Thoen to Thung Saliam

Waking up at dawn, piggies on the mountain, mystery lunch, cute little Villages and warm Hellos everywhere.

After a great day of rest and rehydration we woke before the sun came up and got our bums on the road during the cool of morning. We wanted to get the big climb up and over the mountain top over with before the intense heat hits us.

The mountain was quite reasonable and we can’t tell you enough how relieved we were! Thrilled, actually! Even more so when we reached the top and there was a whole group of pigs (boars, more accurately) behind a fence. Big giant scruffy ones with tusks, curious medium sized Mama ones and some itty bitty cuties! As we approached the fence, more kept emerging from the brush. So much fun!

Outdoor roadside restaurants are everywhere and anywhere. Most proprietors speak no English so we just point to the menu and they are good at figuring it out. We are usually pretty grim looking when we stop and are all sweaty and grubby but they are always so happy to serve us. Today the lady saw us and right away brought over three bottles: Coke, water, and orange juice to see what we’d like. We just smiled and said “we’ll take them all!” (It’s that hot here!). We pointed to something in the menu and waits to see what we get. Noodles! Soft ones & crispy ones, surrounded by yummy broth and some chicken chunks. Delicious! Total bill was about $4 (including 5 drinks!)

You can’t help but feel happy riding through villages. Almost everyone who sees us—whether they are working on hydro lines, riding a motorcycle, or sitting in their yards behind fences—breaks into a big giant enthusiastic smile and they holler helloooooo!! as we ride by. Honestly, it makes us feel like celebrities! And when we holler helloooooo!! it appears as though we’ve made them feel special too!

Today is a special Buddhist holiday, Māgha Puja we learned. Many establishments were closed today so for dinner we dined at the 7-Eleven. They are everywhere, and they have a great food selection!

Lots of nice scenery to be seen today!

We rehydrated just a little!
The accommodation we found last night in the dark!
Ready to ride with the sunrise
Not sure, but I suspect that sign says “no burning”
Halfway up the mountain
Piggies!
I think he’s the runt. A cute runt!
Lol. Who translates these things?
These are big giant blossoms that have fallen off the tree. Gorgeous!
Mystery lunch

Lampang to Thoen via “No Bridge Over the River Wang”

Fortitude! That’s all I can say….

Its the only thing that got us here to Thoen yesterday. The day began all lovely and smiley as we made good time on great roads. We knew there would be a mountain pass through the wilderness and our mapping tool showed us a dotted line that we could cycle through—excellent! Keeps us off the parallel multi-lane Super Highway. 😁

38c. It was hot & sunny but as long as we kept moving we created our own breeze. At the last village before the start of the un-paved road we made sure we had enough water for what appeared to be about 12-20k of wilderness ahead of us. A few adorable smiles came from some locals (as always) who were just sitting on a bench. One fellow seemed to be inquiring where we were headed (no English here), and we let him know we were from Canada and headed generally toward Bangkok. He pointed in the opposite direction, and we heard something about Super Highway but of course we couldn’t understand the rest of what he was saying. We wave 👋, smile, and carry on toward the unpaved road.

Fine, powdery, red dirt and rocks. We got this! We pedal on. Bigger rocks and single track, not a single human to be seen. Oh well, it is rural after all. We got this! A few stiff inclines and washed away trail, spiky tree branches. Okay, so maybe things get better ahead. Blazing sun feels hotter than ever and we slow to a snail pace and agree that mountain bikes are a requirement. We still got this? I dunno… Painfully slow and horribly hot, we were praying we were at the end because it was brutal and our water running low. No turning back now, we have come too far. We cross a mini-bridge made of sticks. How come we haven’t seen a single soul? We encounter a dried up river bed, kinda steep but we struggle down the embankment and up the other side. We want outta here! It’s hot, sticky, and brutal here…

Then we come to a crevice. A big one. We need a zip line to get across. There is no bridge over the River Wang. We must turn back. Probably 60 or 70% of the way there and we had to backtrack. Try not to cry.

We turned around—went back. No choice. Emerging from the wilderness, we found a kind adorable Thai man in the village who let us know the next hotel was 50 km away. Randy downed a beer, I guzzled a Pepsi, we stashed some water on our bikes and off we went. That kindly Thai man accompanied us on his bicycle all the way to the Super Highway, where we then parted ways. We arrived at our destination in the black of night, grateful for the amazing lights on our bikes that lit up the whole shoulder and made us super-visible.

