December 21, 2012
People. The true treasures of bicycle travel. Laos, 2005
The smell of wood smoke is in the air along with the squeals of little pigs darting across the road. The roads had wound up and down for days (500-foot to 2,000-foot climbs all day long) as we crossed from one river drainage to the next. There were no restaurants or stores to be found, so we asked a local if she would cook us breakfast. She held a newborn in one arm as she fried up spicy eggs with greens and sticky rice over a wood fire. We kept glancing up to see dozens of kids peeking in to see the foreigners. We emerged out into the brilliant blue sky of the highlands of northern Laos.
The kids ran away at first but soon surrounded us with smiles that would melt the heart of even the most jaded of travelers. We heard their laughter and calls until we finally pedaled up and over the next ridge.
He just wanted to buy us a cup of coffee. Why? Well, in this little village high in the mountains of the coffee growing region of Colombia, travelers were a rarity -- especially travelers on bikes. It was a gesture we received time and time again. One gentleman who stopped and talked with us at a roadside restaurant shook our hands and said, "Thank you for taking the time to visit my country." When we later went to pay our bill, we found out that he had already paid it.
Sometimes you pedal by at just the right moment. We were invited to spend the day in a small village in Portugal with the local folk society. (Southern Portugal Escapade: Adventure Cyclist July 2012) It was their annual festival and they were all decked out in traditional clothing. We were taking a walking tour of the town and I snapped this photo of these girls checking out a Facebook photo. The contrast of past and present just cracks me up.
Many images of my bicycle travels may fade over time ... but the faces of people encountered will always burn bright.
Photos by Willie Weir
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His latest book Travels with Willie: Adventure Cyclist will inspire you to hit the road and just might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at http://yellowtentadventures.com/.
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