Thailand ⇒ Mekong ⇒ Laos

Everybody’s worried about time / But I just keep that shit off my mind / People living on twenty four hour clocks / But we’re on a ride that never stops.

For two days we went by boat along the Mekong River.

On the 29th of January, I crossed over into Laos. The route that began in Chiang Khong, Thailand, near Chiang Rai, stopped at Pak Chong, continued to Pak Beng, then finally let us off in LuaLP-to-Chiang-Mai-sm.jpgng Prabang, Laos. I realized I knew nothing about the country. The Dutch group with which I travelled was quick to point out that “kip,” the currency used in Laos, is the Dutch word for chicken. Amused, we referred to money as chicken during our time there.

 

While one or two were made nauseous, others were just as easily coaxed into a deep sleep by the soothing sound of the boat as it loudly tugged along the Mekong._dsc1932

Most people played drinking games, took pictures along the riverside as the boat passed through, or chatted with the others. You can see the view from the boat along this path by visiting my other site, Mr. Chido.

As we stopped in Pak Chong, night was beginning to fall. As the boats unloaded, ranks of people quickly started their way up the ten-minute trek uphill, towards the hostels and guest-houses. The locals knew the drill, of course. The tourism from the boats provided them a steady supply of eager consumers. Consequently, we knew the drill, too– be at the front and get the better rooms. Delaying the search for accommodation can sometimes lead to interesting situations based on what’s left over.

I broke off from the Dutch and British I was with on the boat and found my way with another group.

We were coaxed into sharing a room after the owner of a hostel approached us, offering us some rice wine while advertising his private rooms. We accepted the drinks and took a look at the rooms. Satisfied, we gave him the money and laid in our beds for a while, drinking and chatting. After dinner everybody who still had some energy left converged at the one bar in town, which I forget the name of. It had a jungle/island atmosphere, L.E.D. lights and locals selling weed, opium, and offering both for the curious tourist. Although I would later try opium in Vang Vieng, Laos, I wasn’t up for the task yet.

At the bar, the two British lads and I were invited to some girl’s, where we would later get locked in by a barbed-wire fence. 

When one of the girls pretended to cook traditional Laoatioan food in the kitchen, waking up the owner, I realized things were getting sloppy. The owner was becoming increasingly present, often appearing to do a visual check on us or the girls, or her property. I later learned this was probably because pre-marital sex is extremely taboo here. After sometime the owner went back to bed and dissapeared. Three hours before our boats loaded up and left, we decided to leave; the girls were already asleep. We were chatting outside, feeling the breeze. As we left the building, it locked us out. To our surprise, the barbed-wire fence that once had a gap to let us in, was now locked. After forty-five minutes scanning the perimiter, we found a weak spot in the soil  where we could lift the gate up enough to shimmy out.

By 7am, everybody was already up to check out and make our ways to the boats and continue the last leg of our ride to Laos.  

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The Boats

Continue to Luang Prabang! Or, see how I spent my time in Thailand

“Golden Key”

I will dedicate a separate section in my blog to the stories that should remain untold were they not some of the best memories I have…

Living in Brazil for several months during 2010, I was constantly introduced to new expressions and curious slang.

One of the phrases really resonated with me. In Portuguese, fechar com chave de ouro” means to wrap up an experience in an epic way. You can think of it as the English equivalent to “the cherry on the cake.” Brazil’s language is the richest that I have experienced and I attribute this a lot to different pockets in which language evolved within Brazil, often times with different cultural influences from the next. An MC from Brazil’s famous conscious rap group, Racionais MC’s, puts it this way: “Slang? No– dialect.” In this, he references the extremely fluid and rich linguistic culture. Much of these develop in a very niche-specific way yet can be found by many to be as accessible as it is exclusive.

That month, the 372,000 inhabitants of São José do Rio Preto experienced rolling, city-wide blackouts.

Being caught in one while out and about was  a very surreal and unsettling experience. It felt apocalyptic; an entire population in absolute darkness. During the day, due to it being the state’s 2nd safest city, thing were pretty uneventful. Sometime I’d pass the time staring out the verando, onto a busy intersection, waiting for car accidents that happened there almost daily. The banal yet peculiar details come to mind, like how the sound always seemed to precede any physical impact.

That year I spent a good amount of time with a friend nicknamed Jell-O on account of the blue hair he used to sport. Jell-O came from what some might call a broken home. He lived with his father in a modest apartment in the same complex as my fathers.  In Brazil, marijuana is still taboo. On more than one occasion he blasted reggae music while lighting up a joint on the balcony as we smoked while I hid from view, paranoid somebody who knew me would see, which wasn’t uncommon in a gated apartment complex where your dad is the manager. On another occasion, I gave him some LSD I brought from America. More than anything, however, we’d chat about our experiences over a beer or two. One of the most memorable experiences, and also the one in which I first heard that Brazilian phrase that sticks with me to this day.

Facilitated by the city-wide blackouts as Brazil’s grid couldn’t supply enough energy for the city, Jell-O and I took that opportunity to “borrow” bikes from the complex’s underground garage.

Maneauvering the pitch black garage two floors underground, it took us a while to find the right bikes and we constantly felt like something or someone would jump out at us. The tires were flat and the bikes hadn’t been ridden in a while and we had every intention of returning them after a few hours. If anything, we did the owners a service. Myself, the bike owners, and security guards who caught us on the return trip, didn’t quite view it that way. Naturally, after filling up the tires, we rode to a small, local damn. We smoked joints and watched the large capybaras run around. I tried to approach one only to be chased away in a surprising display of speed.  After, we continued our way across town.

No novice to the bike scene, Jell-O would lift his seat with one hand while the other floated in the air like an American cowbow.

Like magic, he’d go minutes with one wheel in the air regardless of the traffic situation around him. Meanwhile, I was exhibiting extremely normal human biking behavior. At a red light, he tells me we’re going to a favela to pick up some weed. A few kilometers later, we show up at a brick house on the outskirts of town as a guy stands outside in shorts and no shirt. They greet each other. I noticed the iconic drug-dealer black Nike dri-fit cap as the guy takes the weed it out of his pockets, gives it to us, and walks away. He didn’t want any money. Go figure– a dealer not wanting the money. There’s a reason for this. If you are curious, do some research on drug culture in the favelas of Brazil. I could tell there was a relationship of respect between the two. 

Satisfied, we roll our bikes over to a nearby outside square encircled by trees, near a small bar and as we roll a joint, the monkeys come out, curious.

I wonder who was more curious, them or us. Thirsty, we walk over to the bar and ask for two cokes. Minding our own, just talking and going over the day, and how great it was, someone who must have been the bar owner walks up to us and asks us if we do cocaine. “No,” replied Jell-O, which was probably the more appropriate answer to a stranger we didn’t know in a sketchy part of town. His street smarts outweighed mine but in the instant, my reply was louder. I was curious. The guys invites us to the bathroom, where he had what I presume to be his kid’s elementary school workbook on the top of the ceramic toilet cover. On the notebook, he had a line about as thick as my finger. For about five minutes we struggled to finish it, the three of us chatting in this crappy bathroom on the outskirts of town.

On our way home, as we pulled up to the security gate– and, just moments before getting in trouble with security– Jell-O uttered the phrase that sticks with me to this day. In all honesty, we truly did wrap up that night with a golden key. Getting in trouble at the end was just a further point of laughter between everybody, including my dad and the security guards after.