Peter’s Picture Show: A Bus Ride Through Bolivia

Here’s a 3.5 minute video of our eight-hour journey through the Bolivian mountains from La Paz to Cochabamba.  We saw all sorts of inclement weather, beautiful terrain and unfortunate accidents during the trip.  Thankfully we arrived unscathed.

Leaving Laos

Sunrise over the Mekong from Don Khong Island in Si Phan Don ("Four Thosand Islands")

A golden sun rises over the Mekong, I am on the eastern edge of Don Khoung Island in southern Laos.  Fishermen in slender pirogues line the river and toss their glistening silver nets, each day their labor starts well before daylight.  I hear the scratchy screeches of distant roosters heralding the dawn.  A small herd of goats pass noisily below, water buffalo graze in a field just at the end of the street.  The electric chorus of insects is gradually replaced by birdsong which mixes with the drone of distant scooters and outboard motors on the river. The air is cool and moves with a gentle breeze from the river.  The sun strengthens and warms face.  Lifeless white clouds hover above me, still asleep.   The sun brightens the hilltop stupas on the far shore of the mainland.

Walking to the balcony I surprise a huge frog in the hallway which jumps quickly out of my way.  Everything in Laos is open to the elements thanks to its doors ajar, broken windows, and holes in the roof.  Critters commingle with human creatures without the forced separation of my world at home.  Sparrows play on the balcony bannister, cartoon-like geckos with fat fingers fill their bellies with flies and moths, ants run over my feet as they attend to their all-consuming business.

I glance towards the temple and notice its unusual Buddha, serenely meditating as daylight warms his oddly decorated head.  A lone bell sounds from the temple; it is the morning call to alms.  In a few minutes monks in saffron robes file through the street carrying silver urns under their arms, silently and in single file.  A few villagers sit and pray by the roadside, fruit and sticky rice before them, an offering to the passing monks.  This daily ritual feeds the monks who must eat before noon; anything left over is given to the needy.  This is good karma for the village donors and enhances their chances of a better reborn life.

In this southernmost corner of Laos, I near the end of my travels here.  After nearly a month, I reach Si Phan Don, or the “Four Thousand Islands” on the Cambodian border.  I am worn by three days of rough road travel: from the capital Vientiane on Highway 13 to the Kong Lo cave, through Tha Khek, Savannahket, and Paske on a series of bumpy local buses, tuk-tuks, sorngtaaou (a pickup truck with two rows of seats in back), and boats.  My backside is sore from the hard seats and endless hours on old school buses, my shoulders ache from being jammed in a row of six people designed for four, my hair dusty and skin dry from the beating sun in this hottest month of the year.

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Dispatch from Paul: Mr Toad’s Wild Ride… Vietnamese style.

Pit stop along the harrowing road to Dalat

If you are seeking that adrenaline rush which traditionally is only available at a theme park there is now another alternative. No need to hand over thousands of dollars to Mr Disney for an amusement park getaway… now you can just take an 18 hour flight over to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and then take a bus ride up into the mountains. It would probably be cheaper in the long run given that one could easily subsist on $50 a day in Vietnam and that modest sum would be almost impossible to spend in one day there whereas in the theme park one would hardly be able to even purchase lunch.

Our particular bus ride was an eight hour journey from Ho Chi Minh City up into the Central Highlands to a town called Da Lat, a charming alpine town catering mostly to Vietnamese tourists looking to escape the heat of the city. The driver seemed at first glance a nice enough fellow although he did run over someone’s motorbike whilst pulling into the boarding area… red flag missed!

Funnily my mother being a bit nervous about my travels to Vietnam continually warned me about the undetonated land mines still scattered about the countryside here. What she didn’t warn me about however was the much bigger threat for tourists: the bus rides in Vietnam. That would have been much more useful information to me. Just to share a statistic with you it seems that approximately thirty people die from vehicular accidents in Vietnam everyday. After boarding the bus I did a rough count of the passengers as I walked down the aisle looking for my seat. I came up with about thirty or so of us. Just wonderful I thought. So after our bus careens off the side of a cliff we will fill the quota on accident fatalities for today.

Continue readingDispatch from Paul: Mr Toad’s Wild Ride… Vietnamese style.”