where the f*#k is Lai Chau?

We only managed to travel 30 Klms today because the weather has turned very damned cold and we were riding in what amounted to sleet. Becuse the edges of the roads are all dirt the trucks and other four wheeled vehicles drag it all onto the bitumen which means that there is a trecharous muddy slick covering most of the road. Considering that the roads are so narrow and with so many hairpin bends that makes driving a nightmare especially when your vision is reduced to zero with either wet sunglasses or by squinting to keep out the freezing droplets of water.

Last night we stayed in the most bizarre hotel in a place where nobody knew exactly where they were. The names of all the villages have been swapped with each other in this area and the hotel staff were telling us that we were in a village that is actually another 12o klms to the north. Actually, we had been asking many people in the small village of Moung Lay how far it was to Lai Chau and had been given estimates ranging from 40 to 215 Klms. Talk about confusing. But we think that we are now in Lai Chau although we are not really sure because the locals here tell us we are in Lai Chau that used to be called Lam Duong and that actually Muong Lay is now called Lai Chau. So where the fuck are we? I’m not really sure.

What we are sure of is that this must surely rate as one of the most god-forsaken and miserable villages on earth. The main street is impassable and the road through town is one huge mud slick. I suppose that in better weather this place would be pretty but right now we are all cold (teh temp is aboput 8 degrees and dropping) and we have just been out looking for pantyhose for all of us to wear when riding to keep our legs warm but couldn’t find any. Because we are so close to the Chinese border here there are mostly Chinese trucks using the roads and the place has a strange feel to it, although most places we have stopped at have strange feels to them.

I’m sitting at the computer in this Internet cafe feeling a bit like the Michelin tyre man as I have five layers of clothing on and still I’m a bit cold. The main problem on the bikes of course is the wind caused by our forward motion as it causes an enormous chill factor particularly on our extremities. However, maybe tomorrow the predicted warm front will kick in but if it doesn’t we may have to think about reticketing our train to Ha Noi and plane to Sai Gon.

Loic and Mimi had a spill off their bike today in the muddy slick and other than a few grazes are both fine and not phased too much. Some friendly truckies stopped and helped them straighten out the gear lever and when they reached Lai Chau (if in fact that is where we are) they had the seering straightened at a workshop. It will be slow going tomorrow if this misty sleet doesn’t cease but we are determined to get an early start because by 3pm it is frigid. If it is too wet and cold early we will just have to wait around a bit and see what happens or take off real slow.

The scenery and the people continue to fascinate and the food just keeps getting better if that is possible. We just ate at a tiny cafe across the road and the food was possibly the best we have had on the entire trip, although maybe that was because we were so cold and hungry. We will go back and have breakfast there tomorrow morning because the lady is so friendly and kind, not to mention a great cook.

I can’t type any more because my fingers are nearly frozen so excuse any typos. I’m going to squelch my muddy way back to the guest house and I hope that there is hot water for a shower. Then I think it will be a few gulps of Vodka Ha Noi to warm the insides and an early night. Even though my hands and feet feel like they are about to fall off with the cold the trip is still going well and is worth every bit of discomfort that we have had.