We decided on a day off to regroup, rehydrate, and prepare for tomorrow. We are enjoying an air-conditioned room, loafing around in the shade of the surrounding tall bamboo.

It’s hot hot hot out there! Do people actually ride bikes in that heat?

Our cute little room at the Lampang River Lodge
Lampang River Lodge. It was gorgeous!
The unpaved road started out ok….
Sketchy bridge crossing. But we were brave.
Our lovely unpaved road in the wilderness
Randy’s bike. Not mine.
The nice Thai man who took us to the Super Highway
The shoulder on the Super Highway
Bamboo—isn’t it supposed to be a “grass”?
At our accommodations.
The end of a long, long day yesterday.
Our little hut for the evening
Our cozy hut has a back porch with a view

Mae Tha to Lampang

Not all hills are created equal. And what’s with those dogs?

Here is the link to our route map on Strava.

We plotted a map today and the elevation chart looked flat-ish with a few bumps. Well, those bumps were mountains and the grades were mostly around 15-17% with crazy switchbacks. Unfit for any type of cycling really, never mind pushing fully loaded touring bikes up them in +30c temperatures. Ironically, it appears that there must have been a sale on “8% grade” signs because every single sign said 8%. We can attest to the fact they were much, much steeper.

We pushed those bikes. Hard. Darn near killed us. Heart rates pounding in the heat….often just 20ft at a time, sometimes 10. We’d have to stand still, squeezing those brakes hard just to prevent rolling backwards. It was hard to really enjoy the surrounding jungle-ish scenery which was actually quite spectacular. At one point we heard loud rustling in the dense brush and the only wildlife we can think of is wild boars, which are apparently plentiful here. Khun Tan National Park. Beautiful, but not recommended to cycle through it! Demoralizing. However….there were birds chirping all the way!

When the mountain passes ended and we were depleted and worn , we hoped for some easier riding. Not so. There’s only one road out, and there were dogs. Not pet dogs. We’re talking feral dogs in packs of five or six. Ratty looking mangy things who come out of the ditches to bare teeth at us, bark nastily and threaten to give us heart attacks. (Which makes me grateful we got rabies shots before coming here). Every homestead for about 20kms seemed to have multiple unrestrained unfriendly dogs waiting to take a piece of us. All said, we probably had about 30-40 dogs come at us overall. Relentless.

Ok, so it wasn’t all bad today. The last 5km was ok (despite the “road” being more like dusty dirty single-track). There were fresh green rice paddies to be seen. We rolled into a resort around 5pm and it was stunning! Gorgeous! Pool, restaurant, tropical plants & trees, waterfall ponds, and it felt like paradise. We are at a place called Lampang River Lodge. Highly recommend it! Most expensive place so far at $47. (Thinking it would be $300+ a night in Canada). Too bad we are so exhausted….we flopped into bed around 8pm.

Chiang Mai to Mae Tha

View our route map on Strava!

Smiling Thai people, gorgeous temples everywhere, and $2 Roadside Thai Curry.

We slathered on the sunscreen and got our pasty pink selves out of Chiang Mai. Frantic traffic eventually gave way and the FunFactor took hold as we became more comfortable with riding in the left side of the road.

Everywhere we ride, whenever we make eye contact with someone we get big warm & fuzzy smiles. Thai people are adorable! Oh, and there’s no shortage of temples to oooh and awe over.

We stopped at a roadside food stall (which seem to dot the road like lemonade stands). The street was majestically lined with Yang Na trees and created a wonderfully shaded experience. The woman at the Curry stand conveyed to us they are the largest trees that grow in Thailand. We let her know we were from Canada and her face lit up! With her very limited English vocabulary she was able to let us know that she reallllly liked watching The Murdoch Mysteries. A few minutes later we were enjoying delicious Green Curry with Chicken & Coconut Milk, and also a dish of Red Curry with Chicken. Randy also ordered up some sausage in some type of mysterious but tasty sauce. Totally awesome! Including my Pepsi the bill came to $4.

We pedalled past a national forest area where it was just trees and distant mountains as far as the eye could see. Mostly flat, little traffic, and one really steep hill.

