by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
I was slipping and sliding on a mud trail in Laos. My husband and I, both in our mid-sixties, were living in Thailand for a couple of years on one leg of our ten-year odyssey around the world. In Thailand, like most of Southeast Asia, we had our one-year visa to live in the country but were required to leave every ninety days. We could cross any of the borders, have our passport stamped and return the same day. Most expats did just that. However, we took the opportunity to visit other Asian countries.
This time it was Laos. We had left our house in Chiang Mai and traveled by bus to Chang Rai. There we crossed the border into Laos. Our plan was to take a boat on the Mekong River to Luang Prabang, a city noted for its temples and charming atmosphere.
The boat down the Mekong was about seventy feet long with narrow benches on either side. The seats were made for smaller people, being only about fifteen inches deep. The locals could sit comfortably while taller western visitors needed to turn their legs out. After the seats had filled, the crew started putting plastic chairs down the center aisle. Bags were stored in a mountain in back of the last row, blocking whatever space there was left.
On the first day, the trip down the muddy Mekong was uneventful except for the occasional trips to the only toilet in the back of the boat. To reach the very dirty toilet, one had to climb over people sitting in the aisles and over the mountain of giant backpacks.
One thing we noticed as we traveled in Asia was the younger the backpacker, the larger the backpack. Some looked as if the weight of their pack would pull them over if they tried to stand upright. We were the oldest people on the boat and each carried a small bag which fit under the seat.
Food and water were not provided, and most of the travelers had brought their own. We tried to limit our water intake as no one wanted to visit the toilet, which was a small hole in the floor.
Finally, as dusk fell, the boat pulled over to the side of the river. At a muddy landing, there were a number of ‘touts.’ Touts are people with pictures of hotels, each trying to attract visitors to stay in their hotel. We looked over several pictures and picked out a likely looking room. The hotels were all built on the hill above the landing, but few seemed to be finished building yet.
Our tout picked up my suitcase, setting it on his head and with his other hand, picked up my husbands’ suitcase. He began to run up the muddy path with us following. He ran several feet, stopped, put my suitcase down on the muddy path, and jumped back as if it was a biting snake. I was trying hard not to slip and fall on the muddy path. I stopped when I saw him put down my bag. I looked at my husband, Ted, and he looked at me. Neither of us knew what was happening. We looked to see if there was a problem and couldn’t see any. The tout again picked up the suitcase, settled it on his head, and ran another dozen feet, repeating the action. We watched, amazed at his stopping and starting.
We arrived at the small hotel to watch the tout place our suitcases by the door and run quickly back to us, as if my suitcase would bite him. My husband went in to register while I fished out a few coins as a tip. The tout grabbed the coins, then quickly ran away, looking over his shoulder at the bag.
By now I was wondering what the problem was. Did a snake crawl into the bag? Did he hear insects? As I bent to grab the suitcase handle, I discovered the problem. The suitcase emitted a familiar, “beep, beep.” Somehow, my small travel alarm had gone off. I can only imagine what he had been thinking.
Check out more of Maria’s articles here in KRL.