Survivor "Laos Edition"
LAOS | Tuesday, 12 June 2007 | Views 
Every Survivor show has a super-human physical challenge of standing and balancing for a long period of time in a very awkward and physically demanding/uncomfortable position. Today's one hour public bus ride from Phongsali to Hat Sa (our dock of entry to the Nam Ou River). We were told to be to the bus station (an empty dirt lot across from the market) 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time for the bus. We got there 45 minutes early, only to find the bus already completely packed to the hilt with passengers and their cargo. There weren't even aisles available. The guy organizing people and goods into the bus spoke no English, so I motioned to him that we had 4 people and 4 big backpacks. He waved us on. Our bags went in first, and were stacked in between seats in the aisle, nearly touching the roof (this bus had no roof-top cargo carrier). There was only one bus to Hat Sa today, so everyone and their brother was packed into this one. A cute old lady, thin and toothless, dressed in hill tribe silk wrapping, motioned to me to come share her seat with her, which there was only really room for her. But a Lao guy beat me to the seat. So Darrin and I piled into the narrow bus door opening, the woman sitting on a sack of potatoes in the aisle floor space in front of the door steps grabbed her arms around my waist and butt, so as to make me fit into the bus as they attempted to wedge the door closed behind me. I looked up at Darrin, he was literally hanging from the "oh shit handle" attached to the roof near the emergency exit pop out ceiling-window, and balancing one foot on the balls of his foot on a 2 centimeter strip of stair siding, with one foot on another bag stacked waist high. It was like a game of Twister, but more challenging, as the bus moved and veered around corners, the bus would rock from side to side, sending contents and people shifting into one another. I silently prayed that we wouldn't roll down the steep mountainside when we made each turn. I was holding onto a heavy bag of wooden chopsticks, trying to secure my balance, and a metal bar below some guy's foot, who was standing on the railing bar above me. As he teetered above me, he'd periodically drop gobs of spit to the bus floor (a Southeast Asian obsessive habit - spitting anywhere and everywhere, especially in public places), just missing my arm, and occasionally landing on the woman next to me. She didn't look phased at all, just wiped his spit off her hand back onto his pants. The bus, over-packed to the hilt, stopped along the way to squeeze in 4 more passengers. Unbelievable! We finally made it to Hat Sa all in one piece, but that had to have been the most brutal and physically challenging bus ride we've taken so far. It should be a model for the next Survivor Challenge!
Rolling out of the bus, we headed to the boat launch area and attempted to negotiate for the first half of our trip down the Nam Ou River, a 6 hour journey, to the town of Muang Kwa. We had hoped to leave on time so we could catch a connecting boat to Muang Ngoi Neua and Nong Kio, supposedly little riverside paradises along the way to stay. But the Chinese guy who headed to boat cartel did not look favorably on our attempts to bargain down the fares, and we finally left 2 hours later than we had planned for an over-inflated price, for a boat packed like a sardine container with us and 15 other locals.