Latest Post: Long Night in Laos

 

Luang Prabang 

In 2007, there was one bus a day from the town of Luang Prabang, in the north of Laos, to the capital city, Vientiane in the south.  It left at 7 in the evening.

Officially, the journey took 10 hours, but sometimes it was longer.

On the evening I was on the bus it took 6 hours longer: the problem was, the bus broke down. This happened about three hours after we departed Luang Prabang. By this time we were in wild mountainous country.

There was a piercing shrieking noise. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and we all got out. Twenty metres or so down the road was what looked like a long piece of metal pipe. Closer inspection revealed it was a section of the drive shaft – the shaft running under the bus which transfers the power of the motor at the front to the axle at the back.  A section of the drive shaft had snapped off and shot along the road like a bullet and left a deep gouge in the tarmac.

The other westerners on board – some young Americans and Germans and an older Englishman – gathered together in a group. Altogether there were eight of us including my partner and I. We were all in a state of disbelief. And so too, we knew we were in for a long wait. It wasn´t possible to fix this problem up on the spot; it wasn’t like a flat tyre.

The driver stood by the side of the road, waiting for a vehicle to appear so that he could get a ride back into Luang Prabang.

We began chatting and sharing travel experiences.

The night was perfectly still and clear, the sky a blaze of stars. There was no moon.

And there wasn´t much traffic either.

Finally we saw headlights appearing. It was a Hyundai light commercial vehicle heading in the direction of Luang Prabang. Our driver waved it down. Got in and then vanished.

All of us assumed that he would go back to the bus station, get another bus and drive it back. But what if there wasn´t a spare bus at the station?

We might have to wait until the next day.

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Long Tail

 

Anya and I got talking to Ulrich one night over a glass of Thai whisky.

He was on his own and invited us over to his table.

The whisky went by the name of ‘Hong Thong’. We drank it with water.

We were surprised to see whisky on an island where most people were Moslems. To be sure, the Islam on Ko Sukorn was the most relaxed version of that religion I had seen. Many of the women did not wear head scarves. Still, alcohol was frowned upon by most religions – but especially by Islam.

We assumed that Ulrich had brought the whisky with him from the mainland.

He hadn’t. He’d gone around to all the shops (well, there weren’t that many of them) and asked at each one if they had drink – and he’d finally hit the jackpot, so to speak.

‘They keep it down the back, you have to ask for it.’

Ulrich liked his whisky alright.

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Travels with Steven Part 1

 

Stephen.

I kept on running into him, never knowing who he was.  

I crossed borders, changed countries, and there he was again: bloody Stephen.

Statues of Stephen. Stephen with a sword. Stephen with a holy cross.

Parks, schools, streets named after him.

His image on bank notes.

Stephen (or they called him, ‘Stefan’): hero of the southern Slavic peoples.

 Defender of the Faith. 

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Travels with Stephen Part 2

 

Leaving the portal, we entered the monastery grounds.

There was no one about. The silence hung heavy in the air.  

An early morning sun glanced over the perimeter wall.

What was once a fortified monastery built in a time of war and inhabited by hundreds of monks was now more like a museum.  

There was a wide area of grass on our left, whitened with frost. On our right, there was a church with high turrets. We went over there and circumnavigated it slowly like two children making a new discovery.

In these precious moments of solitude, it was possible to reimagine the past and the generations of monks who had lived and died there over the last 5 centuries.

Then the silence was broken.

Someone yelled.

The sound echoed in the cold air.

It took us a while to identify where the yelling was coming from: in an alcove next to the wall was an old monk sitting in a chair basking in the early morning sun. Dressed in black, a grey beard and a walking stick. He motioned for us to go over there

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