This Week: Magic show, bike breakdown and Laos border bouncing
What adventurs await us across the border? Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THIS WEEK – surely, not this week – some carefully worded dice options keep Rocinante, my CB500X motorcycle and I together, as the die set the pace for entering Laos to “do drugs” by pushing for a magic show at a local school in Nan Thailand.
The dice, which have been dead set against dedicating a whole week to magic, threw me into the deep end with this one. They demanded that I offer to do a show for students at Bandon Srisermkasikorn School in Nan.
Given the short notice of the proposition, I'd hoped that the bureaucracy of the school would shoot the idea down. Instead, I got a thumbs up message from the American girl who suggested I do the show, confirming the time for 12:30pm.
By booking the magic show, my entire schedule is thrown.
Given the delay, there's now no point of me skipping town right before the Nan longboat races get underway. The dice have locked me in at the cute provincial city for a few more days (full story here).
The day after the first-ever Simonelli's Traveling Magic Show performance, which is the day before the boat races, the die serves up sticks of grilled frog for breakfast – a poor solution at the end of a restless night of sleep (full story here).
The alarm sets the hook and starts to draw me out of sleep the morning of the boat races. I resist, like a Northern Pike on the line. I hit snooze. I play log. The alarms sounds. I hit snooze again.
This morning is technically why I'm still in Nan. However, I've been sleep deprived the last few days, finding myself wandering around the town at all hours of the night. I want this sleep. I need this sleep.
It's already 7:30am, I was told that the racing starts at 8am. I don't know how long it lasts, but I do know an early start is necessary.
I go to the Board of the Die. They force me out of bed. It's an unfortunate decision.
Once the racing is underway, I feel like I'm at the Mint 400 desert race for Sports Illustrated in 1971, which is part of the reason I congratulate the die on its decision to split a small bottle of whiskey with me as we watch teams of twenty rowers fly down the muddy Nan River (full story here).
The boats were filled with men and women. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I wasn't completely unprepared for the possibility of the Laos border being shut in my face, though the forums I checked online seemed to think I shouldn't have any issues. From the beginning, the question put to the die was crafted with the kind of loop hole that makes a corrupt politician wiggle his toes with delight.
“Where should my first border crossing attempt be?” the question read. This of course meant I wasn't going to be forced to ditch Rocinante at an international border, again.
Huai Kon, the first place the die told me to attempt the crossing, isn't a border town, it is simply a dusty border. Their is a collection of small businesses along the roadside: a couple restaurants, a mechanic, a few places selling insurances, a local-style convenience store and that's about it.
The immigration boss, who's wearing a crisp uniform and black-lensed aviator glasses, comes over from where he was chatting with a few fellow officers to see what my problem is.
He confirms that the Laos officials won't let me in at this border with the motorcycle. The officer suggests that I try a different border crossing.
The September 23 deadline for meeting my Thai friend, Pink, in Laos is adding some excitement to the situation. I need to make the Nong Kai border crossing by tomorrow or the next day, at the very latest. I like it. This is feeling a bit like an adventure.
A reckless feeling starts to settle over me, like dew on an Indiana pasture. It feels fresh, exciting, full of potential. Fuck it. I'll load up on Red Bulls and Snickers and drive all night if I have to.
Of course, what I meant was: Fuck it, let's ride until my motorcycle breaks down in the middle of nowhere sometime after midnight (full story here).
Well, that's not ideal. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
With the forest looming large on each side of us, the rain lets up. There is suddenly a heart-cringing clatter as Rocinante stumbles beneath me.
She clacks to a stop in the middle of nowhere.
I get off the bike and look at the damage. Like a horse whose shoe has come loose, she's dropped her chain.
After nearly an hour struggling with fixing the bike, it becomes clear that Rocinante isn't going anywhere on her own power.
I strain against the machine as we go up what would normally be an imperceptible incline.
Within minutes, my body is tired, straining under the weight of the fully loaded bike as I push her.
Kilometers later, we find our way to a trucker station. I pitch a tent between the cement tables near the bike, roll out my yoga mat and use my meditation cushion as a pillow. I'll have to wait until tomorrow to see what possible solutions there are for Rocinante. I start to fall asleep. The cold, hard cement soothes me. The occasional commotion of a late-night trucker pulling in for gas calms me. It's nice to sleep where the world is cool and a little active (full story here).
Perhaps the most scenic camp site. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Crouching down next to a Thai mechanic, I watch as he starts taking apart the bike to access the front sprocket. With a handheld circular saw, he starts cutting at the heads on a link of the chain. Sparks fly around him before the piece of the chain falls away. At first, it was looking like I might have to hire a truck to carry my bike back to Nan City to get the chain replaced there. However, this mechanic, Vorapong, is possibly a miracle worker.
With a few bits of the bike laying on the floor, he wanders into the depths of the warehouse. Near the back, his wife is working on a large wooden loom, which seems out of place in the greasy, metal world of a mechanic's warehouse.
Vorapong returns with a brand new chain still in the box.
He feeds the chain into the teeth of the sprocket to see if it's going to work.
The teeth of the back disc smoothly catch the chain, as it settles into their gums, the spaces between.
“Can,” Vorapong says with a smile.
He's nearly as surprised as I am. This is the only chain like this that he happens to have. Why he has it, I can't imagine. I'm sure he's not sure why he has it either.
Counting my lucky stars on this quick fix. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Rocinante has more power now that the chain is snug and not bouncing all over the place. Though it's already 1pm, I'm excited and hopeful that I'll hit the border and make my first international motorbike crossing today.
I check Google Maps.
Well, there goes that idea. I forgot how far away Nong Kai is (full story here).
Getting bounced at the Laos border once is part of an adventure, but if I get bounced a second time, it's a failure. That failure is not part of an adventure, but hampering the adventure I'm craving. It's also starting to mess with the Will of the Die, which is a big no-no. It all comes back to my beloved white elephant, Rocinante, who has once again entangled me in bureaucracy, hindering rather than promoting that extraordinary freedom that comes with exploring a country by motorcycle.
After hours of baking in my black riding gear, first at the Thai immigration and customs offices and then at their counter parts on the Laos side of the border, I have all the necessary paper work in order.
I stop the bike right in front of the red and white painted bar at the Laos border. I shuffle through the pile of papers I've been given for the one that the officer needs to see as proof that I'm allowed to bring the bike into Laos.
Taking an immediate right, I'm headed, well, I don't know where I'm headed. I know I'm supposed to be headed to Vientiane, but there's no sign to indicate that my snap decision to go right was a worthy one.
Driving once again on the right side of the road, I navigate the potholes and the light traffic, before finally pulling into a gas station to ask if I'm headed the right direction. The border crossing is very close to Laos capital, which explains why Vientiane was easily sacked and looted by Siam in 1827, yet the quality of the road and the ramshackle businesses along it are a far cry from what I'd imagine a capital city to look like (full story here).
Stayed tuned for This Week's next Dice Travels' adventure roundup!