Born to be Wild

Get your motor runnin’… Head out on the highway… Lookin’ for adventure and whatever comes our way!…Yeah darlin’ go make it happen, take the world in a love embrace…Fire all of your guns…

By gun I mean the one I had loaded and cocked against my temple while horrible Cambodian karaoke music played at over a 100 decibels from a speaker just above my head.  By adventure I mean any moving vehicle you are in, driven by a sadist in South East Asia. By highway I mean a semi-paved dirt road with tailing pond sized pot holes and absolutely no rules.  By love embrace I mean the absolute insanity of handing over your life to the driver of an overnight bus who is chugging red bulls to stay awake on the worst road ever in Northern Laos. By motor I mean…

THE BUS.

I love the bus.  I really do.  You hear all sorts of travellers talking about the “real” Cambodia and the “real” Thailand or the opposite of that, where is the “real” Laos or the “real” Vietnam?  I for one will tell you that the “real” everything can be found and seen on the bus.  There is no better place to get a good sense of a country than taking a bus that locals can afford to be on.  I love looking out the window at the always amazing scenery and people watching as the bus passes by.  Small makeshift huts, shacks, stilted houses, 3 story mansions and bamboo food stalls riddle the roads of this part of the world.  Kids playing, women tending their crops, men heading into town with a truckload of cabbage, cows mingling by the busy roadways and as many motorbikes as you can count weaving in and out of traffic without any fear.  Most bus companies in this part of the world think you want to hear music.  More specifically karaoke style love ballads and really bad local pop.  Now I have nothing against local music, but some of this stuff is pretty bad, and when it’s played for hours on end in an uncomfortable bus at thunderously loud levels, well let’s just say that gun almost saved my life.  We were lucky a few times on the night bus to have along with the music,  disco style lights clicking on and off to the beat.  To top things off, after several hours of music, they would switch it and play local comedy shows just as loud.  Not many of the locals were laughing, I certainly wasn’t.  If we were really lucky the air conditioning wouldn’t be working. That always makes for a wonderful trip as the sun beats down on the giant metal frame, heating up the vessel into a stinky sweat box of smells that you don’t want to know.  Or the night bus that doesn’t turn down the air con and everybody on board turns into frozen sardines.  But hey at least it gets you from A to B right?  Sitting in the back of a mini bus (glorified minivan) 12 people on board, along with a roof top full of gear makes for a suspension that feels like a punch to your kidneys every time you hit a pot hole.  The ac was blowing cool air that never made it to the hot back seat where a tiny local woman with a newborn, F. and I were sitting.  The road was a sidewinder through the glorious mountain range leading into Northern Laos.  F. was standing strong trying not to let the roller coaster ride get to her somewhat tired stomach.  We thought the locals would be comfortable with the road conditions, but about 30 minutes into the trip the young local women awoke from her sleep and started throwing up all over the inside of the van next to the window.  She did manage to find a plastic bag and finished off her heaving without making too much of a mess.  Her husband sitting in front of us turned to see what was going on, than quickly fell back asleep offering no help or sympathy.  A guy from South Africa hollered at the driver to stop so we could let the young lady out to catch her breath.  Her husband stood in shock wondering why we were doing this; I also sat wondering how long he would have been willing to sit in the van with a stinking bag of puke in it.  We did finally get her out with some directing by the South African.  The locals were seemingly bewildered as to why we wanted to help.  It happened one more time about an hour later, I’m just glad that F. didn’t return the favour!  One thing that is a common theme to all of the countries in South East Asia is the lack of communication with the foreigners who do not know the bus routes.  Busses have started driving off with our bags still in them, me jumping fearlessly back into a moving bus yelling at the driver to stop so that I could get our last bag off.  We left two brand new fleeces in Indonesia because the bus all of the sudden stopped and said we needed to get out to catch another bus that was already leaving.  In our confusion at what was going on (no one told us we were going to be switching busses) we forgot $150 of fleece in the upper shelf.  A very nice present for some lucky SOB!  We have seen people fall down and almost get run over by the bus as they were getting out because time is money and the bus never comes to a complete stop to let anyone on or off.  You literally have to jump out of a moving bus.  Locals getting on the bus with instruments, usually guitars, playing a few self-written ditties then demand that you give them money.  I just wanted mostly to tell them to stop.  Tiny seats made for local bottoms not four European blooded cheeks.  Most of the bus trips have been uncomfortable, long, tiring, some with no bathroom breaks, some with way too many.  It of course wasn’t all bad, many people helped us get off at the right stop, and many more told us not to get off at the wrong one.  We were in China and nobody spoke any English, we knew the bus trip was around 4 to 5 hours.  I think we were over 5 hours in and we hadn’t stopped for quite some time.  We pulled into a huge empty gravel parking lot just off the road we had been driving on.  The locals got out of the bus to stretch their legs or have a smoke.  Was it our stop?  We were the only foreigners on board.  I got out and showed our ticket to the driver.  He grunted and turned his head.  I showed him again, and he slightly nodded and walked off.  Was it our stop?  I asked one of the taxi drivers if it was in fact our destination, he looked at me blindly and shook his head, “yes”.  Was it our stop?  We managed to get all of our stuff off the bus before it left, I was still unsure if we were even in the right place.  Then our knight in shining armor appeared out of nowhere, a taxi driver that could speak a few words of English.  I asked him about five times if it was the right city before I finally believed him.  The language barrier is a scary and beautiful thing, and being dropped off on the side of the road in nowhere China is one of the most amazing and scary things I have ever done.  The bus, it can’t get any more “real” than that.

B.

Advertisements

The Twilight Zone

If you happen to be desperately searching for the armpit of the world, look no further than Vang Vieng, Laos. After spending about half an hour in this retched place, we found ourselves wondering if we had entered the “Twilight Zone”. I was embarrassed to be a white tourist in Vang Vieng. The Lao people come across as gentle, calm, happy and modest. Now put that against a backdrop of half-naked white tourists who spend the day writing profanity all over each other’s bodies with marker, tubing, drinking Lao whiskey and doing drugs that are much more readily available here than they are back home. If this doesn’t paint a frightening enough scenario there’s more. Most of the restaurants have big screen t.v.’s where they repetitively play episodes of “South Park”, “Family Guy”, and “Friends”! Around the clock fucking “Friends”! I knew we were in a strange place when on our first night there, a little boy who couldn’t have been older than seven ran up to me and grabbed my ass. Two words, Vang Vieng. In all seriousness this place is what one could call a natural disaster.  Last year just under twenty five tourists died uselessly in tubing and drug related accidents. Two have already died in 2012, literally dying to have a good time. We couldn’t even begin to count the amount of people walking around with injuries while we were there.  Terribly sick thinking I was on my deathbed is how I spent most of our pleasant visit. I was plagued by the idea that everything was going to come to an end in this god awful place. Luckily my time had not come and I lived to climb happily onto a bus as I breathed a sigh of relief.

Embarrassed to be a part of the human race. I was filled to the brim with this sensation once more recently, during the alms giving ceremony in Luang Prabang, Laos. It is a sacred ceremony meant to be done in silence while the monks walk through the streets in a meditative state, collecting sticky rice for their one meal of the day. Flash to 2012 when everything becomes an opportunity to make some mullah. B. and I watched totally bewildered as tourist bus after tourist bus showed up and turned a lovely, peaceful ceremony into a paparazzi worthy photo op. Some insensitive tourists got right in the monk’s faces with their cameras. It was loud and disgraceful. B. and I left feeling filthy; we had witnessed the worst possible repercussions of a modern world. Nothing seems to be sacred anymore.

F.