After about 70kms we decided around 4:30 to roll into a tiny little village in search of a room for the night. We used an app called Agoda which is something like booking.com. Fascinating! To get to our room we passed rice paddies, tiny villages where dogs just lay on the road, and more smiling Thai people everywhere. It was hard to imagine that our home stay room was actually going to materialize but it did. And here we are! In a beautiful little spot hidden away from everything. What a gem!

It was a great day here in Thailand!

Our room for the night.
Gorgeous room, but Randy’s a bit too tall for the bathroom door.

Chiang Mai: We shall not hunger!

Wat Phra Singh, the Night Market and the Food….omg, the food!

Wat Phra Singh. We just sort of stumbled upon it. It’s the first one we’ve visited and it’s hard to imagine just how old these structures are, and how beautiful.

The streets. Narrow and busy but oh so interesting. You’ve got to keep your eyeballs in front and also at the back of your head because there is no “flat” sidewalk type terrain on which to walk. Cars drive within a few feet of us leaving little room for comfort. What itty bitty sidewalk there is is shared with trees, hydro poles, parked vehicles of all descriptions. We established a strategy for crossing the road—look for a gap and run like heck!

All roads lead to food. Food! It’s literally on every corner—deliciously yummy Khao soi (a northern Thai noodle dish), fermented sausage, padthai, curries that look and smell scrumptious.

The Night Market. It’s truly amazing and you’d better prepare to shop (and eat). This is where you see Thai silk, sample deep fried scorpions, watch some young Thai men dressed in drag, find singing bowls….and eat more food.

Enough words. Pictures are better

Roadside laundromat
Beef Khao soi (about $2)
Yep, that’s what the hydro poles are like
Night Market
Sign of the day!

Thailand, Here we are!

The looooooong flight(s), sharing the “wrong” side of the road, Jet. Lag—Bring on Chiang Mai! What shall we do with our six weeks?

20 hours in-flight wears a little thin but EVA Air was great (highly recommended!). Our flight booking included a “Seafood” meal option which of course we chose. Good choice! Shrimp & scallop pasta, seafood quiche, and lovely salmon salad sandwiches. We ate well. We felt like we scored big when the third seat went unoccupied for the 15 hour flight from Toronto to Taipei. We departed in the middle of the night and never saw daylight till Taipei. When the plane landed we curiously noted an absence of that standard “applause” for a safe-landing—which we’ve never understood anyways—a smooth safe landing is kind of an expectation of ours rather than an applause-worthy bonus.

Our first night accommodation is in the Old City part of Chiang Mai and just 4km from the airport so we decided to unbox and reassemble our bikes then negotiate the traffic on our own, skipping the whole taxi biz. With our tired, fuzzy-brains (no brains!), we rolled out two hours later, riding on the left side of the road here in Thailand and it’s a hairy situation for our right-brained selves. There is no 1m rule here, there’s no bike lane, and there’s a lot of traffic. Crosswalks? Ha! They mean nothing.

We somehow made it to our AirBnB in one piece. Our grand plans to nap then go out for an evening explore have been overridden by intense jet lag. We are exactly 12 hours time difference here—8am at home means 8pm here. Hoping to recalibrate our body clocks in the next two days, we will then pedal out for six weeks of unknowns—no reservations, no route maps, no expectations. Just a general direction toward Trat and some islands near Cambodia then Bangkok. We have no idea what each day will bring, it’s just part of the adventure!

Note to self—two bikes and two boxes do NOT fit into a Ford Escape.
Taipei International Airport
Sunrise at Taipei, awaiting our flight
Some messages are lost in translation
Chiang Mai
Randy found beer (no surprise here) (35 bhat each = $1.50)

Cuba 2019: Final Days, final thoughts

When the cycling portion of our trip ended on Thursday we packed a few items and headed to the white sandy beaches of Guardalavaca and loafed on the beach, floated in the water, and got our fill of pizza and ice cream. A perfect way to finish our Cuban Adventure.

We lingered with local people and struck up some good substantive conversations with a few locals about all things Cuba. We talked politics, food shortages, disparity, and the constitutional referendum that happened yesterday. Talk to a Cuban journalist and you are in for some great insights into life on the island!

Last night we hung around the town square in Holguin. There were people in the street everywhere and it felt like a festive atmosphere likely due to Referendum Day. The referendum is a big deal here, and people & conversation filled the air.

