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Roy and the art of motorcycle maintenance

Written on: Wednesday February 13th, 2008

A journal entry from: See you next year!

In Tha Kaek we ended up hiring a motorbike for 3 days and do the so-called loop: A motorbike journey through stunning mountain settings and small Laos villages, with as highlight a visit to the 7 km long Konglor cave.

Even though doing this loop is quite popular (for no apparent reason, there are nice motorbike trips to be had anywhere in Laos), it was hard to find a good bike. After a little research even I understood that Japanese bikes are better than Chinese...but nowhere to be found for rent in Tha Kaek.

So, off we went with two old Chinese motorbikes, convincing ourselves that if others could do it on these bikes....

With 500 kilometers on sometimes rough roads ahead, we visited some caves, tested our motorbikes on level bits(!) and were generally having a great time. Easyrider style! At about 3 o'clock however, Roy's bike stopped running. On a hilly road. With hardly any traffic. And still quite some kilometers away from the next village. Two boys on a motorbike passed us and as I said "sabaidee" and "problem" (pointing at the motorbike), they stopped to help us. Fortunately they spoke some English and they tried to fix the problem. They even phoned a friend who was a mechanic and made him listen to the sound! After about an hour they gave up and the idea was that we would try to get a ride to the next village (there were some trucks passing as they were fixing a nearby road) and find a repair shop. Roy tried to start his baby just one more time: And it did! Without hesitating we decided to reach the next village as quickly as we could...and we managed. Suddenly a repair shop sounded like a stupid idea (there seemed to be nothing to repair), so we decided to go ahead to the next village for a night's sleep (and some lao-lao whisky with the owner of the only restaurant).

Next day was unexceptionally cold (yes, we can be cold here as well!), but that didn't make the surroundings less impressive. I started to really get into riding the wobbly roads and taking the sharp curves.

At about 3 o'clock however, Roy's bike stopped running. This time we were close to a small village and we showed the few people we found something like : ??????????????, meaning "Where is the repair shop" (the signs here are actually Thai and I don't think they mean anything, but just to give you an idea). They didn't seem to be able to read, so we started the motor, which didn't start, looked helplessly and lifted our shoulders, indicating something like "now what?". They started to point us in some direction and after three of them pointed us to the same house, there was a small bamboo hut with some old oil cans outside: the repair shop! Of course, there was nobody there and with a lot of gestures we understood the owner was away to the next town and wouldn't be back until late. So, again: "Now what?". Suddenly this boy arrived. Apparently someone had gone to get him, and he managed to fix the bike by blowing air into the gas tube or whatever it is called in English.

We thanked him, paid him a dollar, and continued our journey. At night had a great meal and a few drinks with some Swedish we had met on the way and a good night sleep.

Next day we visited the 7 km long cave which you can navigate through by boat from one entrance to another, had some lunch and prepared for a long journey home. At about 3 o'clock however, Roy's bike stopped running. Again, we were close to a village, found a repair shop, where two useless guys took the entire motorbike apart, not listening to our indications of where we thought the problem lay (the gas tube again). When they finally listened, they blew in the tube, the motor worked again, and they put the motorbike together...but the entire bodywork of the motor didn't fit together at all anymore. So they had to leave some screws out, as the holes just weren't aligned anymore. When we pointed that out to them, they just shrug their shoulder and didn't fix it...they just couldn't. At least the motor was running, so off we went, hoping the bodywork would stay put with the missing screws. About 1 minute later though...same problem. As Roy by now had understood what the problem was, he decided to do the repairs himself this time. He managed to solve the gas supply problem, while at the same time he got all screws and the bodywork in place! Putting a Chinese motorbike together is quite hard...it is basically like an easy puzzle, with the added handicap of breaking of random plastic parts and breaking screws while you're at it. Which he did.

Until now all the breakdowns had been sort of OK. It was great to have so much help from random people, and surroundings were nice enough to enjoy an hour's wait. But by now I got quite frustrated -it still wasn't very warm- and we had a good 100 km on a long and boring road home to do. We also knew this was one of the last villages we would see...in case we needed help again. While I was contemplating finding a guesthouse, stay the night and see what tomorrow would bring, Roy managed to look up to me with a big smile on his face: "Look, Ingrid, I am fixing the motorbike myself. Make a picture of me!".

I must admit, Roy did fix the motorbike and we managed to make it home safely before dark. Which was lucky, because when we handed in the motorbikes to the owner it stopped working altogether! Not even the lights worked anymore. But we were home, the owner didn't care (laidback Laos) and we had a few stories to tell the people at the guesthouse that had done the loop as well. Luckily for us, so had they: We might not have chosen the best bikes to do a 3-day tour on, but at least we hadn't got lost in the cold mountains after dark!


From Riet Meeder on Mar 5th, 2008

Doet me denken aan onze eerste rondreis door Engeland in 1954 op een oude motor van voor de oorlog. Niemand had er verstand van. Rainy, rainy and no money in the pocket!

From Siebie on Mar 5th, 2008

At least you learned something usefull during your journey. I think that you must 1 hour early with Holland, and your motorbike needed a Cup-a-Soup!

From Patrick en Kati on Mar 8th, 2008

Hee wereldreizigers, We zijn inmiddels ook in Azie aangekomen en hebben met plezier jullie site gelezen. Nu nog even Japan (hele andere wereld), maar straks via China naar Tibet en Laos (Laos wordt waarschijnlijk eind april)Kunnen jullie ook via internet een brommer repareren? Want dan kunnen we jullie diensten straks goed gebruiken! We mailen dan wel een foto. Nog heel veel reisplezier gewenst!!!