Asia | South East Asia | Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) | South Central Laos | Savannakhet – Day 37 – Savannakhet, Laos
Last night in Champasak, I was summoned somewhere from the deep recesses of sleep to learn about the major disadvantage of corrugated tin roofs in places where tropical downpours are common. When such rains gush earthwards and meet such roofs, being under the latter is akin to being inside a massive snare drum being played simultaneously by thousands of arhythmic drummers. Not the most restful of nights.
The heavy battering rains petered out to light showers this morning from thick, low, pregnant, frowning clouds. However, there was enough rain in the air to send me into the far reaches of my back-pack, pulling almost everything out of it in the process in search of my rain jacket. Sitting in a circle of whatever it is I own out here, I came to the sudden sinking realization that the last time I saw my rain jacket it was sitting on the back of my chair in the restaurant at the Riverside Guest House on Don Det, several hundred kilometres away — where I left it. I have been known to leave the occasional t-shirt or sock or hairbrush behind in my travels, but I had never left anything like a Gortex jacket. I realized tonight,while walking up a particularly dark street that my flashlight was in the pocket of my rain jacket. Costly brain-spasm.
Trying to forget the loss, I was kindly helped along by the weather which provided an unexpected window of rainlessness when Wendy and I hit the ferry docks at 7 am for the trip out of Champasak across the Mekong, hopeful of catching an early ride to Paxse, the next major town. We thoroughly out-smarted ourselves though as we then waited for about 90 minutes on the other side until the vehicle-ferrying ferry finally followed us across the water, carrying with it the packed Paxse-bound truck and everyone (both locals and travelers) who seemed to know this was the routine. So we crammed ourselves into the back of the truck with at least 45 other people and sacks of everything, contorting ourselves into the available spaces — an arm here, a leg over there — and held on for the 45-minute excursion.
When we arrived at the Paxse terminal/parking lot/market, I jumped down from the truck, was handed my pack from the roof and looked for someone to pay. There was nobody to take my money. So, I said good-bye to Wendy and grabbed a tuk-tuk (motorcycle wagon) for the several kilometres of pot-holes and puddles which lead to the northern bus terminal. There I caught the 10:30 Savannakhet-bound bus.
Seated around me were a family subset I came to think of as ‘The Happy’s’: a grandmother, mother and three daughters (I’m guessing). My experience in Laos is that people seem quite happy and laugh naturally and easily. But The Happy’s seemed to laugh after almost every sentence any one of them spoke. Sometimes they laughed when one of them was only part way through a sentence. It was actually quite pleasant, as strange behaviour goes.
In front of me were the mother and youngest daughter and across the isle from them were the two older daughters. I’m sure I clearly heard the word ‘falang’ (foreigner) coming from the grandmother when it became evident she would be sitting beside me, a remark which sent the rest of The Happy’s into peels of the giggles. So I gave her a big smile, slapped the seat beside me hard a couple of times and invited her to sidle up close. Only the youngest daughter seemed less than luney, as several times I caught serious looks of consternation coming my way between the space between the two seats ahead of me.
For much of the 5.5 hour journey The Happy’s chattered and giggled away. They also grazed their way, almost non-stop, to Savannakhet, mowing down practically every skewered snack proferred them through the window by food touts at the dozens of stops. Barbequed chicken parts, barbequed corn, barbequed grasshoppers, barbequed pork kebobs, lychees of several varieties and plastic bags full of all kinds of unnatural looking coloured liquids. They even chomped on a package of Clorets (a wise move). Thus it was not a tremendous shock to be peering through to the seats ahead of me and see the youngest daughter spew up a combo of all the foregoing, a good bag-full, which bag her mother magically whipped out of nowhere and calmly held in place to catch the retch. (One of those motherly miracles, inexplicable to mere mortals). This event caused The Happy’s to turn quite glum for some time, but then grandmother cracked a good one and, true to form, all but the youngest daughter were chuckling away.
Meanwhile the scenery slid from low mountain to rice paddy/forest and then we arrived. Savannakhet looks like a plain work-a-day town, although it is apparently the second largest city in Laos. For me it is just a convenient place to break up the long run from the south to Vientiane.
I found a room, showered and supped. I sat with a lovely young couple of Brit travelers who were on their way towards Vietnam. The usual where from/been/to exchange brought on a conversation I’ve had many times over the last several weeks on the road. When people find out I’m from Canada but now live in Israel they want to know why. And more often than not, they ask me to explain the Israel/Arab conflict. After my explanation, they thanked me and said something like: ‘Wow, I guess the world doesn’t revolve solely around London like our news leads on.’ Similarly, for me, it’s been something of an eye-opener to find out how little most people know about what’s going on in the Middle East. It’s strange. Living in Jerusalem, it sometimes feels like the whole world is watching life there under a media magnifying glass. It ain’t necessarily so. Another reason travel is important in my opinion. That big wide world is even bigger and wider than any one of us realizes.