The last day of the retreat we’re allowed to speak again, so I talked with the only other foreigner there. I find out that he’s been traveling to China since the 80s, his son worked in Business in China, he’s lived in Laos for 15 years, taught university classes on the same subject I studied in school, he loves to travel off the beaten path, and he’s very concerned with his physical and mental health. It’s strange how much we have in common and yet we’re almost 50 years apart in age.
Since he’s headed back the same way I’m going, through Vientiane, I ask him for a ride. He says it’s fine as long as I don’t mind going on a few errands along the way. It was a nice adventure to see his usual places to shop in Thailand and to hear about his experiences of living in the area for so long. We also had some long discussions about America when he was a child and America now. I’ve heard a lot of those stories from my dad, but it was nice to hear a different perspective.
We get to Vientiane at 2, giving me enough time to figure out how to get out of the city before nightfall. In the middle of my planning he offers me to stay at his house with him and his wife. I immediately accept.
Their hospitality the rest of the night and next morning is more than I could have imagined from a friend, let alone someone I barely know. I find out he got his PhD in neurophysiology, so we had some interesting conversations about consciousness and spirituality to close out the night.
The next morning he drives me across town where I check my email at a local coffee shop and start the journey that much closer to the main road going north. I start out walking at nine.
Almost to the ends of the town, where the farm area starts, I stop to rest in the shade. I’m not tired yet, but I’m pretty sweaty and I haven’t given waving people down a good chance yet. My strategy is signaling to people by doing their prayer looking greeting and then pointing off in the distance down the road. I get a lot of people waving me off, which I see is a good sign. I’d be more worried if everyone just looked at me confused or tried to avoid any interaction at all.
Finally, after a short 20 minutes a truck driver waves me forward to where he eventually stops on the side of the road. I open the door and no one is in the drivers seat. Woah, I know it’s hot, but I didn’t think the hallucinations would start for a lot longer. Then he comes around the door and asks me where I’m going. He says he can’t take me that far, but he wants to help flag down one of the air conditioned band people take as an alternative to the buses. I tell him thanks, but I don’t have much money to be doing that and I’m mostly interested in the experience of trying to ask for a ride from someone like him. He doesn’t listen to me and insists to flag someone down. Then, we go back to the truck and he tells me to get in the passenger seat. He offers to drive me as far as he’s going, where it will be easier to find someone to take me.
Back at the door I crank my neck back to look up into the seat which is probably seven feet high. I’ve hit choked with trucks like this quite a bit in Ghana, so I know the routine. I throw my bags up on the seat, put one hand on the door, the other on the seat for stability, and then look for the steps to get off the ground a bit before yanking myself up the rest of the way. The problem with this truck is that all the steps are broken off. Well, good thing I just spent 10 intensive days with my legs stretched and folded like a pretzel. So, I lean back slightly and then kick my right leg up to my shoulders to the lowest part of the door opening I could step onto. With a little push from my left leg I’m able to just get enough momentum to them pull myself all the way up.
Not far down that road, we pull over next to a gas station where he reminds me for the fifth time that I should drink water to make sure I’m hydrated. Maybe he’s concerned at all the sweat. Lao people don’t sweat quite as much in a full workout as I do sometimes just breathing in this humidity. He tells me to wait in the cab of the truck. Then, he comes back and tells me to come sit in the shade where he put a seat and helped me carry my bags. Then, he gives me a giant cold bottle of water and tells me to drink more. I thank him and take the seat.
Not much longer, a van going to Vang Vieng (about half way to Luang Prabang) pulls up. He negotiates with the driver to lower my price and then when they settle, he pays the driver. Wow, this guy must be the kindest person I’ve met in a long time. He doesn’t even know anything about me and he goes to these lengths to help. This is a great example of one lesson I’m looking for, traveling the way I am. Right when I felt like I wouldn’t get a ride at all, this guy comes and does so much for me, far more than I asked for or felt comfortable receiving.
In Vang Vieng, I get to the end of town again and get some food before continuing in the direction of Luang Prabang. I didn’t think I’d make it, but if I can get a ride by five, I should get there by nine. I agreed that if I didn’t get a ride at five then I would go to the temple to spend the night.
I find a shady spot right in front of a big pothole, where people will have to slow down. A couple in their house behind me bring out a chair and insist that I sit down and wait. The woman is very nice and VERY interested in what I’m doing. She keeps asking me again and again to make sure she heard me correctly. It seems that every time I go to wave someone down, she says they won’t be interested in picking me up. After an hour her constant bickering starts to get to me. Her negativity is now starting to make me think the same way. She keeps telling me to sit down and wait for the bus to come by. I try to be as respectful as possible to her generous offer. I can feel my demeanor change as I feel like I’m not going to get my way. Again, this is just another important lesson I wanted to get from this type of travel. Whether I get my way or not, I want to just accept it and be satisfied with the situation.
Just past four, a guy in a minivan asks if I’m going to Luang Prabang and then pulls over. As I’m walking to the car I can feel my whole demeanor change and I can’t help contain my huge grin. Not only did I do it, but I proved negative nancy over there wrong. This is just another lesson I’m trying to take from the travel. When I do get my way, I want to feel the same way as when I don’t, always satisfied with the situation, not elated or frustrated.
When I get to the van, he even gets out to open up the passenger doors for me and cleans off the seats. I find out that’s literally his job, to drive around rich foreigners, so it makes sense why he’d act like that. He said he just dropped some off and now he’s on his way back home. I thank him for picking me up and explain a bit what I’m doing.
I appreciate how safely he drives the whole time and we end up getting into town around eight. Right before he drops me off he asks me for some money and says it’s only half the price he’d normally charge. The argument of him going home whether he picked me up or not went through my head, but I feel like it’s my fault for not talking about the payment when I got in the car. I give him the money and just take this as a good lesson for rides in the future.
As it really hits me that I’m back I feel an overwhelming sense that I’m home. I’ve been here for a year now and besides for the house I grew up in, have the most connection to this place. I was connected to Ghana, but was ready to leave by the end and didn’t get the chance to visit again. So, the feeling of this being home is the strongest I’ve felt to a particular place in a long time. I wasn’t sure if I’d stop here or not, but I’m really glad now that I’m here to spend the next few days.