Laos? What? Where? Why?
All these questions running throuhg my head as i was stepping the border, while sadly saying goodbye to China and getting ready to enter South-East Asia (aka IndoChina, far more guerrilla).
That morning, at the begin of December, a new chapter of this journey was started; after the hot Siberia, Mongolian deserts and grasslands and the blasting China i carefully put my crappy shoes deep down in my bag, and drawing my already sweaty flip flops, i was entering IndoChina from the emergency exit, from the country nobody ever counts on, nobody knows where it is and so cut it out of touristic main routes in SEAsia.
Laos is an ultra laid back country, (Lao PDR stands for Please Don't Rush), where everything is at ease and time slowly flows by; lying in a hammock in the shade of warm 30 degrees you feel good and pretty relaxed, thinking "Well, this is relaxing, this is what i need!".
After being Indiana Jones in China here i've mostly been Indiana Jones on retirement!
It's not at all me, wasting my time sleepin' and chillin', but in Laos this happens automatically, you don't even notice it, and if you don't pay attention, you may forget that you're travelling and you see on the calendar that 3 weeks are gone and say "Really? What happened in these 3 weeks? Hey i'm not on holiday i gotta move!".
Laos' history is being a buffer state, threatened and beaten all
over the centuries and colonized by almost everybody: Cambodia China Burma Thailand Vietnam France and USA- they've done their social and warfare experiments, exploiting the good geographical position and trying to wake up these lazy lao, whose life has always and anyway been rice, beer and hammock; the results are many killed and many fled, looking for safety and some money.
Today Laos is under a supposed Vietnam's backed communism, but nobody really gives a shit, it's only the same people who get rich from it, leaving everybody else barefooted, who without rushing, live in bamboo shacks and run over chickens, roosters, cats, pigs, cows and naked children in these small villages.
Drinking BeerLao, and getting influenced by trash thai tv, Laos looks into the future hoping that tourists begin to bring dollars in their palm-leef jars, changing forever this country, damn white yankee!
Lao atmosphere is a real mix of exotic styles. What i liked more is that everything seems to be pure and real, not yet inflationated from modernity and extreme tourism, as happened to its cousins thai and viet... hence you can enjoy real IndoChina, with bad roads, easy and simple life, poverty, chilled out people and stress so far away...
Anyway in all this chilling you think i just sleep on a hammock?
Naaaah! Well, of course i chilled, widely read, as usual met tons of people, and as usual continued my travel and in the end i enjoyed some blind jumps!
In Luang Prabang, beautiful colonial style town in the north, with thousands of buddhist temples, french buildings and Mekong as background, after typical breakfast banana pancake (yeeeah) and coffee (i had forgotten about it!), i was thinking "Oh c'mon here's too easy... at least in China i got some trouble, it was tough, messy and dirty, i was abandoned to myself, here everybody speaks English, western food is more common and everybody helps you and tells you how to travel and see things in this country... no no i'm getting bored..." afterwards i took a lift to the Chinese market selling everything, and i got enlightenment: from then on i was travelling on a skateboard!
On this Chinese toy skate i had great fun going downhill on the long road leading South; and between hitching i proud and triumphant arrived at the small villages at 5 mph, and everybody laughing out loud seeing this white idiot standing on that wheeled stuff!
And all these thousands of kids smiling and running barefooted behind me like in a marathon, yelling out tons of heloooooo and thankyouuuuuuu! Yeah!
Thank you guys, without you i couldn't do it!
Really, really funny, but unfortunately once i went overboard: i speeded up too much grabbed on a motorbike and i melted down a wheel! End of the game...
From then on my skate became icon of philosophic slow travel, nonethelss wand of modern idiocy, and still joined me proudly bringing smiles to villagers dazzled by my appearance, often welcoming me with joy and warmth (maybe some compassion as well!)
I've been to some very remote villages where the first kids seeing me, just ran away scared like they'd seen the devil in front of them, and often i needed much time to get acquainted with these indigenous... the challenge was high, and with some raspberries, two words in lao and some juggling i managed to get out of the villages with many friends, and... sometimes drunk!
In Phongsavan i rented a motorbike, and on my red corean Fekon i've been descovering the craters left by massive American bombing during the Vietnam war; many of these bombs and missils are unexploited and leave a heavy legacy of landmines in many areas... then, dear Marco, if you have to pee just don't go behind a bush or you may blow off!
Sadly this is not fun, but lao people are Buddhist and take everything with the right philosophy, so no grudges, for this people uses the rest of exploited stuff for useful purposes as collecting water etc... from necessity virtue!
Vientiane, capitol city, it's little bigger than Reggio Emilia, and their lifestyle it's not different from the rest of the country: wake up with roosters singing untuned and many motorbikes that slowly flow to markets, small shops and (the luckiest) to air-con officies waiting for the end of another hot day; nightlife almost non-existent, for lao music, honestly, is really crappy!
My rotten guesthouse was in the worst alley, frequented by suspicious people, misfits from Thailand easy life, and pretty women (but with male voices), that can't afford Thailand so they come here to the less romantic side...
Still much hitching, sometimes hard, sometimes adventurous, worth-while noting this Dutch, driving his '90 mercedes with a bed in the back from Amsterdam to Bangkok, saying that the petrol can be very cheap around the world, in Iran is cheaper than water!
But the best ever was those really bad and fun 100 km close to Ho Chi Minh trail, in the South. I had to wade many rivers with no bridges and walk some hours before getting to forgotten and extremely poor villages, where people were actually disturbed by my passage, it was awkward and i tried to get out soon, and finally got a lift from a tractor riding after sunset through the rugged forest with some dangers like bamboo branches whipping your face, deep puddles and killer mosquitos!
Landed in the next village at ten in the evening i thought it was ended, but i was just halfway... so i spent the night with these indigenous (bit better than the previous one) drinking rotten lao whiskey! At dawn i got probably the greatest ride ever: a huge anfibious truck carrying 2 huge trees, and for the next 3 hours i was on this frightening tank destroying everything on our way! And when the driver told me to duck down, i did so and after a fraction a huge bamboo branch was flying 1 finger over my head... shit!
I actually felt scared, but soo amazed! I kissed the soil when i landed, and once again an experience hard to forget: my ass is safe but maybe i'll change my underpants!
Oh yes, on the road again, galoping adrenaline, can't stop amazing me and don't know what to expect from tomorrow!
After that i spent a chilled new year's eve on one of the 4000 islands, on the Mekong, beautiful, quiet and silent, barefooted together with Australians and my Dutch stepmother: a great 50 year-old illustrator that i met again on the island, but met first time in China 3 months ago!
You know nice coincidences raise your level of enthusiasm, so far i still have a party in my head and every evening, on thousands sunsets on Mekong, i think about the art of travel and please myself: thinking of the past, present and future twisting in the timeline, and with questions and answers to myself this sense of fulfillment is following me trustfully in this triumphal explicit egoism in my brain, kept alive everyday both from adventures and chilled out moments.
Am i getting crazy?
That morning, at the begin of January i left Laos and, sweating, i turned back looking at these 4 weeks flown by in a breath, and i think i don't know the terms of comparison and measure anymore: minutes, days or months? Chilometers or metres?
What still gives me power? What am i looking for?
Ah yeah the answer is in my aphorisms: It doesn't matter where you arrive, but where you start; and I'm not looking for myself, but for all the rest...
Hey Marco, listen up, you've gone too far... fuck you!
Ah last thing: next stop Cambodia! I'm writing from the chaotic and messy Phnom Penh, i needed some city-life!