As we wait for our big blue taxi to come a take us to the airport we are hoping he will bring ropes this time to secure the bike boxes on top of the car. For the transfer from one Casa to another the other day he just threw them on top, sans ropes, and insisted “all was ok, he’ll drive carefully.” Speaking of taxis, while we were taking ours back to Holguin yesterday the driver slowed to a stop at a punto control (check point). At first we were a little concerned that maybe we would be required to produce passports to the armed guard who approached the car. Instead, the guard proceeded to hop into the car, hitching a ride with us to Holguin. Hola’s were exchanged and then Randy and I both silently reflected. Yep—things operate differently here in Cuba. Vacancies in moving automobiles are inherently expected to be offered up to others. And we are ok with it.

At the beach yesterday we were situated beside a Cuban man and his son, loafing just like we were. His son had been quietly asking his Dad if he knew where we were from. That was our conversation starter. We talked a lot, exchanged philosophical views, and it felt like we’d made new friends by afternoon’s end. Dad worked at a cafe in Holguin called Begonia near the town square so this morning we choose to sip cappuccino at Begonia. He spotted us there and big giant smiles ensued. We were all happy.

We have learned to accept all that Cuba is. Much of it is broken or dysfunctional, mysteries still remain unsolved, and it’s a fascinating study of humanity, resilience of people, resourcefulness, and living in a society where everything has its surface appearance but is multi-layered. When you have the privilege of seeing under a few of those layers you become drawn in. And the more drawn in, the more you want to see. Next stop: Toronto. Ciao, amigos!

Day 20: Floating in the Ocean Day!

Floating in the ocean, shopping for groceries, and we found water!

The cycling is all done, boxes are packed and ready to ship home on Monday. We took a 1959 Chevy station wagon taxi to Guardalavaca to spend two nights. We plan to do not much more than float in the ocean and show off our weird tan lines. Our Casa tonight is a cute little place on a secluded road facing the beach. 10 seconds to walk from door to water! We decided to have dinner at the Casa tonight and enjoyed a gigantic lobster, with some delicate rice and tomato salad.

The Guardalavaca beach is located directly in front of two all inclusive resorts (Club Amigo and Brisas), and it’s also the public beach that Cubans can enjoy. We have been to a number of all inclusives here in Cuba and the public beach at Guardalavaca is just a nice as any.

We aren’t sure we’ll ever quite understand the ins and outs of some of the service industry here. We saw a little food hut supposedly selling hamburgers and there was a group of people (I think Cubans) who appeared to be eating French fries! Oh yeaaaahh! No more rice & beans for us! So we order a hamburguesa con queso (cheeseburger) and point out fries in the picture, indicating we want them too. “No hay.” “Really?” “No hay” (we point to the table of people eating fries) “no hay”. Ok. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon and fries are no hay? We accept the the only thing we are getting is a hamburguesa.

Speaking of food (as I so often do), we found a pizza joint in Holguin. Dino’s pizza. Of course nobody was eating pizza when we went in, just drinking rum and beer. We noticed that the place closes at 5. Re-opens at 6. This seems odd to us….wouldn’t you want to have the pizza joint open during prime dinner hour? We’re not sure why they regularly close for an hour but we did notice they seemed to be counting and re-counting money. We’ve seen this often. Store clerks are very concerned with making sure every itty bitty peso is accounted for. Sometimes we’ve had to wait in a grocery lineup for 15 minutes while clerks count every coin in the till.

Shopping in stores is all business. You get in, you get your stuff, you get out. At the exit door sits a security person who looks at your bill and counts the items in your bag. Every item. 6 bottles of water…they count em. “One, two, three, four, five, six”. Glancing and assessing that it looks like six is not an option. There are not many choices or options of what to buy in grocery stores. There may be meat: 3 freezers full of individually frozen hamburger patties and 3 freezers full of chicken weiners. That’s it. There is a whole aisle full of sweetened condensed milk. And there is always an aisle full of tomato paste. You likely need to hunt all over town to find all the products you need.

We found lots of bottled water in Holguin!

We have baking aisles at home. In Cuba you may find a sweetened condensed milk aisle.

