Stop...... Hammock Time
Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
123Trip End Ongoing
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-- The Fellowship of the Ring
The VIP bus from Vientiane to Pakse was, for once, a VIP bus. That it to say the air conditioning worked, and there wasn't a man on board with a Kalashnikov. They also gave us some free food, a free bottle of cold water, and in the morning (for t'was a night bus) they gave us a refrigerated napkin with which to mop our brow..... Now that's class. True, not all was perfect; they showed a Thai film dubbed over into Lao without English subtitles, and there was an impromptu drinking contest a few seats behind us between a fifty year old Aussie and a fifty year old American..
After arriving in Pakse we took a tuk-tuk to the southern bus station we were herded onto a pick up truck bus (there's a name for these things but it's long and I can't remember it... like a tuk-tuk for real professionals) and two and a half hours later we were getting on a boat and crossing the mighty Mekong River.
Our final destination (as much as we can have a final destination during a journey like this) was Don Det, one of the 'four thousand islands' of southern Laos. And I know what you're thinking - "Laos is a land locked country Mike, stop talking shit" - but you'd be wrong. The Mekong splits into a Delta, kind of like the one in southern Vietnam where that fighting was a while back, and creates, for want of a better word, an archipelago of about 4000 islands.
We took a wonder along the island's shoreline, amidst the guesthouses and restaurants that have sprung up over the last seven years, and found somewhere to stay just past the hustle and bustle of the main drag. (I feel I should mention that we're talking about an island of less than a hundred inhabitants, with no phone lines or electricity cables, and words like 'hustle', 'bustle' and 'main drag' could appear misleading)
Our place was at the lower end of the market, which meant it cost one dollar a night rather than two. There was a nice rickety outhouse for all our toiletry needs - a shower fed directly from the rather murky Mekong and a hole in the ground.
We met up with Vic and Sarah, two fine examples of British Lady (they'll be reading) who we had first met in Vientiane. We had also fallen in with the apple of America's eye, Erica (she'll also be reading) and an awful lot of randoms (they won't be reading).
At six in the evening, as the sun retreated briskly over the horizon, the island would kick in their electricity generators for four or five hours. It was island law that nobody could have a generator on after midnight, which would make finding our way home at night kind of like white water rafting - a bit of a challenge but ultimately rewarding.
We would meet for a beer or two, and then at some stage someone (usually Vic) would buy a bottle of Lao Lao. This is the locally produced moonshine, and for an American dollar you become the proud owner of a miscellaneous glass bottle filled with a colourless liquid, and the slightly less proud owner of an impending hangover
Our drinking pit of choice was a place called the 'Happy Bar'. This was because they had a fondness for 'pepping' up their meals by mixing marijuana into them. And we're not just talking about the 'happy' pizzas you get in Cambodia... No. We're talking about happy mashed potato, happy fried rice and happy tuna fish and salad sandwiches. It's the kind of place, in fact, where it is better to specify that you DON'T want your food laced with cannabis, just to be on the safe side.
They also had a rather charming menu item which was 'Happy Hangover Breakfast'. This cost four dollars, and consisted of a baguette, garlic egg mayonnaise, French fries, a cold Coke, a fruit salad, 500mg of Paracetamol and 10mg of Valium. If that wasn't to your taste you could make it 'happy happy' for an extra fifty cents.
Drinking games were the rule of the day, and much hilarity ensued. In the daytimes activities ere divided between taking bike rides to waterfalls or spending quality time in hammocks. I won't say how we invested our time.... But, do you see any photos of waterfalls on here?
We were also given time to ponder our next move
The conversation hinged on whether we backtracked to Pakse to pick up some more cash, wasting an entire day traveling, or crossed the Cambodian border and traveled to the capital with exactly 43 dollars between us. It went like this:
Vinny: We can afford it. Well, we can afford it as long as the prices for boats are exactly what it says they are in this book. And we don't eat or drink.
Mike: Agreed. On the other hand, it's a lot better to have money and not need it than to need money and not have it.
Vinny: Let's go back to Pakse and get some more cash.
Mike: Let's do that.
Mike: Although if we got the bus rather than the boat it would be cheaper.
Vinny: Yeah, let's do that. Fuck Pakse, we'll go straight down. We'll be fine.
Mike: Fair enough.
[pause of fifteen seconds, hammocks swing in the breeze]
Vinny: We could just fuck Cambodia and go to Thailand.
Mike: Yeah! Let's rent motorbikes in Pakse!
Mike: Cambodia can kiss our collective arse.
As I replay the conversation in my mind, there is no reason why we decided to abandon Cambodia and go into Thailand, other than random Whim. All I can say though is this: Whim has got us this far, I'm quite sure it knows what it's doing.
Although things are now hanging very much in the balance, because Vinny injured his eye and we still aren't sure how badly. There was puss coming out of it pretty much constantly for the last two days, so I forbid him from riding motorbikes in Pakse and we made plans to go quickly to Bangkok, where they have one of the best international hospitals in the world. Although we had our hearts set on mixing it up motorbike style around the Laos countryside, Vinny's mother would track me down and kill me should he fall off - and good on her
His eye was better today, and we met a doctor who advised this type of eye-drop that we now have so we shall see.
But I am not explaining just how our ginger crusader of all that is good damaged his eye. Was it, you may wonder, swimming through rapids? Was it rescuing burning orphans from a fire? Was it perchance defending the virtue of a young lady?
It was none of these things and less.
What happened was, on our first night on the Lao Lao, Vinny took it upon himself to offer an 'aero plane' to young Sarah (the back story and justification for this is lost in the blur of moonshine). Now, our Wookie crusader had taken everything into account - balance, weight ratio, airspeed, in-flight meal... What he hadn't considered was that the pair were pissed as farts, and the rather elaborate balancing act collapsed, with Sarah planting her knee firmly into Vinny's eye socket and then, in a display of coordination of which drunks everywhere would be proud, managed to cushion her fall using her own nose.
Still, you've got to laugh, haven't you?