When I was a kid, we would go on camping trips every summer with my Dad. We'd leave for a week or two at a time, and we'd pull our kit on an over-loaded snowmobile trailer behind a maroon Nissan Maxima. My Dad was really proud of his increasingly eccentric setup, whose defining characteristic throughout the years was a pair of giant, green-treated wood boxes which he'd built and bolted to the sides.
My sister and I thought it was the craziest thing we'd ever seen when he assembled it, and we told him so by making special signs for the hulking monstrosity that said: NERD MOBILE. During the road-trip portion of our adventures, we would hold them up to the window with equal parts pride and shame for everyone on the highway to see.
"The Rig", as it came to be known, started with four bicycles between the boxes, but those eventually moved to the roof of the car so we could throw even more stuff in the middle. In its final years of service, we even managed to strap a canoe on the rig too. I wonder if this has anything to do with why I'm not a weight weenie?
Missing from the photos above, is the part that truly mortified my sister and me. My Dad used to affix a twenty foot tall King Korn flag to the back. It would whip and flap wildly in the wind as we cruised down the highway, broadcasting to the whole world one simple, terrible, secret: our family was weird.
It's a new day of motorcycling in Laos, one more afternoon spent with our friends, another carefree ride through the ceaselessly curvy mountain roads of this region. We're going to spend the day ogling a unrelenting parade of jaw-dropping scenery as far as the eye can see—I can't wait!
Shortly into our ride, keep noticing the huge reed-like plants (rattan?) on the side of the road. The way they sway in the wind reminds me of some long forgotten memory. Feeling inspired, I climb down the ditch and saw down one of the tall plants with the help of my pocket knife.
Then, climbing back up, I shove it securely into the triple trees of my bike's fork. There, that's better. I can't stop smiling at my new accessory; it looks like we have a life-sized RC motorcycle!
Through towns and villages we go, causing kids, adults, teenagers, everyone really, to burst out laughing as we pass. The giggles grow even louder, punctuated by shrieks of delight, when I rock the motorcycle back and forth a little, causing the tuft up top to wiggle and wave at them like an animal's tail. I am especially pleased when my antics cause an elderly, toothless woman to double over, cackling with glee, pointing wildly at my flag.
I used to be so embarrassed when my Dad would do dorky stuff in front of strangers, and here I am doing the same thing.
After the flag novelty has worn down a bit, we move on to other amusements. Namely, our goal of getting a good "lean" photo. This quintessential shot must be collected for one reason, and one reason alone: to make Pete and I look cool. We have a great time speeding ahead of the other to find a good curve at which to stop and leap into the ditch, camera at the ready. Here are the results:
After another great day on the road, we roll into the bustling town of Phou Khoun. We had toyed with the idea of going all the way to Luang Prabang in one go, but we're all getting tired, and it will be nice to be settled in a guest-house so early in the day.
So, we stop on the first one we come to, and Tara and Natasha climb off to inspect the rooms. They come back down smiling with the friendly proprietress, and we wheel the motorcycles right into the downstairs lobby of our bright, airy, friendly home for the night. Our rooms have stunning views over the mountains, as does the balcony that would be a great place for a sunset drink.
After showers are had and belongings stowed, it's time for a walk around town. This place, a dusty outpost, just a scattering of guest-houses and colorful market stalls surrounding an important fork in the road, is a key transport hub linking the mountains of northen Laos with the country's only main highway running from north to south.
As we meander along, buying smoothies and grilled chicken and sticky rice, reveling in the abundance of resources, Phou Khoun starts to look really familiar. Heyyyy, this is that market town where we stopped our bus ride from Vietnam! We had thought it looked intriguing and wished we could spend more than just a few minutes there, and now here we are!
We're almost done with our walk around the market, when one particular stall draws Pete and me in like moths to a flame: the machete shop. We've been envying the enormous, roughly-hewn knives everyone has around here, so we spend some time ogling the rustic blades and their wooden handles up close. Eventually, Natasha and Tara encourage us to just buy them already, and so we do.
On our way back to the guest-house, Tara looks over to me with a twinkle in her eye, holding a bag of chips in her hand. "Hey honey, I can't open this. Can you get it for me?" Taking the bait, I snatch it up, smiling broadly, saying "what, this bag of chips?!" Out comes the machete, and off comes the top of the bag with a clean "sliiiiiiiice".