Curiously, the taxi from Holguin cost us the same (25CUC) to bring us 60km to Guardalavaca as it will cost us to go 9km from Holguin to the airport on Monday. Some things make more sense than others. But it’s Cuba. And we love Cuba, even if we don’t understand all of Cuba.

Tonight we walked down to covertly investigate the entertainment at the Brisas all inclusive…..pitch black road but we had a flashlight. Good thing we did! We narrowly missed stepping on a snake followed by a scorpion.

Day 19: Bayamo to Holguin

Our final cycling day! We’ve returned to where we started in Holguin after a long day of heat, a headwind, and trucks on the road. About 70km (Strava and Ride with GPS both failed to add the distance correctly). The road was lined with sugar cane fields much of the way. The road surface was heavy with potholes and bumps making it feel harsh We often felt like it was just “work” but we wanted to get to the beach for a few days of floating on the warm ocean water, and loafing in the sunshine with nowhere to go. So tomorrow we head to Guardalavaca for a few nights where the beach is all powdery white sand like you see in travel brochures! It’s about 50km from Holguin.

We are so grateful for our Casa owner Oscar, who has arranged transportation to the beach for us and will also reserve a taxi for the airport on Monday. Today when we arrived here we were greeted with big smiles followed by a bowl of fresh cut fruit!

So, no real scenery to speak of today. Just long open road and fields of sugarcane. Therefore, when we headed downtown to eat dinner we snapped a few old car pics. The project this evening is to disassemble and re-pack the bikes into their shipping boxes!

Day 18: Manzanillo to Bayamo

Chicken lineups, the old dancing Cuban, the crazy roads between cities, Randy eats beef, and prosperity in Bayamo.

Today it was not about the scenery. In fact, it was rather unremarkable but the road from Manzanillo to Bayamo is a means to an end. We’ve been trying to fast-track it back to Holguin to buy ourselves a few days off the bike and showing off our super weird bike tans at the beach.

While leaving Manzanillo this morning Randy struck up a conversation with a fellow who told us that there’s a food shortage going on around these parts. We noticed a crowd congregating outside of a store that appeared to be opening soon and we asked someone what it was all about and we were told they are waiting for pollo (chicken). There are designated depots where Cubans can collect their rationed out food. From all indications around us those rations are not what sustains these people, by far. Nobody appears hungry to us, that’s for sure!

An old man approached us and wanted to hear about our journey and wanted to share how he’s been dancing all his life. He proceeded to do a little dance for us there in the street! After Randy took his picture he asked us to take a picture of all three of us, and then one with Randy and him. We heard a little about how life has changed for him over the years, how he used to rent out a room to travellers from time to time but now with the new Casa system he can no longer do that. After we snapped a few pictures he wanted to see them on the camera and he looked so darn pleased with himself, I think it made his day to be starring in a tourists’ photo memory. He is 70 years old and has no family, and is all alone in the world, but seems quite happy.

Let’s talk beef again. Although we understood it’s not consumed here in Cuba, it has appeared on very few menus including one tonight at a great restaurant in Bayamo. So, Randy ate beef. If I return to Canada and he’s not with me you’ll know why. Actually, for a country that doesn’t officially eat beef, we’ve been surprised at the number of cows that are farmed here. Cows everywhere, though not dairy cows. Very little milk and dairy products available and the Nestle ice cream we keep searching for is likely imported. Unsolved mystery, this business of cows.

As we’ve mentioned, there aren’t that many cars on the road. Probably more horses and bicycles within city limits than cars. In the cities the motorists are quite considerate of us cyclists, pedestrians, and horse carts. It’s been our observation that the vehicular traffic between cities is low in volume but very high in aggressive driving habits. We could be on a bare 2km stretch of road with no shoulder and a truck approaches from behind and also in front. They have zero hesitation whatsoever to pass each other right beside us on the road, each going 100km+. This isn’t an occasional thing, it’s always. We have had a number of trucks overtake a car right at the magic moment we are all side by side on the road. Buses, trucks, cars….none of them slows even a hair. Several times we’ve felt the suction of air as a big truck passes within inches of us. Very scary to say the least. We attribute it to being commercial traffic between cities and the only thing on their mind is to get from A to B as fast as possible.

Prosperity in Bayamo! Not everywhere of course but in the downtown area here you would really have to stretch your imagination to make the image fit the message we’ve always heard about Cuban people having so little.