The context you need to understand this post is that I had battled diarrhea for about two days before taking this bus ride, including the day of. It was just supposed to be a 12-hour night bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang (Laos). Through food and water restriction, I was 100% confident in my bowels for this nighttime journey.
But when you’re traveling, things often don’t go as expected..
As often happens here, the time the travel agent tells you the bus will leave and the actual time of departure differ by about an hour. So the 7:30pm departure was actually 8:30pm. No problem.
The bus ride was very bumpy and windy, making it difficult to sleep. But I read as much online. Oh, the guy behind me had sleep apnea as well. Every 60 seconds or so, he’d snort in that life-saving breath and wake up the whole bus.
At 3:30am the bus stopped. But it wasn’t a normal stop. The driver turned off the engine and went to sleep with the door open. I got out and heard the two Italians talking. One said “derrumba” which I recognized in Spanish as “landslide.” Crap..
So, apnea and all, I tried to sleep a bit. At sunrise I went for a walk to see what was happening. It was only about a 7-minute walk uphill to the site. We must have gotten there just after it happened. So, we’re lucky it didn’t happen while we were driving at that particular point in the road!
I should note that as soon as I got out of the bus in the morning, it smelled horrible. I tried to think of a word.. waste? excrement? Nothing fit. It smelled like shit. 100% shit. And at first I thought it was the truck full of pigs in front of the bus. But no, it smelled like shit everywhere.
Now, being stranded for what’s sure to be a lot of hours, plus the smell of shit, plus being food and water deprived is not a good combination. But below are some pictures of where we were stranded. I think you’ll agree, though the pictures do a crappy job in conveying the beauty, that I could have been stranded in a much uglier place!
As I walked back down to the bus it was about 6:30am and the government had already mobilized a bulldozer to come up and start digging. Impressive.
The delay ended up being 13 hours – 12 to dig out the mud from the natural disaster and clear the road, then an hour to clear the man-made disaster of everyone trying to get through at once on both sides, leaving the hole plugged again and traffic from both sides unable to move.
During the delay the sun came up and it was as hot as you can imagine inside the bus – a sauna for real. I hadn’t sweat like that since I lived in Qatar, where beads of sweat would collect in places I don’t normally sweat by just sitting and doing nothing.
I went out again to see how things were progressing at 11am. It didn’t look like much had been done despite the hours of work put into clearing things up at that point.
A mini city had sprung up though, as trucks came up from a nearby village full of water, food, and supplies people might need. Surprisingly, they were not gouging either. I paid 10,000 Kip ($1.25) for this strange peanut snack, the same price I found in the city. And for the bathroom, a family opened up their house (the only one on our side of the landslide) for people to use their bathroom at 1000 Kip/$0.25 each – the same price that was charged in the bus station in the capital.
So, what do you do for so many hours?
In all honesty, I had no problem with it. My relationship with time has changed and, in general, I don’t have to be in any particular place at any particular time anymore. If it weren’t for my diarrhea, this diversion would have been a fun adventure (interestingly, diversion in Spanish = fun in English). With the diarrhea, it was just an adventure.
Many people slept, others read, some walked up and down the mountain, some listened to music, etc. The bus in front of us was, apparently, the party bus. They cranked up their music and some guys bought some beer and made a day out of it. Their music was almost all Latin though, which was interesting.
In my case, I continued reading 1491: New Revelations Of The Americas Before Columbus as I continue trying to get a handle on how amazing Latin America was historically, and the Inka in particular. Each page seems to refute everything I learned about pre-Columbian America in school, which wasn’t much to begin with.
I watched a movie on my computer. I wrote most of this article and finished the previous one. I thought about stuff. I listened to podcasts and music… I’m never at a loss for things to occupy my time and mind.
After they opened up a hole big enough for one lane of traffic to proceed, and the man-made disaster of everyone trying to rush through on both sides, we continued on.
Definitely a long journey and a reminder I probably shouldn’t travel when I’m not 100% confident in my bowels.
I was only able to take this picture through the bus window of the landslide from afar. Doesn’t look so big, but definitely big enough to affect the road!
About Adam Pervez
In mid-2011 I left my cushy corporate job and took the plunge into a life incorporating my passions of traveling, writing, volunteering, learning, educating, and telling stories. I study what happiness means to others, offer what I can from my engineering/MBA background as a volunteer, and try to leave each place better than how I found it. Read more.