We spent the morning at a market. The meat aisle was clean but… unflinching.
The second half of the morning was a sobering immersion into the history of the 9 years that the Americans spent dropping bombs on Laos during the US/Vietnam war, and the ongoing horror of undetonated bombs all over the country.
We started riding again in the hills after lunch, heading south on the main road to Vientiane. We climbed a ridge again into the clouds, sheer drop into white nothing right off the edge of the road. The others in my group got into the van, but shivering, I wanted to be in the sounds and smells of these tiny villages in the cloud. People hovered over fires everywhere and toddlers wriggled as their parents bathed them.
Men have babies kangarooed to them as often as women do. Little girls have jobs cutting sticks and bamboo.
I rode free, just me and the road and the cloud and the villages. And, as I rounded the curve for the hotel, the skies cleared.
Riding through the tiny villages in the mountains of Northern Laos, I see children playing the wheel with a stick game I have seen kids playing with in Uganda and Rwanda, some with little cars they’ve made by putting wheels on empty bottles.
Many people are huddled around little coal fires. Everyone is bundled up. Most of the children run to the road and wave at us. I shiver, not dressed remotely warm enough for the cloud mist, the 12*C, for the wind. I notice one little boy crossing the road with some hesitation, hopping from foot to foot. He’s barefoot, I notice. Most of them are. The villages are crammed with kids, babies tied on backs.
The little girl who watches us warily while we have our morning break has a pink coat and flipflops. We give her cookies, the leftover almonds.