BootsnAll Travel Network

Jars are the best!!!!

After being emotionally, physically, and mentally drained by seeing the first plain of jars at the Plain of Jars, I took an extra day in Phonsavan to see site II and III.

I wanted to connect with the jars at another level. It also gave me a possible alternative for the use of the jars, poddy storage.

Site II. What a deal, the price dropped from 10,000K to 7,000K. Still mind boggling but at a cheaper price

MAG is an NGO that is making an effort to clear Laos of UXO. When you see these bricks, the white side means it is safe to walk on that side. Usually there is another brick that forms the outskirts of the other side. The red side has not been cleared and {boom} your dead, just like in real life. If you are on a boat remember “red on right on the return.” Learned that in Key West when I was a junior skipper.

Site III was reached by walking through a farmers rice field, jumping a fence, {boom} you just got your legs blown off by a bombie. Intense stuff isn’t is. Jars and UXO what a rush. Could be an alternative use for the jars, blown up body disposal containers.

A cluster bomb housing that I found in front of a guys house.

After my “Jar” experience I was back on the road back to the main road heading south to my next destination of Vang Vieng {boom} hit a cluster bomb and blew up my clutch housing. Really. Well, minus the cluster bomb, but a well placed handle bar grip stuck in the housing to put pressure on the clutch chain which got sucked into the aforementioned clutch chain causing a minor disruption of movement and blowing a hole through the casing and spewing oil all along the ground before I came to a halting stop. It was actually a joyous day as I blew up exactly two kilometers away from the out of the way guesthouse I stayed before. All I had to do was finish pushing Sasha up the last half of a small hill, down a medium hill, half way up the rest of the hill and across the top of the hill to the guesthouse which also had a repair shop next door. The road from that village to Phonsavan (Holy jar land) is 153 kilometers of roller coaster up and down roads with very small villages (no guest houses, two petrol shacks, and a couple of little huts selling snacks, and a bunch of naked kids). If I had broken down even five kilometers from the end it would have been almost impossible to make it to the village without waiting for help. Even with a huge hole in the gear box, I was totally fine with it as it could have been so much worse. I contemplated just leaving the bike and walking away as that had always been the plan, but I figured I was close to the local shop and if I could get it up and running I could get it back to Phonsavan and the excellent mechanic.

This guy was more of a typical South East Asia village mechanic. He didn’t know what it was, but he would make it work. His preferred tool of the trade was not the usual hammer, but an arc welder. Shitting you not, he brought the welder out when one of the screws was on too tight so he welded a bolt to the end of the screw and then wrenched it free. Can’t figure out how to put the broken clutch chain back on. No problem, just hook it back up and weld the connecting link. A cracked cog, no problem when you have a welder sitting next to you. And that big hole in the housing was easily repaired with a tube of liquid weld. The gear box pretty much no longer held oil, but it was back together and was working.

Just below the clutch chain cog you can sort of make out where the handle bar grip was situated. When he pulled that out of the cover I thought he was pulling one of those medicine man tricks using chicken guts, but when he showed me the teeth marks and chain pieces imbedded in the rubber I was stunned. It took me a while to figure out what the hell a grip was doing in the housing but I remembered the Rev’s n More guy thinking that the slippage I was getting was because of the chain.

After a very contented nights sleep I was left to make the decision of what to do next. My two options were 1) go back the 153 kilometers through the roller coaster mountains risking getting stuck and putting a lot of faith in the shade tree mechanics welding, or 2) head to new ground 100kms south to Vang Vienh which was closer and down in the valley (mostly downhill driving). The risk was that there would not be the parts to fix Sasha as the Minsk is becoming a fish out of water in Laos as well as not used in the lowlands anywhere. I decided that I would baby it back the 153kms to a place where I knew it could be fixed and done correctly. It was one of the most nerve wracking trips I have been on. Climbing all those mountains hearing that gear box popping knowing that it was not only going to be a problem getting the bike out of there if it broke down, but even to get myself out as I was seeing an average of 3 vehicles and maybe 5 bikes both times that I had made the journey. This link is out there. Leaving early did have its benefits as I caught the clouds still sleeping at the bottom of the valleys. It was a beautiful sight and made for a good excuse to pull over and pour in more oil.

The skies waking up and crawling out of bed.

With a monumental sense of relief (I am not shitting you how big this was) I made it to Phonsovan. I lucked out again as I decided I wouldn’t wait and just dropped my bags off and headed over to my mechanic. The traveling or Minsk Gods were smiling as just as I was pulling up the mechanic was pulling out with his truck full of people ready to head somewhere. He hesitantly got out and came over when he saw me. He took one look and shook his head. He went next door to get the neighbor kid who spoke some basic English and all the people got out of the truck (12). He went straight to work pulling the bad parts off pointing and giving me a tsk tsk. He had it all back together again in about a half an hour and I was back on the road with the gear box making no noise at all, even a better improvement than when I thought it was correct before. I’m sure the pocket change he made more than made up for the bit of tardiness it caused everyone else. The man is a genius. Hell, he even had all the gaskets. Sweet.

