Friday, 28 November 2008

Over the Meekong into Laos

After the train I wasted no time to head towards the border of Laos, so I quickly located and got onto the relevant bus.
Hours passed uneventfully apart from when a Thai man came staggering over and sat himself down next to me. He tried to introduced himself, or at least that`s what I thought he was doing but maybe he was just waving his can of Chang beer around a lot and dribbling, he was carrying a small baby who also introduced himself by wobbling and dribbling a lot, both were now dribbling very well and came closer to try to bridge the gap between east and west, but maybe there is not enough saliva to describe such a huge divide in cultures, so he used his best native slurring instead, my Thai is very basic at the best of times but is completely useless against Chang beer dialogue, so he dribbled and his baby dribbled and clawed all over both of us whilst he just smiled, drank, dribbled then spat out some words...."dee sanuk, koaw jai?"...."good fun, you understand?" eeeeek...... why me I think to myself, always I seem to attract the drunk and the dribbling, no one else seemed to notice him, just normal for them I suppose, Thai man drunk in charge of infant nothing special, just a test I remind myself its just showing me things, OK I get the picture but can we move on from this now. I tried not to judge too much and tried to humour the infant, feeling sorry for him, it`s not his fault not his choice, then shortly after they got up and left at the next stop.

I finish the last few spoonfuls of my Kow Tom soup, a thin soup stock with rice and minced pork, garlic, chilli warming and appeasing the morning’s demands of my stomach. I watch the early morning mist shape shift above the surface of the Mekong river, looking like a scene from apocalypse now where soon we are to be crossing, not by search and destroy tactics but by little ferry boats, basically long wooden canoes with car engines strapped to them, which sped quickly to the other side eager to ferry more waiting tourists. Regretting the early start now as I look upon the hoards of others trying to pass through this tiny little outpost, so I resigned myself to a lengthy wait. Lots of queuing, bits of paper, passports and money exchanging hands, finally the formalities over with, I headed out following the general direction of tourist jeeps all going to Luangnamta I presumed, but after asking a few bemused looking smiling faces, they gestured the way and Sabadee me on my compass read east with a bit of north, so we are on the way the first few steps through Laos and on towards China....
I was hoping to have found the way out on some dusty old track, romantically hacking a trail through the jungle and quaint timeless villages, well maybe a few years ago it was like that but now it was a tarmac highway. Sporadic villages scattered along the way, rustic wooden structures built on high stilts buzzing with village life, shy looks and excited faces peer out from every house, pointing children giggle as I plod past them with my small guest house on my shoulders. I try to imagine what fascinates them with my presence, the way I look, I wonder what it looks like to them? I look at them no different to me just different situations and opportunities of life, we are all the same.

The day started to get very warm, heat radiating off from the melting tarmac and with over 170 km to go the romance of walking looked like it could wear off pretty quickly, but I reminded myself I am on the way now, just relax, don’t rush it all has a bearing on the journey, so I relax into a steady pace and think about camping in the jungle somewhere, to be re united at last with mother nature.
Finally I ended the day with about 65km under the belt, thanks to a couple of motorbike lifts, which was a good start and very satisfied, so I found a quiet place to set camp for the night, with cool running water from a stream which was a real pleasure to wash the days sweat away, refreshed myself and feeling organized I sat smug within with my little camp site. I found a place to sit under a small bamboo shelter and watched a flamingo pink sky turn into night. Slowly one by one the first few stars appeared. I meditated upon this scene, listening to the new sounds, smells and sensations of my first night out in the jungle. I lit a fire to complete the ritual that I felt would appease some ancient instincts of warmth and security. I did feel warm and secure and wrapped in mother natures arms that night she gently cradled me to sleep.

I awoke in the morning, refreshed and invigorated and gulped down the clean air to savor the morning freshness, it was cool and damp with dew soaked grass, tent completely soaked with it, so I took my time and allowed the sun to dry everything a little before setting off.

The traveling Gods decided to lend a hand today just as the road was getting more hot, hilly and less and less interesting to be walking on, a pick up stopped just ahead of me with a cargo of Chinese looking people, bags, rice, chickens, clothes all crammed together like a human jumble sale, they practically insisted on giving me a lift when I told them where I was heading, so I decided to accept as there will plenty of other opportunities for walking, just go with the flow. I wedged myself in within the jumble of bodies, bags and smiles and settled into what became a bumpy, dusty ride, but I was quickly grateful as the road became more and more elevated with miles and miles of tarmac twisting through the jungle, funny how things seem to happen just at the right time and certainly would not be the last.

Finally, stiff and slightly bruised we arrived in Lluangnamta, I picked a direction which was basically up or down a long road with non significant buildings, shacks and stalls. I stopped at the nearest place to eat to get my bearings and a full belly of fuel. Feeling more relaxed now I decided not to push on any further, so I took myself off walking around the local villages to get my bearings and take in the atmosphere, a very peaceful and simple place, like being back in medieval times, I felt like I was in a film set. I drift past it all as though on a timeless escalator ride and engage the plentiful smiles.

I camped that night between two houses on some waste ground and emerging from my tent in the morning I noticed a small audience gathering from the locals, not shy to stare at us like we are with each other, so I carry on my performance for them and go through my morning routine of cleaning, feeding then packing everything away, I 'Sabaidee' to them, wave and smile and go on my way, wonder what they are thinking?

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