I somehow was able to drift into a snooze for a short while until the bus stopped at the Laos-Vietnam border with the sun having yet to rise. Since the bus came to a halt and the airflow had been shut off, you can likely picture how quickly the cabin turned into a sauna. I was mostly wide awake but trying to close my eyes even though my entire shirt continued to get drowned in sweat and my forehead flowed like a waterfall. After that had grown old and needing a fresh breath of air, I joined the few others who edited the bus. Once again the same Laos man bought the two of us young guys (me and the Laotian) soup for breakfast. These simple gestures don’t cost much but they mean everything for how I tend to view a place, country, and people. When the border finally opened at 7 a.m., it was a crowded mess of people jockeying for position to get their passport stamped so that each of us could then go check in and get our visas on the Laos side. After enough passports exchanged hands, a couple of the Westerners in front of me in this “line” noticed money was being passed through the window slipped into the passport. What a shocker! Another bribery at the border. As could be surmised, those with bills peeking out from their passport got served first and stamped noticeably quicker. When it was my “turn” to pay the man as much as I wanted to avoid it out of principle, I dug through my bag for my wallet to arrange the spare dollar. What I found within my bag was my suncream exploded all over the interior of my bag. Timing is everything. I was the last Westerner to get his passport stamped and the last of anyone that I could recognize. Since I couldn’t find the Laos border crossing within sight, I figured the bus would drive us there. After scrambling around to the various buses within the area, I found out none were mine. I began to panic believing that the bus had in fact left without me since they never did a headcount. I continued running around hoping I would recognize someone or get some information but the road was filled with a sea of Asians and no one spoke enough English to be helpful. Worst comes to worst the bus left me behind stranded at the border, I can find another bus to take me the rest of the way, and then get my main bag back in Vientiane (still not a position I would like to be in). I turned into whatever my out of shape body could call a sprint/jog down the road in search of my bus or the Laos border crossing. In a sweat similar to what I experienced in the bus or anywhere else here in Asia and an out of breath pant, I found the Laos immigration office and the rest of the Westerners filling out their visa on arrival applications. Apparently they came by foot as well but not in a survival sprint. The Laos visa got processed smoothly so that we were all able to stuff ourselves back into the crowded bus filled so fully that people were laying in the aisle, all to the tune of unnerving Asian music that I could never appreciate. The rest of the ride continued like this with me incapable of napping away some more time off the clock. All I could do was stare off blankly down the aisle way wishing the second hand hadn’t ground to a halt. At 4:30 pm roughly 22 hours after we officially began this dreaded journey we arrived in the Vientiane bus station in need of a tuk-tuk truck to bring us into the city center 15km away. Having had the freedom of a motorbike so recently which allowed me to leave when I wanted and not be corned into dealing with tuk-tuks and touts flagging me down when all I could use some peace of mind after such an arduous, draining trip, I struggled to once again return to the old hardened way of travel but that is not to say I accept getting corralled like cows. The group of us Westerners arranged a great rate that I think went as far as the driver was willing to break pushing him to that last relenting edge. I checked into a hostel and booked my bus ticket out to Vang Vieng tomorrow morning since I didn’t want to waste my time in this reputed soulless capital city with little time to spare thanks to India beckoning me to fly over. After handling the nitty gritty bits of the business of travel, I went in search of food around the Night Market. I had a deep fried sesame seed ball with sweetened mung bean paste hidden inside as an appetizer before having a real meal in the form of another bowl of noodles. Despite all the time spent learning Vietnamese especially the words and phrases most helpful when negotiating prices and using basic conversational terms, I was now back to ground zero needing to once again learn a whole new language. Over a bowl of noodles with coagulated blood having its uniquely tofu-like texture as the protein power, I chatted to a girl sitting next to me at this small singular table for the food stall. Whether racist or social profiling, I assumed she was Laos based on her eyes, skin tone, and the fact she knew a few token Laos phrases. Turns out she is actually from Singapore now working here in Vientiane. We had one of those great deep universal conversations that I sorely miss and rarely get to talk about especially while looking up at the drifting cloudy sky with the moon positioned as the one and only fixture up above. She got me thinking about my trip and even my writing in a different way. As she said, I should think more deeply about what I want from this trip rather than the activities and adventures experienced. As much as I am enjoying taking in the cultures, peoples, food, languages, nature, etc. I have made it a point when I set for this trip that it was always supposed to be more than that. I knew this then and I know this now but I struggle mentally and physically to full wrap my mind around this as this gig has put a drain on me. As she astutely pointed out, I am lacking that overarching goal. I am such a determined person that when I see that carrot on the end of the stick, that enlightening goal, I will reach it no matter the cost or sacrifice but I have yet to figure out what that carrot is. Right now I am in the middle of a whirlwind in which I am getting spun around and tugged in different directions that I don’t know what course to take. I guess in the meantime until that day arrives I have to continue trying and experimenting with new things and learning about what makes me tick and where I can find the best fit. It may not seem ideal when the answer is buried deep in a dark ominous cave but it sure caters to the adventurous and explorative spirit to enjoy the journey along the way rather than bemoan it is as a pill to swallow and likely never reach that point. Back to the here and now of this evening, Vientiane hugs firmly a long stretch of the Mekong River, which is a natural land border between Laos and Thailand that I could clearly see from just across chocolate stained river. After a long day that covered more than the full spectrum of the clock, I needed some sleep badly especially if I had any hopes of making the most of tomorrow to see and do as much as my energy levels can provide in Vang Vieng. I feel asleep to the stir of two roommates discussing bed bugs in their bed. This late at night I couldn’t do much about it especially after checking every inch of my own bed so I attempted to let the Sandman pull me away blissfully unaware.
Now in Laos Day 198: Panic at the Border