Monday, 12 November 2012

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 12: Off The Road

“THIS IS BULLSHIT” I declared to the skies as my 6am alarm clock tipped me out of bed and into another day. I packed all of my possessions in thirty seconds flat and headed off with Maddie to pay our debt to Mr B’s society. We met the other four horsemen and ordered breakfast from a set menu which was included in our excursion. After eating, we took our backpacks to the travel agents store to be shipped across the river,and then driven down to the border for us to collect in time to catch a bus. We all got into the kayaks which were lined up and waiting for us at the little inlet, then started making our way towards the border, which was 17km away. After about an hour of steady rowing, our kayak hit one of the 4000 islands that was almost completely submerged. I tried to push back away from the branches that were stabbing me, and rocked the boat, don’t rock the boat, baby. I rocked the boat, and tipped the boat over, smashing me knee onto an underwater rock. Maddie was bobbing there laughing, then instructed me on how to get back on, before doing so herself. My knee felt alright, I felt refreshed, and we carried on going. Soon after we pulled in to a little island, and were told by our guide in English which wasn’t so much ‘broken’, more ‘smashed into pieces’, that we were now in Cambodia. Unfortunately, we’d soon have to leave, kayaking back into Laos to then cross the border officially.
"Excuse me mate, which way is Cambodia?"

"Oh, here it is!"
Our guide handed us some lukewarm egg baguettes and we had lunch, at 10am, and started paddling the rest of the way down the Mekong, where we were lucky enough to see some very rare Irrawaddy dolphins swimming about in the distance. I put my hand in the water and sent out a mind message, willing them to come closer. A few seconds later I saw a water snake, and the little bastard was coming right at me, looking like he was on a mission to attack. I raised my paddle and took a big swing at his head, nearly tipping us back into the water with my blast, and he fucked off sharpish. After another hour and a half we rowed ashore, and awaited the van, which arrived with our bags about fifteen minutes late. Worried that we’d not make the last bus to Siem Reap, the gang decided that we’d have to miss out on the waterfall that we were meant to be going to see prior to our border crossing. I was the only one that was willing to risk it, and was sad to have to let the opportunity pass me by, however, being stranded at the border on a Sunday didn’t seem like a great prospect either, although I’m sure we’d have survived. Regardless, the instruction was made, and we were driven right up to the border.

Now, although I generally have weed on me wherever I am, whatever I’m doing and on any occasion, I’d never attempted to smuggle drugs across any borders or check points before, but I thought the chances of getting checked by any of these lazy arsed Laotians or their Cambodian counterparts was so miniscule that it was worth the risk. I put my baggy into my cigarette box, and stuck them in my now dry Arsenal football shorts that I’ve had since I was about eleven years old, which still fit me now. That’s single Mums for ya, they are basically wired so that whatever they buy will be optimised to last forever, passed on, and never get too small. They’ve gone from royal blue to grey over the years, but I’ll probably be rocking them until they’re white, at which point my son or daughter can have them to wear until they turn blue again. It was fucking hot. I was sweating, but trying to seem cool, which isn’t easy when you’re doing something that could get you thrown into a foreign prison. All these dodgy motherfuckers live off of bribes anyway, so I thought I may as well at least get my monies worth. To exit Laos we needed to be stamped out at a small window which I was too tall for. I hunched down and the guy asked me for two dollars, so I handed him a ten. He handed me back my passport. I waited for my change which didn’t come, so I hunched back down, sticking my head in the window and said “Change?” He handed me back a five. “What about the other three?” I enquired. “No exit card, five dollar” he replied. Now I’m ninety-nine point nine percent certain that it was stapled in there when I handed him my passport, but I wasn’t going to argue when I just wanted to get across. I bet they make most of their money from people on that reasoning alone, nobody wants enemies at customs, especially not me. Next stop, we had to go through quarantine to make sure we weren’t ill, and that cost us another unofficial dollar each. We then had to pay for our Cambodian visas, which were $25, which was the only official fee there should have been. Finally, I passed through passport control, and I didn’t give them a dime.
I had made it, and I didn’t have to throw my baby away again. Having to throw an ounce of Cali bud and over an ounce of ‘shrooms into a bin in Tombstone, Arizona, still hurts me to this day. Now, after your first time successfully smuggling drugs across the border, I’d imagine it becomes a hell of a lot easier to do. I’m sure I’ll find out at some point, although it’s not something I’d like to make a habit of, especially as drugs are available pretty much everywhere in the world if you ask the right people and it saves the stress. It’s just that it seemed too easy, plus I was a big fan of this stronger than usual Thai weed from Vang Vieng.

