Part 1 here.
Last I wrote I was having dinner, of sorts, at a random rest-stop in the middle of rural southeast Asia. It was started to rain, which tends to happen during the monsoon season, but I started to worry. Like I said, the Lao drivers aren’t exactly-confidence inspiring in the best of conditions, let alone dark and rainy nights. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to that weather, especially with at least another 12 hours on the bus. Anyway, it was getting a bit late, and I had a double seat, so even though the buses in Laos are designed for, well, Lao people (who tend to be quite a bit shorter than I am), I was still able to get some sleep.
Next thing I know it’s 2:00 am and the only person on the bus who is able to put together (semi) complete sentences in English is relaying a message from the driver: because of the rain and the mud the road is impassable, so we would have to spend the night at the bus station in a small village whose name I cannot remember. Bear in mind that the term bus station means something else entirely in northern Laos. The bus station in that little village was not exactly the kind of place in which I could wander around and find an air-conditioned corner in which to fall asleep. It consisted of a large concrete slab, about 30X70 feet, about a quarter of which was partially covered by a large piece of plastic. At that end there was also a small ticket booth. That’s about it. My home for the night.
Somehow it was conveyed to me that there was some sort of guesthouse in the area where I could spend the night. I politely declined. Part of the reason I tried to travel between places at night was because I could save a few bucks by sleeping on the road and not in a guesthouse. I didn’t want to lose a day because of the weather, and pay more for that trip than I had originally planned. Furthermore, the thought of missing the bus and being stranded in the middle of nowhere for yet another day definitely worried me. So my interpreter, being the nice guy that he was, brought a sack of rice from the back of the bus to prop my feet up, and left me to sleep until morning.
I managed to sleep through the night, and next thing I know it’s 8 am and I can’t wait to get out of there already. Oh no, that would make too much sense. The bus driver and his buddies are sitting around, smoking cigarettes and chatting away. Kind of like bus drivers in Israel. And they get just as annoyed, too, when you ask them when the bus is supposed to leave, too. I think he said 9:30.
Since I have to kill time, I walk around, to see where I am, and I discover that the offer of a guesthouse the previous night was actually a free offer, respecting the rich (ha!) white guy. Oh well, I’ve slept in worse places. Eventually, I find a bathroom. And by bathroom I mean a shack of sorts with only a whole in the ground for a “toilet.” Literally. But this was Asia, so that was actually pretty normal. At least I didn’t have to pay to go – they like charging you for visiting their holes in the ground at bus stations in Laos.
I was pissed off that yet another day went down the drain, because if we were supposed to arrive in Phongsali at around 8 am, we were already 6 hours behind, which in Lao terms really meant more like 8 hours. After walking around and waiting for an hour and a half I got back on the bus when the driver told me we might leave (knowing full well I would have to wait for another 15 minutes, at least – but I think it’s always better to be safe than sorry in the third world).
Anyway , while sitting on the bus, I suddenly heard someone call my name. Now, I was the only white person on the bus, and I didn’t really anticipate meeting anyone with whom I could converse, let alone someone I knew, for at least another 7 or 8 hours. In a stroke of divine luck, S., the friend I was supposed to meet, was at the same bus stop as I, at the same time, heading in the same direction.
Last I had seen S., we were both in Kathmandu, Nepal heading in different directions, and I couldn’t be happier to see him at that moment. Apart from making an 8 hour bus ride go by faster, if I hadn’t met him then and there, I’m not sure we would have actually met in Phongsali, despite the fact that we were both going to be there at the same time.
NEXT: What happens in Phongsali… well, no one really cares about what happens in Phongsali.