Thursday, November 27, 2008
Yet Anoher Junction
I’m searching for a way to transcend the experience...
When the bus dropped us off at the junction of the two roads there wasn’t much we could do. I had been riding my bike for 1,115 kilometers through the northern stretches of Thailand and Laos. My visa for Vietnam started in two days, I needed to rest while still covering ground; I didn’t know what to expect and was too tired to care. In retrospect, I think the driver had the mid-way drop off planned before we departed.
At 7:30am a mother, her small child, a middle aged man with worn through dress shoes, the Iguana and I loaded the flatbed-turned-bus in the junction town of Vieng Thong. At 7:45am the bus-driver pushed the front seat forward, pulled out a bamboo-bong, walked out to the road, smoked himself some opium, then came back and starred blankly at the front drivers side tire. Five other Laotians trickled over twenty minutes of philophosphorizing followed. Half-hour later the stoned driver was wheeling the tire in a dizzy line down the road; the mother, her child, man with worn-out shoes, the Iguana and I were still sitting in the back. A Songtow showed up shortly thereafter, we reloaded and set out for the hills toward the provincial capital, Xam Nuea.
About one-third of the way to Xam Nuea the road reached another junction village, which is where the driver pulled over, unloaded our belongings and handed me less than half of what I paid to get to Xam Nuea. The village felt like many I’d already ridden through, Saba Dee Screaming children, toothless elderly smiles, skinny dogs and small pigs.
Somehow, using my digital watch and organic to the conversation sign language, the man with worn-out shoes explained that another bus would pass through at 2pm. Despite the language barrier, it was comforting to know they had the same goal in mind.
We’d been waiting a couple of hours when the truck came around the corner. There was yelling, laughing, flags, camouflage, big guns and fake Ray Bans in the back of an army green 1 ton truck like overstuffed cigars in scrofulous heaps.
I felt like a possum about to become road kill in the middle of the night, frozen by shock and disbelief; my mind was sending signals but my feet wouldn’t move. So, I stood numbly trying to figure out which movie this reminded me of, The Last King of Scotland or one of the war scenes from Blood Diamond. Deep in my stomach was an undeniable threat that this was a guerilla group.
My shiny new bike was propped up on display next to my bag, which had all my money and passport, fifty feet away on the other side of the street.
Option 1: Run over, grab the bag, mount the Iguana and hammer down the hill past the truck in it’s final struggle to ascend.
Option 2: Continue the possum act and see what happens.
I unwillingly ended up choosing the latter.
The truck whipped off to the side of the road, young soldiers with scarves and trendy sideways baseball hats spilled out, music was turned on loudly, and two big silver bowls with engraved lettering were placed on the hood of the truck. The men scattered into the village and a couple camos stood guard by, what I assumed to be, the loot buckets.
I was starring at my feet, racing through the options of what may happen and how I should react. Without an approaching sound two boots appeared next to my feet. I traced up the boots, past the shiny belt buckle, to a set of eyes I knew immediately could see through any front I tried to put up.
What the fuck would I say anyway, “I like your shirt, just a minute let me grab my wallet sir.”
The possum act continued.
“What is your name?”
“Hi, my name is Andrew,” regretting how friendly I sounded as I spoke.
“Hmph,” he said.
I looked back down with the williwaws.
“And were is it you come from And-drew?”
“Oh, just 50k west” proud of my smart-ass intellect.
“No, what country do you come from?”
“From the states,” I said without hesitation.
I looked back up to see 30 young soldiers semi-circling the conversation. My back was to the Iguana now but I could hear the men shift her gears, ringing her bell, picking her up to feel her agile light frame; emotions stirred. I turned to see one guy sitting on her rack, another pushing her odometer and yet a third jamming down on her front shocks. Confidence ensued. I turned back to the filled out—man boobs and all—bruised t-shirt guy, still there; damn.
“Where’re you from?” I asked, eyes stuck on the man boobs.
“We come from a competition, these are our trophies,” he motions to the hood of the truck.
“What kind.” I’m confused now.
“A shooting competition in Phonsovan.” Phonsovan is a touristy area known for mysterious jars 9 feet in diameter.
He called himself Lu and neither he nor any of his men were part of any guerrilla activity. Lu told me about his beautiful wife, young daughter, and that he limits himself to two Beer Lao per day so he doesn’t get fat. I told Lu I’m scared of marriage but look forward to it and am enjoying the pace of human powered travel through his beautiful country.
A majority of the roads in Laos are good quality chip-seal, tiptoeing high up on ridges or pasted to the lower valley with jungle wall on one side and a meandering river on the other. I won’t soon forget the children in the villages or the behemoth 26km climbs.
Tomorrow I will start a 10 day bike approach over the Tokanise Alps of Vietnam to reach Sappa and the base of Mt. Fansipan which I hope to reach the summit of without the use of any engine other than my own.