4:45 PM / Tara
I feel like Frankenstein's monster, stumbling around groaning as I leave the bus during one of our many rest stops. My brain hurts and my stomach feels like death, but I find hope in the fact that we're almost there. While stopped, I take the time to peruse the market's offerings, and settle on a cucumber, the only food that sounds remotely barf-proof.
This town, wherever we are, is just a crossroads, a fork in the road, lined with market stalls. I really like it, though, and I wish we had more time to explore. Instead, I get back on the bus, and we carry on, very slowly traversing the 130 kilometers we have left until we reach Luang Prabang. It'll be several hours before we're finally freed from this godforsaken machine.
7:00 PM / Tara
This is our second night on the bus. Our carsickness has somewhat abated now that we're out of the worst of the mountains, but we're still failing to make any speed towards our destination. We stop so often that I can't believe I was ever worried about the bus not having a bathroom. Come on, I think, let's get a move on, let's get there already!
In direct defiance to my thoughts, our driver stops once more at a roadside stand, another beacon of light in what is otherwise total darkness. We all tumble out of the bus, landing in front of a woman preparing sandwiches at a little table, stuffing chicken and chicken and cheese and veggies into baguettes, and dousing them with sweet chili sauce. Yum!
I'm about to order one for myself when I see it, the object of my unknown desire: a jar of Skippy peanut butter. They have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the middle of nowhere. It's official, I love this country! I think my tummy can handle the classic comfort of PBJ.
Meanwhile, all the friendly Lao guys are shopping for booze, and our driver is downing a huge can of beer, as he has at every rest stop. Yikes.
9:00 PM / Tyler
It's been more than a day since we left Hanoi, a blur of sun and scenery, carsickness and sleep. Out the window, I can see lights ahead, and I'm filled with an immense sensation of relief. Thank god we're almost there. Arriving at the station, we grab our backpacks and hobble out, thankful to be on firm, unmoving ground.
The friendly Lao guys who took turns driving the bus are trashed, and in spite of their best efforts, they're not much help to us when it comes to extracting our gear from the undercarriage of the bus. Once we're standing in a pile of our panniers and bicycles, we thank the guys and watch as the bus pulls away—perhaps back to Hanoi?
We've been riding with some Australian backpackers, who are a little disoriented, so I do my best to point them in the right direction with our GPS. Ultimately, they end up taking the tuk-tuk of a remarkably non-aggressive man. Slowly, the rest of the passengers filter away, and all that remains is Tara, me, and our bikes.
Overwhelmingly happy to be done with that horrifically long bus ride, we re-assemble our rolling lives and take to the road, a little queasily, for the short three kilometer ride into the center of town.
10:00 PM / Tyler
Can this really be the second largest city in Laos? There is nothing going on; it may as well be about three o'clock in the morning. "LISTEN!!!" Tara hisses. "To what?" I ask, a bit confused. "Nothing!" she says, "Absolutely nothing! THERE IS NO NOISE!!" And she's right. The quiet is palpable, and a soothing balm to my travel-weary soul.
A few minutes later, I notice an enormous truck, seeming to loom over us, following, inching forward, right on our tails. What is his deal? I think, distrusting the hulking beast. When the road widens out, and the truck finally begins to pass, it occurs to me what just happened, and I'm shocked by the fact that it seemed totally foreign to me. That guy was waiting until it was safe to go around us!
I am dumbfounded and grateful, and I wave to the guy as he makes his way carefully by. He smiles and waves out his window in return, greeting us with a jovial "sabadee!"
I am so glad we are here.
We've almost reached the city center when I realize I've left our multi-tool in the bus station parking lot. Crap! It's only three kilometers behind us, but we're exhausted and the prospect of going back feels like being banished to the furthest reaches of Antarctica. Still, we do what has to be done, turning around, kicking it down, and thankfully, finding the tool right where I left it.
Back in town, we locate the guest-house where Pete and Natasha are staying, and are greeted by a sleepy man who kindly ushers us to a room. When we start hunting for our passports, he smiles and says we can take care of checking in when morning comes. And with that, our very long bus ride is over.
We take showers, we check our email, we send a message to our friends saying we're here. And in reply, we're invited to join them for a soccer game and slaughtered goat feast tomorrow in a tiny village in the countryside… at the early hour of 8:00 AM. Going with the flow, unwilling to miss the opportunity, we agree to come.
Looks like our Lao adventure will start off with a bang, first thing in the morning!