Clutch guts. I learned how easy it is to change the clutch plates so now I am not even sweating having to change those. Hell, I might change those as general maintenance. I have spares you know.

153kms of this is what I had to make it through. Now you get an idea of how risky this little venture was. Not quite as hairy as the Leh to Manali run in India, but close.

Limestone mountains and the steady downhill to Vang Vieng.

As a sidenote, the most interesting aspect of my detour to Phonsavan, yup even more interesting than jars is the information about UXO. UXO by the way means unexploded ordinance.

Here is some general info as a teaser:
Lao PDR has the unwanted distinction of being per capita the most heavily bombed nation in the world. Between the years 1964 and 1973, the United States flew more than half a million bombing missions, delivering more than two million tons of explosive ordnance, in an attempt to block the flow of North Vietnamese arms and troops through Laotian territory. The ordnance dropped include more than 266 million submunitions (known as “bombies” in Lao) released from cluster bombs.

Significant land battles, including those during the war for independence during the French colonial era and between the Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao forces, also contributed vast quantities of unexploded heavy bombs, rockets, grenades, artillery munitions, mortars, anti-personnel landmines, and improvised explosive devices.

It is estimated that up to 30% of all ordnance did not explode. Such unexploded ordnance (UXO) continues to remain in the ground, maiming and killing people, and hindering socio-economic development and food security.

1.36 million metric tons of bombs were dropped between 1965 and 1973. Included in this were 250 million submunitions (bombies/cluster bombs). Even this total is underscoring the problem as the data that was obtained was largely incomplete as there was no data for 8 of these months and the data does not include many other forms of explosive devices that were left.

The breakdown of the adove comes to:
12 metric tons per square kilometer or half a ton for every person in the country at the time. That is why Laos is known as the most heavily bombed country in the world. The most shocking part is that almost all of this took place under secrecy as the US wasn’t officially bombing Laos at all.

A good documentary that I imagine can be downloaded is called Bombies. They showed it everyday at the local MAG office which also had impressive displays.

Below is a good website to get some formal information about the problem in Laos.

One of the personal interesting things that I learned was how these bombies worked. Basically, they were dropped by plane. There was one housing (I have a photo of one above) which housed the bomblets. A single housing contained 670 tennis ball-sized bomblets, each of which contain 300 metal fragments. If all the bomblets detonate, some 200,000 steel fragments will be propelled over an area the size of several football fields, creating a deadly killing zone. The design was impressive. It is basically the size of a tennis ball with half of it looking like the skin of a frog (all pimply caused by the hundred of ball bearing bbs. The other half reminds me of the helmet worn by Russel Crow in Gladiator with ridges coming out of the rounded surface. What the ridges did was to catch the air as they dispersed which in turn caused the ball to spin. The spinning then caused the centrifugal force which spun the armament (basically priming the explosive much like cocking a pistol). Then, when it struck something it would go off throwing out the ball bearings and slivers of metal. Freaking deviously creative. The problem was that many of these didn’t go off because the impact was dulled by falling into water or mud, hitting trees or bushes, or just plain being defective. This left a lot of these bombies armed but not exploded. This is why after forty years people are still dying when they tap one of these bomblets and they go off. An even more devastating issue is that these munitions are sized like a childs ball and some are even painted a bright yellow which of course becomes an attractant for children. On top of that, after years of discoloration, they now resemble a local fruit that is popular with the locals. What is actually kind of nuts is that most of the damage done now is self inflicted by kids or adults messing with the bomblets. For kids, beyond them mistaking them for a toy ball, the kids have learned that the bomblet ball bearings are a much better ammunition for their sling shots over the rocks and seeds they usually use. It also becomes a kind of Russian roulette dare as when boys will be boys, a bombie is found and one kid dares another kid to hit it with a rock or stick. Adults are also self-inflicting on themselves as they are after the gunpowder and ball bearings to be used for hunting in their muskets. The selling of the metal is also a big draw with people using homemade metal detectors to go scrap hunting.

On a personal note, knowing all this made off-roading around the area feel a lot more sketchy. Getting off the bike and walking into a field for a pee sure gives you the willies. I’m glad I don’t have to make a living farming the stuff. And I thought farming on itself couldn’t be worse. Farming and getting blown up will also be added to the “why I am not a farmer” list. I am pretty sure that a few of these bombies made there way to Fresno. Ain’t getting me out in those fields again.

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One response to “Jars are the best!!!!”

  1. Ae says:

    Hey i love you tour very munch and i like your bike very munch i will buy some and do tour around laos i’m a tour guide in phonesavanh (plain of jar) Laos PDR

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