Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Uterdit, Thailand

Friends: At last today we escaped the plague of four-lane divided highways that are plastered across Thailand. They have been inescapable. Even when we've sought out some of our map's secondary roads, they've been widened into four-laners. At least they all have wide shoulders that give us plenty of insulation from the speeding motorists. Those shoulders weren't intended for cyclists, as cyclists are an extremely rare species here. We've seen virtually none in all our miles either out in the country or in the cities. The bicycle is a symbol of poverty in countries with emerging economies. People abandon the bicycle as soon as they can afford a motorcycle. There are way too many of them. The less powerful, slower moving scooters and motor bikes join us on the shoulder of the road. But they are of no threat to us and treat us as kindly as everyone else does.

Today's most striking example of friendliness came from an eight-year old boy, who sat with Laurie and I on some steps as we ate our dinner overlooking a sprawling outdoor market of food vendors and a vast stage for various rock bands and other performers. We were the only farangs among the swarms of people. The boy wanted to shake Laurie's hand. After we finished our five baht (twelve cent) dishes of pad thai he scooped them up and gestured towards a kilo bag of cashews between us that we were nibbling. We offered him some. He shook his head and gestured more directly at the rest of our garbage, reaching to grab it, then taking it to a nearby garbage can.

We finally were able to bike on a lightly-traveled two-lane road today. It was even accompanied by a modest, plenty ample, shoulder. We have also left the standing lakes of water that flanked both sides of the road for much of our first 300 miles. We actually had forests and fields with cattle and potential camp sites if we desired.  Though we'd love to put our tent to use, we're discouraged by the steamy 90 degree heat. We'd stew but good in the tent and would face potential asphyxiation without the opportunity to bathe and wash our clothes. We wash everything we wear each night in the sink. We hang them on a clothes line of our bungee cords. All is dry by the morning, ready to get soaked again by our sweat.

If we were camping, we'd miss the lively night market that is a feature of every town and city. Its too hot for day markets. The cities become alive at night. In Phitsanulok we saw hundreds of people at two different locations engaged in outdoor aerobics after the sun had gone down. One gathering was along the river on a multi-tiered plaza. Old and young, male and female were all dancing in time to some fast-paced music, following the lead of a guy on a stage. It could have made for a Coke commercial worthy of the Super Bowl. Laurie and I would have loved to have joined in if we had any energy left.

We have left behind the miles of sandbags that have lined long stretches of the road to hold back the rising rivers and lakes. Tomorrow we face our first day of climbing. We are greatly looking forward to the highlands, but we are both a tad concerned about our energy levels. The flat roads and generally favorable winds have allowed for fairly leisurely, non-strenuous cycling. Its the heat, not the pedaling, that saps our energy. Its early to bed tonight and early to rise, as we have nearly 80 miles of biking to the next significant town. At least we know we can camp if we're caught by dark. It comes fast and suddenly at six pm. My water purifier will keep us supplied with plenty of water if need be.

Later, George

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