We were approached by the guy with the only bus there, which was soon to be departing and quoted $35 each to take us to Siem Reap and $30 each for Ryan and Marie to get to Phnom Penh. We weren’t best pleased with the price, but it was clearly a sellers’ market, and we had to buy. We rolled off and along the bumpy road. Sorted, we’d made it. Then all of a sudden I heard a bang and the bus screeched to a halt. We’d been driving for less than ten minutes and were already broken down. Brilliant. The A/C had stopped working and it heated up real quick in there, so everybody got off and stood on the left hand side of the bus, in the slight slither of shade that it provided us from the scorching mid-day sun. “Twenty minutes” said one of the bus company’s crew, which I believe are the only time related words that get taught to South East Asians when learning English, as that’s all I ever seemed to hear. They are probably told “You want farrang to shut up, say twenty minutes”. I tested my theory by asking him how long an hour is. “Twenty minutes”, he replied. Good work. After an hour, I started feeling a bit weak and weary, and I turned to my mobile notes to put this situation into poetry form, laying down a little story based on these events. Half way through writing it, I was glad we’d broken down. That’s the thing with the art of alchemy, you can take a turd and polish it into a piece of gold. I’m generally thankful for all the practice I get.

“I forgot what I was thinking at the side of the road, the sun was too much to bear.
It was mid-day by the border, we'd just crossed over there.
We'd been on the bus for 10 minutes, then beside it to wait for a tyre,
as the minutes grew longer the intensified heat began to feel like a fire.
The flames in my brain they were flaring, no water to cool off the heat,
the tarmac seemed near boiling point as it burnt the soles of my feet.
‘This will make me stronger’, I told myself, as I grew weary and weak,
I laid in the shade like a dying dog, I had no strength to speak.
The wait seemed to last for hours, nothing moved but the clouds,
as I clung on to my sanity, I lost all the baggage I'd found.
All I cared for was survival, I had to keep my grip,
until salvation is on the horizon I mustn't let it slip.
A car hummed out in the distance, it was approaching at speed,
as it pulled in, there was no driver, just a note which read 'Here's what you need'.
I screamed to high heavens, 'Thank you world', with great relief, I laughed.
We're always first tested, then given what we need, when we're travelling on the right path.

A car pulled up, and the bus operator said that we could pay his friend to take us to an ATM as a few of us needed dough, so Rachael, Ryan and I got into this car. We were whisked away from our other three amigos who stayed to wait for the bus to be fixed, before picking us up elsewhere along the way. After fifteen minutes of being driven by a boy that looked no older than thirteen, our second vehicle now grinded to a halt. What are the odds? Probably pretty low in Cambodia. Somehow or another he’d seized the engine, and we were stuck there. We were told to walk the rest of the way to the ATM whilst they waited for the ‘car fixer’ to come. After a ten minute walk we reached the cash machine, and withdrew some dollars, then instantly went and bought beers from a stall on the street with a kid who spoke amazing English. He was a chubby cheeked cherub, and I complimented him, saying that he’d be rich one day, he was clearly a bright spark and a born salesman, even trying to sell us some beef jerky which he had hanging on display. We cracked our cans and said cheers, then walked back to where the car was. After about twenty minutes the drivers mate pulled up on a ‘ped. He whisked Rachael off first, then came back for me and Ryan. We both got on as he was hurrying us, and he worried me by using his mobile, whilst carrying our two precious lives, along with his own, which he was welcome to risk if he wanted as far as I was concerned, just not with me there to witness it. Regardless, we didn’t die, so that was good, and got back on the bus to explain to everyone that we’d broken down again, which they all found amusing. We were finally on our way, and only two hours behind schedule. Because of this, we had to take a faster route down even worse made roads, which meant a much bumpier ride. The driver didn’t seem to mind, singing whilst simultaneously texting and rolling a cigarette. My best advice when being driven around foreign countries is to not watch the road, or the driver, or you will be freaking out the whole time. Valium may also aid this, by knocking you out the entire time, however in this case I didn’t partake. I tried to sleep, managing to drift off only to be jolted from my seat when we nearly crashed into the back of a truck. We had a stop for sandwiches, then got back on, and were driven another three hours by the same maniac, but I managed to catch a few Z’s as by this point I was shattered.

We stopped again for dinner at about 10.30pm, then said farewell to more family as Marie and Ryan went to get on a different bus. I would miss those guys. Ryan was really great to have around, and a lot like my brothers back home, and Marie had an amazing wit, that sometimes seemed to go under the radar, but not with me, she cracked me up constantly. The four of us then got on another bus, which would carry us for the next four hours into Siem Reap. We each had more space now, and passed out from exhaustion. Finally at 3.30am we were there, and we got onto a tuk-tuk, telling the driver that we wanted a hotel with a swimming pool. After a rough few days, we wanted a little treat. We managed to score two rooms at the Temple Villa with two double beds, en-suite bathroom, and a TV, for $8 a night. Sold. I got into my room and had internet, so I called Sarah and we ended up chatting until it was around 6.30am. I sent her some digital love, then disappeared into my white sheet like a member of the KKK getting ready to rally.

1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog man. Good reading! I hadn't thought about that part of Laos in a little while.

    You can catch up on my travels at a few places. I'm well behind on my blogging, but I keep my photos up to date.

    Hope you're well man, keep it real. - Ryan