Hiking a Mudslide

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The major roadway connecting Vang Vieng with Luang Prabang is Road 13. Most of the road is paved, which is a major improvement compared to the roads in many regions of the country. However the road is rough, festooned with potholes and curving through the mountains with occasional sharp drops. But the scenery is lush and worth the time merely for a glimpse of countryside that cannot be compared to anywhere else.

Last week’s monsoon resulted in a section of Road 13 falling down the side of large mountain. We would have to face this if we headed north, but the other option of waiting it out in Vang Vieng was less than optimal. We took our chances with the damaged Road 13.

Four hours into the trip we reached a line of trucks that had been stalled on the road for days. Small food stands had been set up on the side of the road. A drain pipe coming off the mountain was being used as a shower. Three hens with a swarm of chicks wandered through the garbage outside our bus window.

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Our driver hopped on the back of a motorcycle and took off. Confused, we waited. Two hours later we decided to open the luggage compartment, find our bags, and start walking. As we started up the road, a local told us to ‘look for bus 0333′.

The mud was slick and capable of stealing shoes. The terrain was steep. It was the middle of the day and the sun was at it’s peak. We wound through the line of traffic waiting for the road to be rebuilt (a project that won’t be completed for at least 3 days.) We passed a pickup truck carrying three water buffalo, a truck with a load of pigs, and lines of stalled cars carrying their produce to the big city beyond.

Around a sharp corner, the landslide that started it all came into view:

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A pedestrian path had been formed in the mud. We followed it up the steep hill, through a tiny village and down a steep wash where we met up with the stalled line of oncoming traffic. Kids from the local village, obviously having the time of their lives, kicked around in the mud pit and offered us high fives. We watched a group of at least 20 try to pull a truck out of the mud. We declined the offers from people wishing to carry our bags in exchange for money– no matter how close to the poverty line one is, I refuse to let a pregnant women carry my luggage for me.

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Eventually we found our next bus, where we loaded in and waited. Dusk was arriving by the time we set off, but then the bus broke down about half an hour later. Most of the other passengers flagged down vehicles and paid them to take them the rest of the way. By the time the bus was fixed, we we shared the cabin with only two other people.

The two girls introduced themselves as travelers from Australia. They commented about how inappropriately calm we seemed. Dave and I looked at each other and laughed. This is travel, isn’t it? This is travel at it’s best. And we are, for the time being, extraordinarily lucky that time is of no concern to us. The beauty of travel is in the adventure, and this is one day that cannot be defined by anything else.

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