Hells bus part 1

grey Hells bus part 1Early morning, somehow and for the first time in our travels the bloody alarm does not go off. We frantically skip breakfast and showers, pack and race to catch the bus, which turns out to be an old 44 seater saved from a scrapyard somewhere, at least it is not packed too badly, for now.

Two hours in to our trip from Luang Nam Tha to Luang Prabang we stop at a roadside market where ladies are selling bags of live eels alongside pigs, chickens and peanuts under dusty bamboo stalls. Jette and I run off the bus to find a toilet, having no luck we wander back to the bus where the ticket boy and driver are hauling two scooters onto the roof. With the scooters tied firmly down and the locals on our bus comparing recently purchased eel bags we rattle onwards. We shake and roll through serpentine roads lined with high green grass. Breaks in this grass corridor reveal impossibly steep, impossibly green, terraced hills with small bamboo huts dotted on their slopes. I can just make out the silhouette of farmers taking well earned breaks from the heat under these shelters. Gaps in the grass corridor along bridge crossings reveal small hamlets. Bamboo huts sit on stilts where small grubby children play in the dirt with wheel-less toy trucks. Adults either slowly make handy crafts or just lie in the shade laconically. Gaps on high mountain passes reveal karst formations, which hide under their green coverings almost apologetically, poking out of rice paddies. A green carpet thrown over the flatter areas.

These are the glimpses of Laos we see through the grubby window of this smelly old dirty bus as we dodge scooters at forty kilometers an hour. I feel as though we are in a 3D cinema, being granted occasional glimpses through a smeared canvas of green. Buffalos look up in slow buffalo-like surprise as the driver toots his horn, he honks the horn at thirty second intervals.

We wind down a particularly steep section of road past rubber plantations and stop near the big palm leaf tree. I introduce two fellow Australians to the joy of spicy, crab Lays chips as we wait. Before long the heat of the bus forces us all outside to investigate the hold up. Roadworks at the bottom of the pass has caused our pause, which will last for two hours. I am playing UNO with a Frenchman, a Swede and a German lady (sounds like a good joke) when the bus rolls on again, with brakes that still smell caustic. Jette still has her nose in the guide book trying to figure out what we will do when we arrive at Luang Prabang, five dusty, bouncy hours later.

So who took her shirt off the line then mate? This was the only question which really matters. I do not care how many people stay here, who came and left yesterday or how much the laundry service washes each day. I only care about who took Jette’s favorite, quick drying shirt off the line outside our room between the time when we left for breakfast and returned from breakfast (with bellies full of omelet, great coffee and French baguette).

Jette decides to give up on her shirt so we wander off to look at temples.

grey Hells bus part 1We are in Luang Prabang, having enjoyed the magic bus ride from Luang Nam Tha we settle into a lazy morning wandering this Buddhist temple dotted town between ice water breaks and politely declining tuk-tuk rides. Templed out we have lunch at the same Italian/Franco.Italian restaurant which served such great breakfast and decide to hire a scooter for the afternoon to explore the region. I sign a form absolving all rights to a claim, we jump on a scooter and set out to the Kuang Si waterfall. A one hour ride through isolated villages, past buffalo encrusted ditches sees us at the reserve car park just as the vendors are packing up their sticky rice in palm leaf and chicken on bamboo skewers. We walk two kilometers past a bear rescue centre (they had apparently only saved one bored looking bear and need funds) to the now deserted waterfall.

Recent flooding has washed away the bridge and lower viewing platform so we sit on the upper level, drink warm scooter shaken coke and photograph the falls. Brown flood water cascades over seven levels into a confused looking pond at the bottom. Should the water be clear and the weather a little less muggy this area would truly be a shampoo commercial set. I desperately want to explode out of these waters shaking a full head of Sunsilk hair in the tropical sun. Shiny new ferns cling to the rocks as trees look to be loosing their footings on the precarious cliffs surrounding the falls. We happily snap away, then realize we are not alone. Two Aussies burst into frame and introduce themselves as Chigga and Davo. Davo is currently missing a flight from Bangkok to Sydney, Chigga seems just happy wandering. They rented motorbikes in Chang Mai and “Kind of lost track of time mate”

Chigga tells me that it is possible to climb the falls. He rips of his shirt to reveal a large, hairy beer tumor and dares me to follow suit. I pass the camera to Jette, take off my shirt and thongs and wade into the water.

Despite looking green and slick the rocks are amazingly grippy. It is possible to walk up these rocks, in ankle deep water, to the third tier. Chigga and I strike shirtless muscle poses on a ledge and are soon joined by Davo. Lounging in a jacuzzi sized pool, ten meters up a multi tiered waterfall in Laos with two fellow countrymen I again thank my travel angel for his tireless behind the scenes work. I feel like I have found the fountain of youth, that if I stayed here would not age one day, at the very least I may see a few shampoo commercials being shot. Unfortunately the other two soon bore and make to leave. We climb down to inspect the photos which Jette dutifully took as we played explorers.

I sit on the scooter with a wet bum, the one hour ride to town is colored by villagers winding up their day and the sun casting salmon tints over the rice paddies. After dropping off the scooter we arrive at the hostel to be welcomed by joyous news;

“Lady nex, door, tay your top, acci-lent, solly”

grey Hells bus part 1Reunited with her top, Jette leads me to the night market, via another Buddhist temple, to celebrate our news by buying daggy, bright, falang pants similar to mine. We eat at the Franco/Italian restaurant and retire early, ready for a brutal commute tomorrow.

We have decided to try to see the Kong Lo caves in central Laos. This network of caves is both hard to reach and spectacular.

So there was this Australian, a Frenchman, a Swede and a German playing UNO somewhere in Laos…..

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