My mind wanders, back to the Mekong river and its source. I look across at the distant bank and see Thailand. The slow moving water has been to China, Myanmar and even parts of Tibet. And now, standing at it’s side I prepare to travel back to the country that almost took the lives of my brother and sisters.
There are people here that spend their entire lives on the river, coming to land only to sell and trade. Their babies too young to swim are tied to the boat, keeping them from falling in. The river is wide, and bamboo shacks built on piers can be found not far from the shore. In the late afternoon the river people can be seen pulling fish from nets and putting tarps over their boats.
I have been in Vientiane for three days, and am patiently waiting for my Indian visa. The jungle road to the city was extremely mountainous and on most days it never stopped raining. Many times I would have to stop pedaling and push through a muddy section of road, or carry Esperanza through a shallow river. In one area the entire mountain gave way and covered the road. Traffic was backed up for kilometers as no car or motorbike was able to pass. With a little effort I pushed through to the other side and watched the hundreds of people sitting in their vehicles waiting in the rain.
Considering its status as the capital of Laos, Vientiane, as far as Asian cities goes, is rather quite. Rush hour brings loud, polluting motorbikes, and three wheeled “took tooks” driving on the sidewalks and into oncoming traffic. Wheeled carts selling fruit, meat and smoothies fill the sides of the roads and Buddhist monks wearing bright orange robes navigate their way across busy streets and intersections. Its complete chaos. Adding to traffic is a large percentage of overly cautious drivers performing 6 point turns in large intersections, parking lots and narrow drive ways. Sometimes drivers will stop in the middle of a narrow road and hold up traffic while they exit their car, make sure there is enough space. I brought up the subject with a few locals and was told that only 20% of the drivers in Laos have licenses.
My visa has be granted and by the time most of you read this I will be well on my way, via a 36 hour lay-over in Kuala Lumpur to New Delhi. As mentioned above, I am a bit reserved about India from my previous experience. In 1992 my family did a pilgrimage of the Buddhist holy sites in the north east of the country. We visited Varanasi, swam in the Ganges and traveled to Buddha’s enlightenment and birth place. Towards the end of the trip however my brother became seriously ill. Fever, diarrhea and nausea were so normal to all of us that we thought it would pass. Weeks later, while en-route for America in Hong Kong, my mother took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with Typhoid Fever. My two sisters soon followed. My older started felling really cold, even while taking a hot bath, and was soon lying beside my brother also having Typhoid, My little sister 2 years old at the time soon was diagnosed with Tuberculosis.
The Hong Kong infectious disease ward is not a pretty place, and my mother spent every day keeping them company, and at night sleeping on a wooden bench outside their door. I escaped the physical sickness but mentally became ill. For years afterwards I was completely paranoid of germs, illness and disease, I would sometimes wash my hands so many times that they would bleed. At 8 years old life seemed completely out of control. And it would take me several years to feel comfortable again with life.
These thoughts now echo in my mind as a prepare for the journey. I am stronger physically but mentally I worry about the fears returning. I will stay north and head to the holy Sikh region of Punjab before cycling the Himalayas to Nepal. Touch base again soon, I will reunite with my brother in Bhutan!