Monday, January 7, 2008

The Laos Bus Experience

For those of you who have traveled solo I know you can appreciate what I am about to say. Sometimes you have a few week period where things just are not going your way. You are either not in the right place, or your not meeting the right people, and you are really starting to wonder what the hell you are traveling for. For me that period was the last three weeks. I never found anywhere that I really loved. Actually, I never even found a place that I found even moderately appealing. I was lucky to have some good friends over New Years (Here's to my Crazy Canadian friends! Enjoy Bali, and I'll be joining you guys on the vineyard in no time!), but aside from that I really was not to pleased with traveling at the time.

So what do you do when you are frustrated, lonely, depressed, and feeling none to warm towards the country you are in? Well, I decided to take a twenty four hour ride on a public bus to the very southern tip of Laos. Now had I known the journey would take twenty four hours odds are I would not have hopped on that bus. But, true to my nature i just showed up at the bus station when I was ready to leave and hopped on the next bus headed in that direction without asking any questions. I should have known I was in for a long ride when I was charged 100,000 kip ($10.00) for the journey to Pakse. Instead I sat there and decided that I had been ripped off. "Damn", I thought "first time that has happened in Laos." I wasn't to upset so I just settled in for the usual uncomfortable ride on a public bus. About seven hours later we pulled in to a bus station, which I discovered was the half way point between Vientienne and Pakse. OK...I guess I will get in to Pakse at like one or two and figure it out from there.

Two hours later we are making yet another prolonged stop at a bus station, and this time the entire bottom hold of the bus, which was filled with boxes of tile needs to be unloaded. I don't have anything better to do so I jump in and between three of us we unload all the boxes in about 15 minutes. We worked up quite a sweat and a few minutes later one of the workers comes up to me with a bottle of water and a pack of smokes to say thanks. I gratefully except the water,but decline the smokes. Fifteen minutes later we are underway once again. Somewhere in the neighborhood of midnight I finally succumb to my exhaustion (it had been three days without a proper nights sleep) and sprawl across two seats wrapped in a blanket that one of the Lao guys had given me. I wake up around 2:30 a.m. to find that we are parked in a gas station parking lot, the engine is shut off, and find that the driver, three Laotian guys, and myself are the only people on the bus. I hop off, take a leak, and wander around the deserted gas station for a few minutes wondering what's up. Deciding that I don't have a lot of options I just hop back on the bus and drift off to sleep. At around 5:00 a.m. the bus driver gets up and we are back on the road again. At 6:00 a.m. we finally hit Pakse, where I am told that the bus I was on will be continuing on to Si Phon Don, which was my intended final destination. I had been planning on spending a day resting in Pakse, but since the bus was going there anyway why not hop back on and just get the ride over with!

Five hours and a short boat ride later I am standing in one of the most beautiful locations on the planet. WOW!!! I really needed a place like this to snap me out of my traveling funk! I don't know how to describe this place, like Nepal words and pictures would not do it justice. I am on an archipelago of "4000" (I suspect 200-300) islands on the Mekong River. There are guest houses and restaurants here, but aside from these local run places this really is village life as usual in Laos. I can't even believe that I am here! That's how surreal this place is. I have rented a private bungalow for a dollar a night, am directly on the Mekong and have TWO hammocks hanging on my private porch. Is this heaven?!?! Yeah, I think so.

Yesterday I rented a bike and went for an unbelievably aggressive ride with a Norwegian guy I met that morning. We rented the standard cruising bikes, but took them down trails I normally reserve for my full suspension bike back home! I was pretty timid at first, but within 30 minutes I was rediscovering the joy of whipping down some tight single track, hopping over logs, and going really fucking fast! Boy did I miss that. Now that I got some good exercise in I think I will take today to read a book on my porch in one of my TWO private hammocks! Hmmm...which to choose from? Maybe I will split the day and do half in each!

I have been introduced to a local fisherman who is going to take me out in his boat tomorrow and show me some of the other, mainly deserted, islands. AAHHHH...this is the life! No tours, no aircon vans, gas generated electricity from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. only, and Laolao mojitos for fifty cents a pop! Woohoo, I really am in Paradise.

I guess the lesson is when you are having shitty time traveling there are two things to do. Be mopey and just kind of move around waiting for a break to come your way, OR you can simply say, as one of my role models, Jeffery "The Dude" Lebowski, would "Fuck it." and go have yourself an adventure. For me that was 24 hours on a cramped public bus with some friendly people, loud Laotian pop music, and tasty dumplings. Follow that up with arriving in paradise and you cannot really ask for much else out of life.

6 comments:

Divya B said...

that sounds so awesome - so glad things are looking up for you! btw, my cousin said she'd get back to me about volunteer stuff in India - so hopefully that'll be useful. Till then - enjoy paradise!

Daniel said...

The Dude abides...

Daniel said...

The Dude abides...

Mark said...

Im glad you got a good ride in buddy, cant wait for you to get back up here and hit Tiger again. It will be open in April I beleive. ha ha

Lisa Ariganello said...

glad to hear that you found your haven! i wish that we saw the "better side of laos." well, another time, i guess. i've settled into indonesia quite nicely. bali is incredible! if you ever make it down here, go to a town called "ubud." it has an amazingly strong spiritual energy. the town is full of artists, musicians, dancers, meditation gurus, and spiritual healers. you'd love it!
for now...enjoy your travels, and never stop monking around...ever! see you on the vineyard.

trollhair said...

If you are there in November 2008 I will see you there!