A Muddy escape from Hongsa
Sep 7, 2005
|After our elephant adventure we prepare for our return journey to Luang Prabang. This means retracing our steps - something we try to avoid, but in this case cannot.
We wake in the morning to pounding rain. Not a good sign considering that the road back to Tha Suang was smattered with mudslides and swampy putholes the size of jeeps on our way up. Now that a full night of rain had washed out the "dry spots" we were in trouble. My first reaction once I got a look at the driving storm outside, was that the pickup truck taxi would refuse to go. This was not good, because it would force us to stay another full day in Hongsa with not much to do and not much money left. The alternative, of course, was worse. The truck refused 'not' to go. Now we were nervous, and you know that when the Laos passengers you're travelling with are nervous you should be doubly nervous.
The truck was just silly and the pouring rain made it more so. Our larger pack was thrown up on the roof, under a flimsily tied tarped and surrounded by huge sacks of vegetables. In the bed of the truck, under a metal roof were eight passengers. A kiwi woman, an Israeli man, four Laos, MJ and I. Stuffed into the front of the cab (and non of our immediate concern) are four more and Laos, the driver, and a squished Bjorn, our Norwegian friend who was last to arrive at the taxi stand.
The rain is coming in sideways as we leave Hongsa and when the boat, I mean truck, reaches the first river crossing we all take a deep breath. We had crossed this same river, maybe a creek then, the night we arrived, but now it had certainly swelled with the night's rain. The driver did not hesitate and plowed through the high water as we watched the small television screens in our mind play for us the vision of our demise. The water reaches just below the bottom of the back gate, but that's it, and soon enough we are up on the other side and now slide backwards as the truck trudges up the steep bank to the road.
In front of us we can see very little, but behind us we can see how thick the mud has become on the red road. As we begin to wind up the mountain pass evidence of new slides are all around. Trees twisted upside down below the weight of the deep brown earth. Tire tracks from the vehicles ahead that have veered to miss newly fallen rocks. The higher we climb the thinner the road, and the thinner the options. The driver goes slow, but not so slow he'll get stuck. The mud is thick and full of clay and if the wheels stop turning the game is up. We chat with our companions to distract us from seing how close we are to the steep edge.
Faith is a funny thing. You have it or you don't, I guess. Faith in the goodness of humanity? Faith in a God? These are long questions to answer. But faith that a bad thing that could easily happen won't? Well, that's my kind of faith. The potential for us to slide off those cliffs seemed very good. But yet, I wasn't afraid at all, even as I played out in my head how I could save the life of everyone on board (and keep my stuff from getting muddy) if we happened to trigger a slide. All I needed, I thought, was a good piece of rope...
And neither Mandy or I are danger seekers - despite what some of you might think. I don't like heights much (although mountain heights are better than skyscraper heights). But in situations like this you have to have a little faith in your fate, and more importanly, a little trust in your driver. You need to trust that his faith is based more on experience than divinity, and that his trust is prefaced by the tune-up he performed on his four-wheel drive. If he wasn't scared, then I had no cause to be. If Mandy was (a little) nervous, I had the obligation to calm her, or at least smile reassuringly. When the metal roof began to split at the joints, I had to smile super-reassuringly.
So, of course, we made it all in one piece and we didn't even have to get out and push, which was my biggest fear. We had enough time in Tha Suang to grab a cup of coffee, share a deep breath, and smile together as the rain stopped and our boat arrived.
An uncomfortable, but pleasant enough eight hour boat ride brought us back to Luang Prabang, and after a much needed dinner at a riverside cafe, we trudged back to our guesthouse to pick up the bag we'd left and enjoy a warm shower.