Saturday, 24 March 2012

Punks vs. Laos - Part 1: Mountains and Night Dogs

So Laos is the reason why the updates have been so, so very slow until recently. A big hand to Mr. Furious for not just being there and making it more interesting, but also bothering to remember it all in order so I don't write it as a jumbled, impressionist mess.

Everyone told us that Laos is "a really chilled place" many, many times. Now, Mr. Furious and I have many qualities, but being chilled is not among them. For a fascinating variety reasons (not worth explaining now), we are quite unchilled people. This unchilledness projected on to the landscape of Laos makes it as chilled as the aftermath of punching a rhino's balls in.

And so we arrive in Huay Xai, the Laos border town, and we get bored almost immediately. No offence to the place, but hitchhiking through Thailand to arrive somewhere really quiet was a bit of a comedown... so, after a look at a map, some scribbled road numbers and destinations, we do the sensible thing and start hitchhiking again.

We head north east to Luang Namtha, taking one truck ride nearly all the way there. We bravely begin walking the 5km walk to the town, but we end up hailing a lift to take us the rest of the way.

It's late and the town is dead. We meander around for a while trying to look for a place to sleep. I don't know if you're aware, but provincial/rural South East Asia after dark tends to be where all the Night Dogs come out and begin acting rather aggressively. These Night Dogs generally look a little bit wild and haggard, and like they're going to chew your face off at any give moment. A bit like George Bush in his drinking days. Thankfully, most of them are all bark and no face chewing, and certainly wouldn't be capable of launching illegal wars.

We happen up on a guesthouse. After a brief discussion, we decide to bed down in the porch. This is all fine and dandy until the lady on the nightshift comes out, and then we kinda feel obliged to pay for a room. Ah well.

The next morning, we agree that the journeying is way more fun seems way more fun than any destination, so we continue hitching. We get to ride in the back of pick ups and taken through the mountains. This, beyond every other view I've seen so far in South East Asia is easily the gobsmacking and breathtaking. It's cocking panoramic - craggy mountains rocketing out of dense jungle, cramming into the horizon. Frequently, we just sit in silence, occasionally muttering something along the lines of "... fucking hell". We are officially awe-inspired, our eyes melding into the scenery.

To add to the excitement, frequently the mountain roads have no barriers and are also occasionally blocked by massive boulders. Oh, and there's the small matter of cars coming the other way too.* I have no idea how the drivers don't just suddenly snap and scream:


But, to their credit, they don't. And nor do we. Whilst slowly burning in the sun, Mr. Furious and I have some nice chats about anarchism, ideas of community and the individual, our old squat... just generally sifting through the politics in our brains. All in all, jolly good, enlightening stuff.

So, after a hard day's hitching, we arrive in Oudomxai. We try to hitch for a bit longer from near the bus station, but it gets dark, and, not being hot girls, we don't get picked up (oh, how I longed for my Chang Khong molester and his gentle, pissed, masculine touch). We're tired, but our adrenaline is pumped, and we don't want to sleep just yet. We go and eat and bimble around, before happening up on a tiny bar. There's a load of articulated lorries outside, with the truckers drinking there. Being adventurous, curious and wanting a drink, we go and join them. All the truckers are really drunk, but incredibly friendly and inviting. We chat in broken English, try and fail to learn what "cheers" is in Laos, and, when they leave, refuse any of our money to pay for the bill. They then proceed, whilst hammered, to get in their lorries to drive home.

Watching five huge vehicles on a road barely wide enough for one of them, simultaneously attempting to execute three point turns was a truly beautiful and terrifying sight. No fatalities either.

We wander back to the bus station, and bed down on some chairs. I wake after about an hour to find Mr. Furious gone. This concerns me slightly, but I don't do much about it, being a terrible friend and everything. It turns out he's helping some of the dudes also sleeping at the bus station build a fire to keep warm, so I chip in, and wander off to get some wood. Unfortunately, every bit of wood I try to pick up seems to be protected by the aforementioned dreaded Night Dogs, so I've got three options:

1) Pick up the wood and pray the Night Dogs do nothing

2) Pick up the wood, and, if the Night Dog tries to chew my face off, beat it to death with said wood


3) Don't pick up the wood

I choose the third option, put some other stuff on the fire, go to sleep, and then we wake up early, get some cheap noodle hobo broth in us, and get our hitch on to Luang Prabang...

To be continued...

*This reminded me of when me and some friends were being driven through the mountains of Botswana in 2003. I peered over the edge of the road to look down to the valley floor. There was a wrecked up lorry, slowly rusting in the dust. This scared me. But I wisely chose not to share this memory with Mr. Furious until we were done with the mountain bit.

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