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.