Where blood pressure drops and time stops - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

December 16, 2023 to December 17, 2023

Where blood pressure drops and time stops

On and around Don Det, Laos

Dear little friends,

To say our little bungalow is “rugged” would be a vast understatement. It has a great view though and is very quiet and there is some distance from the now-paved road. Some of the bungalows on the island practically hang over the road, which is probably technically a path, just ten feet of surprisingly smooth concrete.

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Rich Frasier“Rugged” seems an understatement…
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2 months ago

The first night in our bungalow we were worried about mosquitoes so unfurled the mosquito net over the bed and that was a big, big problem for me. For one thing it was full of dust. For another it was full of holes, and had an opening in it that Bruce had to close with some clips he brought along. The fan blew, the net settled on my head and face, I thought I was going to die of claustrophobia. I was super happy to see the beautiful sunrise.

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Our door did not lock at all. It was super unlikely that anyone would come in to steal anything at night but we sleep so soundly that we would never hear them. So, Bruce rigged this up. If the door opens the chairs falls over waking us.
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Bruce cut up a mango and we had our muesli out on a new little bench that the guesthouse owner had put up the day we arrived. A herd of water buffalo were splashing around just upstream from us and then suddenly all the adult water buffalos started swimming in the river, on to greener pastures, so to speak. A small group of baby water buffalos were left behind near the shore, one of them cried plaintively for ma but she was off foraging for the day.

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Rachael AndersonWhat a beautiful spot for breakfast!
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2 months ago
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Our guest house owner just got a new flag for his boat.
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Our neighbor was spending months on Don Det, recording banjo tracks and throat singing. I’m not making this up.
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Jen RahnThroat singing?!

Made me look it up. There are some cool videos out there!

Was he throat singing while playing the banjo?

How did you feel about his music?
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Jen RahnOddly enough we met a British guy on Don Khong 9 years ago who was a throat singer and beat boxer. I mean, there are very few throat singers out there, what are the odds? This guy was Finnish and had been in his little hut for months. I heard him playing his banjo, which was really strange considering where we were, but didn’t get to hear the throat singing.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Jen RahnSeeing Hun Hur Tu live in concert 30 years ago changed my life. They are still the best Tuvan throat singing group around. Check out some of their videos on YouTube - studio broadcasts. One of them is absolutely magical.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Jen RahnThroat singing in Tuva is derived from listening carefully to natural sounds and imitating them. Like, sitting in a small stream and listening to the gurgling water around you.

Maybe the 4000 Islands area of the southernmost part of Laos somehow draws in those who are sensitive to these sounds without them even knowing why they are drawn there. This Finn neighbor of ours spends as much as three months on Don Det every winter.
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2 months ago

There was a lovely breeze off the river and we took off for a tour d’ Det, first stop change money, second stop get a SIM card. This had to be done in the backpacker ghetto near the ferry landing. It’s a little surreal, buildings are wedged in cheek by jowl with all the restaurants, tour guides, ATMs, bars, and guesthouses making a mini Khaosan Road here on this otherwise serene island. But despite it being high high season there really weren’t a lot of tourists there. 

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Money was changed, no problem, they didn’t seem to care that Bruce’s bills were kind of ratty, for a change. The SIM card place across the street was a total bust but it wasn’t their fault, and get a load of why! I mean, they tried, they put a tourist SIM card in my phone and took my photo with me holding my passport and all the stuff you do as a foreigner to register your phone usage. But when they tried the national registration number to register me, they got cut off.

You see (and I had read about this already in the Laotian Times but had forgotten) the Lao government in October decreed that every Lao citizen needed to register their phone numbers just as foreigners did. No more slipping in a SIM card, buying data, and on your way. Nope. The deadline to do this was, get this, TODAY. The Lao people were not happy about this, naturally, and apparently put off doing this stupid bureaucratic move because often in Laos these rules are forgotten about almost immediately so you might as well wait to see if they mean it. 

In the end, since we are only in Laos for another week or so, it’s stupid and selfish of me to try to snag a SIM registration when everybody in the country who actually NEEDS their phone service is doing the same thing. WiFi it is.

Just a little graphic to explain this section of the 4000 Islands and some of the activities and sights to see.
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Don Det boat landing.
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John SolemA chair tipped over is safe but is not what a chair is for
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo John SolemYour high degree of cleverity still shines.
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2 months ago
Mark LellmanAsk any survivors of Pearl Harbour about that comment on the chair. Oh, not sure there are still any alive, but I don't think they would agree. Or the Russian ship that was just hit by a missile in Crimea.
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1 month ago

The other side of the island isn’t paved yet, and the neighborhood folks were working on some path improvements, shoveling dirt into the potholes, sometimes we were the first wheels on that loose dirt, it could be a little skid-worthy.

