Friday, October 17, 2008

Rambling off the beaten path

  So there I was. Standing, sweating, staring. My girlfriend (at the time) Kym stood with me. After a sleepless night on a messy third class train with little to no comfort, there we found ourselves peering across the border. All I could see was dust and people. I felt like I was in a movie. 
  Hmm, that's a funny thought. Looking back, any time I was ever traveling and did something or went somewhere that made me feel or day dream that I was in some sort of movie that hadn't been made yet, it was always a memory worth looking back on. I guess you could say that I travelled for those moments. I not only looked forward to them, but sought them out. 
  To get back... I found myself, in this particular moment, crossing the border from Thailand into Laos at some purposefully off the beaten track border crossing. I don't remember it's name. We continued on foot through the dust and pathetic attempt for an immigration building... Well, not really through, but right on past cause it was empty and locked up from what I remember. Well, we did get a stamp from somewhere, so I guess it wasn't totally abandoned. 
  It's always kinda funny thinking back to these memories for a few reasons. Of course, I talked about them all the time back when it was something that happened recently, but as the years go by, one begins to let them slip into the pot of collected experience and they sit there for longer and longer without being let out for air and disscusion. And when you do, you always forget all these little details like; How we found the border from the train platform, or in this case; How we got from crossing the border to riding in the back of a truck holding a bag of soda with a straw in it. It's also funny to think that accomplishing these things are actually some of the more difficult tasks at certain times. 
  To get back, there I was in the back of a truck sitting on a bench drinking some sort of really sugary soda from a straw in a plastic bag. The truck was completely crowded full of people getting rides back to their small villages. I looked up to Kym and posed a question. "why do you think they put the soda into these sacks?" At the precise moment of delivery I happened to notice, on the opposing side of the truck, a sack full of soda hanging from one of the bars of the bed covering. Understanding what to do then, I promptly found a bar for my own sack, hung it, then stretched out my legs over one of the many bags of rice cluttering the floor of the truck bed. It was going to be a long journey... But where were we going? 
  I must explain something about the way I prefer to travel. Plans, itineraries, routs, comfort... Out the door. The times I've had the best experiences were when I dropped all plans and found myself somewhere I didn't know existed. Since finding somewhere you didn't know existed is, to a point, based on luck, most of the time I just open my ears and wait for something that sounds interesting. In this case I'd heard about some place in southern Laos where there's 4,000 islands in the middle of a large river. That was enough for me. We were on our way from that knowledge ALONE. For that matter I feel it would be appropriate to say a word to Kym at this time; Kym, thank you for putting up with me. You were such a good sport. 
  Ok, where was I? Sack of soda, Truck, rice, people, Laos... Got it. Long journey indeed, especially since we really didn't know where the hell we were going. But somehow, by the grace of God, many hours later we arrived at a river bank to find a man with a boat that drove us out into what appeared to be an entire archipelago of islands. The only thing occupying the islands were families with little farms. No buildings, only little bamboo bungalows... Oh, and hammocks! After a long and perfectly lit sunset cruise we arrived on the shore to one of the islands. Don't ask me which one cause I didn't and probably will never know. It was a small island. Walking around the whole thing only took about 20 minutes or so. Nothing but farms, bungalows, pigs, and wonderful locals. Oh, I guess there were the other travelers too. I'd like to pretend that we found some far off place that no other westerner has ever set foot on... But the reality is that such a place does not exist. If it did, and you managed to find it, guess what? Just by you being there it would be tainted and ruined. The plus to running into other travelers in such a far off location, however, is that, since it's quite a difficult place to get to, they usually tend to be fairly like minded folk. The rule normally goes: the harder the place to get to, the cooler the travelers tend to be. Exceptions to the rule usually mean India. In the case of India the rule is normally as follows: The harder the place to get to, the more fucked up and whacked out the travelers are... Which is a whole different ball game. Anyway, the people we ran into on this tiny island in the middle of the Mekong river in Laos happened to be wonderful. We all enjoyed many recreational days together with activities including watching fresh water dolphins in the river, taking long walks, hanging out in hammocks, and drinking opium tea. Usually the hammocks and the tea were simultaneous. 

  God I must must must go back and try to find that place again someday. 

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