Early morning. Huay Xai, the Laos border. I feel weak, like an overcooked noodle, and try to bring back parts of yesterday evening. My first shots of Thai whiskey. Excitement over going to Laos, seeing the Mekong River and all the adventures to come. Straight shots. The more, the better they taste. Or maybe, the less you taste them.
The border. I try to organize myself and find my passport somewhere way down in my bag. Fill in the form. Purchase the visa. Exchange money and look at my first Lao kips. My first purchases: a bottle of ice tea, water, and a pillow to sit on for the boat.
I board onto a crowded boat. Pass the open engine to store my backpack. Most seats are already taken. A slow,overbooked Mekong boat. Magic. I am about to enter a mysterious world of nagas and tiny Mekong villages.
People load and offload stuff: animals, fruit, vegetables and other trading goods. Local people offer me fruits that I have never seen before. I feel like I am in a strange, exotic dream. For real.
It starts raining heavily. The boat starts flooding and soon the floor is covered with water. I use my pillow as a big sponge. An unfriendly, Western man asks me if my mom told me how to clean. Briefly I contemplate on throwing the man in the Mekong. Instead, I ask him if his mom taught him how to behave.
Pakbeng, late afternoon. The place looks poor, rough, and unfriendly. It makes me excited, like I am on a serious adventure. Kids are fighting over the four bananas I just gave them. I try to tell them to share their food and wonder if I have done the right thing.
Options for accommodation are limited and of low quality. My guesthouse is old and dodgy. The fan is covered with dust and the place smells of old, moldy wood. My evening shower marks the end of electricity for the day. We are in the dark now.
The middle of the night. A loud scream wakes me up. I hear people talking, doors opening, the gate, and someone talking loudly. I hear the two words: doctor and leaving. Dogs are barking, and finally, back to silence.
The next day I discover what had happened. A girl was bitten on her toe by a mouse when she was sleeping in the room next to mine.
Welcome to Pakbeng, 2007.