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The sun gets intense by 10 or 11, so we found a riverside restaurant across the bridge on Don Khone and settled in with fruit shakes and lunch to catch up on the journal and watch river life, which is pretty much nonstop and interesting. It feels good to stop and watch and read other people’s journals and chat with other people in the restaurant. It’s said of the 4000 Islands that this is where blood pressure drops and time stops. And it’s true.

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The 100 year old French railway bridge linking Don Det to Don Khon.
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We found out that this weekend was the annual Boat Festival, a traditional boat race where four of the 4000 islands competed in the waterway between Don Det and Don Khone. There had been a crowded “walking street” of sorts, with all sorts of snacks and games happening. There was evidence of a concert being set up. Our past experience with outdoor concerts in Laos has taught us that they are amplified to auditory hellmouth levels and are best avoided if possible. But in our room, easily a mile away and on another island, we could hear the thump of the bass, which greatly interfered with the cricket-and-frog concert near us. Either way though, we had no mosquitoes or mosquito net, windows open, I slept in fresh air that eventually got island quiet.

Dinner in our guesthouse restaurant. Also deserted.
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The next morning our plan was to eat breakfast back at the place on Don Khone that we liked, have lao coffee and banana pancakes or whatever. Banana pancakes epitomize the hippie travel trail in SE Asia, they’re served wherever backpackers eat. Our sweet little cafe had lost the plot on the banana pancake tradition, I’ll let the photo tell the story. The coffee was great, though.

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John SolemI’ll take 5 of those right now! Looks yummy if plotless.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo John SolemFive would be about right. Two was not enough.
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2 months ago
Rachael AndersonThey look delicious!
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Rachael AndersonYes, the small bananas over here are the best. They are pretty consistent @ 27 per dollar. We go through them quickly. Oh, the pancakes were good too.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Rachael AndersonPlus, they were served with honey!
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2 months ago

But before we stopped in for banana burritos we took a short spin to a waterfall and beach area that we remembered having bee-eaters nesting. Birds in Laos are often in short supply but this area wasn’t too bad. We didn’t see the bee-eaters and we didn’t pay to see the waterfall either, this was just an early morning cruise. 

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The boat races weren’t until midday, and we were seated in the wrong location but got ourselves to the right location to see a couple of the heats. The boats are very long and can have anywhere from a dozen to 25 rowers. Music played, folks were drinking Beer Lao and hanging out to watch, little girls were dressed up, little boys in their favorite soccer team shirts. The detritus of the previous night’s concert hadn’t been cleaned up yet, that area was pretty much ankle deep in empty water bottles and other trash.

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Jen RahnLove this shot!

Very cool view of the young spectator experience.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Jen RahnThank you. Yes, I was excited to happen upon this scene. The little girl with a pony tail is so cute.
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2 months ago
John SolemYes, great shot!
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2 months ago
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This is an historical school building next to the present day primary school.
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In the late afternoon we were lounging on our porch, watching the racing boats being towed back to their respective islands, when suddenly there was a CRACK and a very large branch broke off of a tree 50 feet away from us, completely blocking the path! That was a bit unsettling, this path is used by more than half of the island residents, but they calmly rode their motorbikes around and under the branch, nbd. In the morning when we left it had been cleared off of the path.

Cases of empty Beer Lao bottles heading back to the refill station.
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Going home to Don Som Island after the races. We think they were the winners.
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Those hills in the distance are in Cambodia. Photo taken from the old railroad bridge.
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We rode home from our dinner spot in the dark, having dug out our bike lights. Every street light was ringed by thousands of swirling insects so it was important to keep our mouths closed in the warm dark. There were still people out and about in festive mode, terrible karaoke, houses belting Lao morlam music, and the dark path dotted with occasional water buffalo manure piles. It was a lovely ride.

Today's ride: 16 miles (26 km)
Total: 367 miles (591 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 3
Gregory GarceauSometimes I smugly think Minnesota mosquitoes are the biggest and nastiest in the world. I live in a small world, I guess. I'm lucky to be able to escape them in a tent. I can't imagine having to clip the holes in mosquito netting provided by a guesthouse.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Gregory GarceauI grew up in the wilds of Minnesota and became immune to mosquito bites after getting possibly hundreds per day. But in SE Asia just one bite can make the rest of your life horrible or kill you. I nearly died from Dengue Fever in 1978 in Thailand so I am super careful now.

Yes, this was the worst mosquito net I've ever seen. Fortunately there were very very few mosquitoes, so few we didn't worry much. I don't know how this was possible since we were surrounded by water for miles around. So strange.
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2 months ago
Rachael AndersonWhat a great day!
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2 months ago