom work is a primary source of income for many villagers.
People from the city come to buy the fabric for a 20,000 Lao Kip (~$2.50) so they can resell it for (an equally shocking low) 30,000 (~$3.75) at the market in Luang Prabang. When all is said and done, Tara and Natasha both pay 25,000 to one of the women working, and each get their own scarf, right off the loom!
As the sun starts it's descent towards the horizon, the road continues to climb, and the temperature begins to drop. My jaw is still agape at our wildly captivatating surroundings, but it is around now that the first twinges of concern begin edging into my excitement. Will we make it to the other end of this dusty detour before nightfall?