I guess I've sort of dropped the ball on keeping this thing up to date. It's been two weeks and two countries since my last post. The lapse is due to expensive or slow internet, but also to apathy on my part. I've been traveling around on this subcontinent for so long that time and experiences are blurring together as a normal sort of routine. Things that would have caught my attention when I first got here like lady-boy cocktail "waitresses" or buckets full of live ells in markets are now familiar parts of the scenery. I used to ordering food with points and gestures, and having locals stare and talk about the felangs (westerners) as they walk by. It's amazing how normal a place can become, even when you're a perpetual stranger. There is always companionship here, though. Westerners always glom onto each other out of comfort and safety, and even when I was "alone" I had a solid crew them to travel with through Laos.
I went to a city called Vang Vienne, which is part of the deeply rutted tourist path. I would guess the local population to be a few thousand, and the tourist population to be three times that. Every other building in town is a hotel or guesthouse, and they were all full when I was there. The attraction is beautiful scenery and a bar-lined river. In the early afternoon, people take taxis to the starting point and instead of walking from bar to bar, they just jump in the river and float down. If you hail them, locals will throw out life preservers and pull you in. When you climb up to the bamboo dance floor, your first greeting is a local offering free shots of Laos whisky. There are also 20-30 foot rope swings and slides into the water. Remember, this is when the sun is high in the sky and pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The whole thing seems like the kind of party that would happen right after the apocalypse before society totally unraveled.
I stayed a week in Vang Vienne, and halfway through, Miles met up with me. We spent a coupleof days hiking through the hills, but I had to be on my way again and left him there while I went to Vientianne. I only planned to spend a night there before crossing the Mekong into Thailand, but while walking to a market to buy a sandwich, I ran right into John. We had split up with him over a month before and last we heard he had bought a boat with his brother in Cambodia and were motoring up the Mekong River. We each had no idea the other was in Vientianne, so you can imagine how surprised we were. Because of the reunion, I stayed an extra night, but then Miles showed up the next day, so two nights turned to three, and we all went out drinking and reminiscing.
Now I'm back in Thailand and alone again. Miles and I crossed the border together and got dinner in Khon Kaen before he caught a night train to Bangkok. He's flying home in a couple of days and those were the very last hours of our four and a half months of traveling together. I'm excited for my own ticket home in three weeks, but I still felt the somber weight of something coming to an end. After seeing him off on a busy street, I went back to my bland hotel room and thought about my own remaining time. 21 days--10 of which will be spent at a Vipassana retreat (Check it out here: www.dhamma.org). The retreat is pretty much my last thing to do here. It starts tomorrow, and I'm a bit anxious--anxious to get started, but also just about going. Little thoughts about not going have flitted through my mind like a bird darting in and out of a room. I'm going--that's for damn sure. I don't even know what I'm nervous about. It's not as though I'm being plucked from some active, fulfilling lifestyle. I sit around most days anyway, so I may as well sit around with a purpose. I guess I'm just nervous, because I know that it'll be hard and some days will pass with agonizing slowness. But like I said, I'm goin.
My morning routine, in a nutshell
That was my bungalow--the one on the left.
Around Vang Vienne
That's Vivi from Phili. We shared a bungalow for a few days.
Some crazy quarry. We were going to watch them dynamite a boulder, but they made us move along.
These little spelunkers guided us through a pretty deep cave.
A market here in Khon Kaen