Hurry Up and Wait. And Wait Some More

One thing I learned early on in my first trips to Mexico in the 80’s was not to be in a hurry when in a developing country. Although Mexico has a much higher standard of living now, at least back then the transportation infrastructure was challenging in that equipment sometimes broke down or roads became impassable.

No amount of Gringo angst could change that and it was usually best to wait patiently and be ready to depart when things were fixed. The wonderful thing about travel in Mexico then was the helpfulness of the people who looked out for everyone and would make sure your pack didn’t fall off the top of the bus or get chewed on by the goat sharing the 3rd class bus with us. I still remember my wife saying ‘Andale, Andale’ to a Puerto Vallarta taxi driver when we were trying to catch a bus. He just laughed and stopped the cab to show us the big Iguana on the side of the road. He got us to the bus on time.

This training was good for our extended trip to SE Asia in the 90’s in that conditions were very similar. I remember being crammed with too many people into an Indonesian minibus on Flores and taking 6 hours for a 120 mile journey over what seemed like interminable mountain ranges. Fortunately if you have little money, plenty of time and no firm schedule you can adapt. And remember to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

Impatience with travel logistics is a trait I mostly associate with Americans. I don’t think because of any innate rudeness (I may be biased) but because of our criminally short vacation allotments by European standards. A delay of a day on a 2 week vacation is much more disappointing than on a 3 month holiday.

Thus I was surprised when it was a couple of Europeans who floated the idea of a mutiny when we were waiting, and waiting for our bus to leave Cambodia for the Laos border. Apparently the logistics of land border crossings can be quite involved when the flow of people across is low. The bus companies want to send only a single bus of 40 or so people to the border so we were waiting in Stung Treng where several busses needed to meet to transfer the handful of people remaining in each bus to the main bus. Of course, I (and likely the other tourists)  didn’t understand this at the time.

We had been told a 9:30 departure then 10:30 and it was about 11 when the Europeans started talking about getting their money back. It’s a good thing this action never gained traction since it turned out that this was the only bus going to the border until much later in the day. It paid off once again for us to be patient and just wait for things to sort themselves out.

The last feeder bus showed up at 11:30 and we hit the border just after 12 to wait once more. Funny that the crossing into Cambodia had been built with multiple lanes such that they were anticipating many more busses than the single one coming from Laos.

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After an hour or so waiting for about 30 visas to get processed, our driver handed back our passports and told us to walk to the border where our Laos bus was waiting. We couldn’t help think of every cold war movie where the spy is shot in the back just as he is crossing the border. But it wasn’t that dramatic in the end.

Onto our bus for what was supposed to be a short ride to the ferry to take us to Don Khong. After a 1/2 hour we were dropped at a bus stop where I assumed we would all transfer to new busses to our final destinations. However since we were so late getting across the border the Northbound busses had already left. What was next?

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Above was what was arranged. Winona and the packs went on the sidecar and I ended up on back of the moto with a very old driver. I shook the sidecar before leaving to make sure it was bolted on tight and it seemed adequate. Fortunately, we were much heavier than the locals so we would keep the moto speed down. Not a single gauge on the moto was working so I started my timer and counted down the km markers and figured we were maxing out at 25kph so I felt a little safer especially since traffic was so light.

However our driver drove almost the entire time with his front wheel on the center line and only moved over when another vehicle approached. A few times he didn’t notice traffic coming from behind so I watched his mirrors and motioned to the side of the road when he didn’t move over. I wondered if he drove right on the centerline because his vision was bad? It was only 12km or so at a cycling pace but still a bit of a white-knuckle adventure.

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Quick, scenic crossing on the ferry and a Beer Lao on the other side with a nice view of the Mekong.

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Total moving time for the day was about 2 hours with 4 hours of sitting. But those are always the days you remember, especially when they turn out fine.

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