Preface: I decided to try something different for this blog post. With such a long period of time to recollect and the fact that much of it flitted by in a feverish state, I wrote it in rapid fire present tense. I hope you enjoy coming along for the ride.
The sickness washes away in the hot air boiling off the black top. I imagine I am Mad Max, plodding across some apocalyptic landscape to who knows where. From above I must look solitary and resolute.
We take a 10 km dirt road to a waterfall. The path kicks up choking clouds of red dust. The water is a welcome reprieve to clean the skin and cool my feverish body. After floating in the turbulent pools the sun finally has a warmth instead of a heat for a few minutes.
The ride back to the main road gives Paul and Pauline their first flat. We get it patched in a small town where I drink a Pepsi and use broken Thai with the shy kids.
The main road gives Paul and Pauline their second flat. This time, a passerby helps us communicate and they buy a new tube.
We arrive at a small coffee plantation homestay 25 km before our intended destination of Tad Lo. Mr. Vieng runs a simple house, has a simple family, and a simple coffee business. He peels each bean by hand, roasts each kilogram for 1 hour over a small fire, and quietly tells whoever passes by about his process with pride. I feel the similarities to my time in Mae Mut.
We walk through the small town before dinner. Young men play a dusted game of volleyball and women of all ages hawk their handspun textiles. As dusk presses down, we return to the plantation.
After homemade fish soup, I stumble up to bed. Sleep comes slowly but stays through the night.
I wake the next morning more refreshed but still wary of an invader in my body. A breakfast of bananas and coffee sets us on the road.
We make a brief stop at the market with Mr. Vieng to buy snacks.
The 25 km go fast to the town and waterfall of Tad Lo. We choose a guesthouse and take the bikes to explore.
The waterfall that we visit is vertical and thin, like a strand of silk suspended over a cliff. The ribbon of water drifts down into the hazy crackling dry air below.
The short walk to the waterfall viewpoint leaves my legs shaking. I shuffle back to the bike feeling empty.
That night passes fitfully. I pass from sweating heat to shivering cool. I wake often and speed walk to the ramshackle bathroom at the back of the property. Inside I sit in the jaundice light of a single flickering bulb and hope for something solid. I am disappointed.
The daylight is a blessing and I hope the night's passings are soon to be behind me. I have steamed rice and 7up for breakfast and we continue.
The land is barren and dry. The air almost pops with the the arid heat. Sometimes it even smells scorched, like someone lit some great match for a millisecond and fried the dusty molecules to a crisp.
Paul and Pauline get a third flat tire. This time the man puts the old tire in as an extra barrier.
We stop at a tea and silk plantation where a German worker gives us a tour of the plants that stretch into the horizon.
As the sun starts to the fall, we head into the Bolivan plateau. We finally enter the realm of the dark giants who have gazed down at the burned earth beneath. The air cools down and clears. I finally remove my bandana from my mouth and breath deeply. It feels like coming home.
We spend the night tucked in the mountains in tent pads above a murmuring river. I sleep well in my canvas cocoon and only rise twice to relieve myself. An improvement.
We spend the morning walking to the waterfalls around this homestay. One in particular impresses. A towering fountain, it spills over the shelf and crashes to the ground spraying a cool mist over the purple flowers and us.
The day's ride is cool and invigorating. Dark clouds roil and threaten to the north. They make good on their watery promise.
We shelter beneath a gas station with tourists and locals alike. Rain pounds the hot blacktop and roof. Everything sizzles and starts to cool.
Two hours later we return to the washed road and ride into the setting sun. It pierces the clouds once in a while and the approaching night pulls the heat of four days away. I feel refreshed.
I sleep through the night.
We stop at a final waterfall the next day. A broad table dumps water into a sapphire pool. We travel through the waterfall on a homemade raft and rope system. The water is harshly cold and the freckled sun is warm and familiar. The two sensations mix in a pleasant reassurance.
We return to Pakse as the sun begins to descend. As it touches the cloud mountains, it explodes into a golden supernova before disappearing into the billowy depths. I am reluctant to depart from the machine that has carried my through sickness and landscape. The road was home for a brief time.