The Vietnamese-speaking man who ran the guesthouse in Pakse, one of the better places we’d stayed at so far, also hooked us up with a deal on travel down south, to the final stretches of Laos. Of course, land travel wasn’t the only necessary option; we’d also need a boat to get to where we were headed.
On the relatively short bus ride down, we met some very interesting people. One was a Vietnamese woman, in her mid-20s, I believe. She spoke English almost as well as Vietnamese and told Teresa and I about all of the different possibilities available to us when we finally made it to Vietnam. I think to this day, Teresa has the list of cultural sites, landmarks, and towns that, to this young lady, were must-sees. As far as I’m concerned, everything in Vietnam is a must-see, but I’ll get to that in the future.
We also met her traveling companion (I wasn’t 100% certain on the status of their relationship), a Laotian man from France who spoke at least four different languages and was happy to converse with us in as many as necessary.
The bus took us to a small village along an interesting part of the Mekong, swollen at its borders and carving through scatters of land masses, many small, some large enough to house villages and farms. We’d arrived at the jumping point to Si Phan Don, the 4000 Islands. We had only a couple of days left in Laos, so we had to pick one.
Don Det was our choice, simply for the reputation that had reached us before we reached its subject. It turned out to be accurate; we’d chosen wisely. Less populated by travelers and still more than enough to do to satisfy our persistent need to relax…no, we weren’t getting soft, just appreciating how the finer things in life can come at a fraction of the cost of what we often feel is important back home.
To us, at that time, the finer things mostly consisted of riding one-speed bicycles, an accomplishment for Teresa who never learned growing up and had ample room to practice on the carless paths. It also gave us an opportunity to explore the island leisurely and connect with neighboring Don Khon, for a fee if I remember correctly. I swear sometimes there are just kids standing somewhere saying something costs something, from washrooms to roadways. There’s really no way to tell how legit it is sometimes, but at the end of the day, it really amounts to pennies and isn’t worth fussing over, in my opinion.
Not far from our guesthouse, a riverside restaurant off of the island’s main highway (a two foot wide dirt road that snaked the land) was our go-to for a hearty meal. The vast majority of traffic on the island was on foot, and little at that. Groups of backpackers congregated at a few of the small bars that played a wide selection of movies from a USB stick and sold weed-sprinkled ice cream cones in addition to booze. The vibe was certainly chill to say the least. Teresa and I thought we’d try a fruit shake made “happy”.
I understand the effects of the “happy sprinkles”, as they were, hitting the mind relatively instantly when smoked. It didn’t seem to be the same when eating it, and for a while, I didn’t think anything was going to happen. It certainly did happen, though, nearly two hours after slurping down the shake. It was quite interesting, a little more wobbly than usual, if anything. Dusk was descending on the little island, and, unknown to us, a monstrous thunderstorm, one that to this day I have still never come close to experiencing the likes of, was rolling in. Perfect timing, and I mean that without a trace of irony.
I love thunderstorms, and Teresa is terrified of them. Those two strong feelings, combined when we’re together, and really beginning to become fully immersed in the effects of the special shakes, made for an exhilarating and dazzling experience.
At the time, the entire island was run on local generators, there is no outside power source on Don Det. Once the lightning started crashing, the lights on every building were flickering on and off. When the storm began, Teresa had just happened to run back to our guesthouse because there was no washroom at the little riverside restaurant (we’d left the bar at this point, hungry for some satay chicken and rice). She tells me as I write this that the power went off while she was sitting on the toilet, causing her to scream out loud. We’re laughing picturing it. She was scared out of her mind.
Meanwhile, the restaurant owners began rolling down massive sheets of plastic to protect their businesses from the torrential downpours that came with the exploding thunder. This trooper, my girlfriend, burst out of the guesthouse and bolted towards the restaurant as I was opening up the plastic roll to look out for her. She ran right into the restaurant, soaked in water, everyone looking amused and me more proud than I’ve ever been at her braving out the storm.
We sat back down on a pair of hammocks stretched out between bamboo sticks and watched as the lightning flashed, closer than I’ve ever seen in my life, literally meters before us. Some bolts hit the land of the surrounding islands, others smoked the water that engulfed Don Det. With every flash, I would see flashes of other colors, dancing around my vision. Imagine looking into a giant blue-white bulb, flashing in your face, messing up your vision. Now, imagine it after the shake.
For long periods of time, the power would go out, drenching us in eerie darkness, in addition to rain. I think when we woke up the next day, it was sunny, as though nothing had ever happened. One smell of the air was enough of a reminder, though, as if it couldn’t have been any fresher before.
These grainy pics are actually from when we got home the night of the storm…I guess we weren’t ourselves.
Just as we were preparing to depart from this remarkable, diverse land, it seemed to feel the need to remind us of the ever-lasting impression it would have by leaving us with just one more memory that will literally flash through our minds forever.