Hitchhiking through the Perilous Night of Laos

Dec 25th, 2014

It’s dark, totally. The darkness in the countryside of Laos was different from the darkness in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands the darkness only existed in some small corners, surrounded and even bullied by bright street lights, car lights and bike lights. It always had to hide, to escape and to shrink to survive. Here, the darkness was the dominant force. There was only such dim light from any house and hardly any light from any passing vehicle. It was still, at about 8pm. When I exited the bus station, I was already almost at the end of Thakhek. The plan was to wave at any passing vehicle to get one heading south, even if just a few kilometers further. Where to sleep? I thought about it also and no certain answer appeared in my mind. Normally speaking, the answer would present itself when necessary, so no worries.
It was not easy to hitchhike in the dark…… I did it several times. Once I was hitchhiking from Poland to Lithuania. I talked with some people at the only McDonald’s in the small Polish border city and one guy brought me to the border. The traffic was not heavy, at all…… There was also not much light, to my surprise. I crossed the border exactly at midnight. “WOWO! I am in the Baltic now!” I was much more excited than anything else, least of all worried! I stood on the road side for 20 minutes, during which period only a Polish police car stopped in front of me, to check my ID. There were two big cities in Lithuania — Vilnius, the capital and Kaunus . I found a Couchsurfing host in Vilnius, but Vilnius was further than Kanus, so with time elapsing I did not expect to catch a ride to Vilnius anymore. Kaunus would do. it would not be hard to find a shelter or a safe spot outside to sleep in Kaunus.
I was even not sure whether I was actually visible to the drivers. No sooner I started to seriously consider worrying as a possible option for my mood than a van stopped. I ran up to it and found two young Lithuanian guys inside. “Are you going to Vilnius or Kaunus?” I asked eagerly and cheerfully. “We are going to Kaunus!” One replied. Yeah!!! I got into the van. (applause!! ๐Ÿ˜€ )They told me that luckily they paid enough attention to the road to see me, because my position was quite hard to notice for passing drivers, especially big trucks. They were cheerful and very open-minded people. One of the Lithuanian guys asked me:”Do you have a place to sleep?” “Eh, no. I have a host from Couchsurfing in Vilnius, but you are going to Kanus, right? No problem I will find something there.” the driver said:”Tomorrow I am going to move to a new home, but today you can sleep in my place. I have an extra room!” WOWO! How NICE!! It turned out that these two cool dudes were also in Couchsurfing! Wasn’t it LOVELY?!
Hitchhiking in the dark has this special charm of mystery and purity. Everything appeared different wrapped by the pitch dark veil. There would be 3 things attracting your attention — traffic, lights and sky. That’s the only 3 things that would take up your mind. In the daytime, there would be myriad more items flowing, or even thronging, crowding into your eyes, ears and mind! You are fully engaged, or even overloaded and soon you mind will be tired and become numb. However, in the dark, there are only THREE items, the traffic being the most possibly annoying one. However, in the dark there is never much traffic, so even this one is not that irritating. The streets, the roads are strangely transformed. Your mind will settle down, will be tranquil enough to hear its own breathing! It’s simply pure.
Just when I was thinking about all these poetic episodes, some cars passed, even trucks! However, none stopped. It’s surely harder to hitchhike in the dark. The drivers are more alarmed by possible dangers and they feel more reluctant to stop. About 25 minutes later, a very long and seemingly also heavy truck came up. It was moving so slow that I thought the driver saw me and wanted to stop. No, they did not see me, but it was simply moving so slowly……so slowly that I could pace fast to catch it and shout to the window. Hearing my shouting, a guy in white jacket stuck his head out. They did not mind to take me, but they asked for money. They were going to Savannakirt instead of Pakse, but they could drop me somewhere on the way. The driver, a guy with much darker skin agreed to take me although I stated that I did not have money. I got in. The guy in white jacket moved his ass to the bed behind the seats and I got the seat of the copilot. They were brothers. The driver was a very dark-skinned Laotian guy with a rough face contour and his older brother had a much lighter skin and looked quite Chinese actually. Well, still I believed that they were brothers. The driver was cooler and had more curiosity. He knew some English words, but really, only some. Our communication was done by this limited vocabulary. His brother seemed to be a quite lame guy, boring and taciturn. Every time the driver said something to him, to strike a conversation to stay awake and kill the time, his brother did not reply a word in 80% of the cases, also no laughter, no smile. He was simply all the time expressionless. The driver asked me many questions about English and I was kind of giving him a free English lesson, which was not easy to conduct.
This truck, with a heavy trailer about 30 meter long, was the MOST AMAZING vehicle I ever laid eyes on. ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜€ It was in such a bad bad condition…… Under the steering wheel, there is normally a panel where one could read the speed and other important parameters of a moving vehicle. However, for this truck the whole panel was gone! More than that, the whole cables and parts there were totally wiped out, without a trace, leaving simply a big HOLE in that spot. The driver’s cab was full of “ancient” clothes, exposed truck parts and a special unpleasant smell, supposed a mixture of dust, oil, grease, unwashed clothes and something else pretty repulsive. It stank, yes. The truck must have been very old. I always joked that my laptop was so old, or even so “ancient” that one day I would donate it to a museum. This truck, was surely a grandpa of my laptop. It’s also moving like a grandpa. Although I never knew the exact speed, later when he sped up, I think we finally reached the amazing speed of 20 km/h, sometimes even 30 km/h, which was truly marvelous! WOWO! What a truck! What a speed!
“Are you hungry?” The driver asked. “Yes!” I am always very honest about my stomach. Soon he stopped somewhere and brought out two plastic bags — one with cooked vegatables and meat and the othe sticky rice. The food was unbelievably delicious! With the smell of the dirty dusty cabin, I enjoyed every bite of the rice, meat and vegetables to the most! and even drank the soup left by the cooked vegetables and meat! Now every time when I think of it, I still want to be back there to have that taste! ๐Ÿ˜€
We moved on. I did not know what time, but it should be more than midnight, when they stopped at an open space. The two brothers were going to a restaurant for some beer. I did not join them. Soon the driver came back while his older brother stayed for more beer. Respect for the awesome driver! He decided to sleep instead of moving on after drinking beer! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜€ When his brother came back. He started to sort out the sleeping arrangement. He leveled my seat, so I could put my head on the end of the seat while resting my feet against the front window. I was actually too long for that space, but hi! That was comfortable enough. His brother used the bed behind the seats. Then there was not enough space for the driver himself! He did not mind and climbed to the roof of the cabin with a blanket. Sleeping under the stars on the truck roof! What a spirit! ๐Ÿ™‚
I was a bit excited with this new sleeping environment and it took me some time to fall asleep. I was watching and listening for a while. I did not know where they actually parked the truck, but it was surrounded by trees and grass. A bit further I could also see the dim lights of some simple houses made of bamboo or logs. It’s so quiet. I did not hear anything for such a long time that my hearing got used to it and I started to be afraid of suddenly hearing something. I hoped the silence to continue, to run longer and longer. That night, the last thing I heard was still this complete nothingness and the last thing I saw was the stars dotting on the dark blue sky.

Sunset on the Road
Sunset on the Road

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