Saturday, September 10, 2005

Three The Hard Way, Take Three

Bangkok, Thailand

We were supposed to be in Laos for something like six hours. Just long enough for us to cross the country on a bus, then take the ferry across the Mekong. Theory is always nice.
In reality, we ended up staying in Laos for over twenty-four hours.

About two hours into our cramped, stinky, rumbling bus ride from the Laos-Vietnam border, the bus decided to crap out. Both Mike and I were sitting above the right-rear wheel-base when it started to fail. The grey, burnt-rubber smoke was barely seeping out of the bus' injury at first, and we stopped a few times to do some quick fixes. But, after the third stop, the smoke was really pouring out. About half of it was billowing into the bus, making it pretty hard to breath. So, we stopped the bus, and everyone got out while the bus driver and his assistants started the surgery.
I have never in my life seen such a half-assed attempt at auto-repair. The most obvious problem was they didn't have any of the tools they needed. Well, they had a crescent wrench. Other than that, they had to make do with manpower, mallets, large rocks, and a piece of the axle to do the needed repair work. The whole time, the wheel-well was surrounded by squatting passengers watching the bus-workers go at it, occasionally pointing and giving advice.
Not all of the passengers were wanna-be mechanics, though. Those that weren't helping with the repair-work were crawling into the foliage near the road, trying to find some protection from the ever-increasing afternoon heat. Jarah even managed to get some of them to join him in a game of Chinese chess.
After two hours in the blazing sun, the work was finally finished. They had successfully removed the broken disc-brake and replaced the tire. We would be running on one brake only, but at least we could make the trip without being choked to death by smoke. Everybody gratefully started to re-board the bus.

And that's when I fainted.

Clearly, it was heat exhaustion. I had been drinking plenty of water, and I was squatting in the slim ribbon of shade provided by the bus, so I thought I was fine. When I stood up to get on the bus, though, I got that familiar light-headed feeling. I remember leaning against the bus, waiting for it to go away. I also vaguely remember being very confused, and wondering why I was having such a difficult time walking.
When I came to, I was sitting in the nasty ditch by the side of the road. I was hip-deep in fetid slime-water, and I had no idea where I was. I vividly remember staring at a bus filled with very foreign-looking faces, all staring back at me, and being more confused than I've ever been in my life. Where they hell was I, who were all of these people, and why were they staring at me? Then, over the course of about 10 seconds, it all came back to me.

That bus looks familiar. Wait... I was supposed to be on a bus, right? Yeah. And the door was over there... yup. I was definitely on this bus. On the bus, and I'm in... Laos. OK. Oh! And the bus broke down, so we pulled off... And then I stood up... Fuck. I totally fainted. That's why everyone's staring at me. And I'm sitting in the nasty ditch water. Great.

It was pretty embarrassing getting back on the bus while a bunch of the Laotians around me giggled and pointed. I saw one of them doing a pantomime of my stumbling faint to his friend while I changed out of my cholera-drenched clothes. Oh, well. At least we were moving again.
The rest of the trip was thankfully uneventful, though even more uncomfortable than when I first boarded. Being ditch-filthy on a 100 degree bus through Laos is not really one of my fonder memories.
Eventually, we made it to Savanakhet. I really didn't feel like dealing with a border crossing that night, so we decided to save it for the next morning. Instead, we found a hotel, checked in, cleaned up, and went to have some dinner on a "floating restaurant".
Of course, we didn't find it, and ended up unprotected in a monsoon thunderstorm, with no taxis in sight, a few kilometers away from our hotel. But, relative to the trials of the previous few days, getting caught in the rain wasn't really a big problem.

The next morning, we made it to Thailand.


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