Trail Magic on the Mekong

3:27 AM

Our last week in Laos started with a dysfunctional 3 day bus/boat trip. Through it we met Cho Lee and the biker gang: A team of unlikely friends. Chinese, American, Irish and Brazilian, brought together by a ridiculous tour through the Mekong River (where water occasionally crept in and clogged the engine). 

Here was our itinerary in Laos:
Luang Prabang-->Vang Vieng-->Vientiane

Luang Prabang

We explored Luang Prabang on bicycle (hence Cho Lee and the biker gang). We lost track of time and ended up sprinting through the night market stalls, and up 350 steps to make it just in time to the temple on the hill to watch as the sun hid behind the layers of rocks and mountains, silhouetting the Mekong in a glorious shadow. We spent our evenings in jungle bars and night markets, and ended our night at the local bowling alley, joined by every other member of the Laos backpacking community. 

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is home to many caves, both land caves and water caves. With headlamps secured, we got on intertubes and pulled ourselves with a rope against the current of the river to venture into a water cave. For a moment, it felt as if I was back in the Cu Chi tunnels, but this time with raging water involved. The echo of the caves, and the low hanging rocks, was a brilliant mix of claustrophobic fun. 

On a more relaxing note, we were able to float down the notorious Nam Song river. Along the way there are restaurants and bars with boys who throw out ropes to pull you in. Don't worry, if you miss the rope, those same boys will jump in and swim you back to shore. Any free moment, we spent in a local restaurant watching reruns of "Friends" which just happened to be playing on every TV in town. Who knows why, but I was certainly not complaining. 

Our last day of our backpacking trip was spent in Vientiane, the capital city. We will ignore the fact that we spent it streaming any full length movie we could find on YouTube (Netflix doesn't work here, but that's probably a good thing). As it turns out, most of the good movies have copyrights written all over them, so we settled for a cheap romantic comedy (ending our trip with a low budget bang). 

Saying goodbye to Jordyn in the airport, I continued on alone, and found myself distracted by the world news playing on an airport TV. Being abroad, it has been easy to shelter myself from world news. Chances are if it's playing on a public tv, it's not in a language I can understand (yet!). But by the looks of protests, tear gas, and explosions, I could get the idea that the world is in a weird time. I headed back to Chiang Mai, Thailand feeling alone in a crumbling world.  But as I was running some late night errands, something familiar stopped me in my tracks and reminded me to stay optimistic.

Spray painted on a metal fixture outside of Boots pharmacy was "Kony 2012" with the liberty triangle, a symbol that came to represent the most important season of my life. I flashed back to sitting in the San Diego Office, before hitting the road as a Roadie for Invisible Children. They introduced to us the backbone of what would become the Kony 2012 campaign. We wanted to make Kony famous, and we wanted to see international communities step up.  At the time, I couldn't imagine that it would stretch all the way to Chiang Mai. I stood at the edge of the Thapae Gate remembering that it was not a perfect campaign, but it's impact was larger than I could even measure. That alone is enough for me to keep believing in humanity. We have more in common than we think.

The next day, I headed farther north to Eden House in Chiang Rai. On the bus ride, I played my trip over and over again in my head, reliving what author, Cheryl Strayed calls:

Trail magic: "the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail."

It seems that my travels have left me with many of these moments and also with contradictory desires; hungry for home, ever ready to go, fearful of new challenges, driven by changing horizons. 

Yet another contradiction is the excitement and depravity of the fact that even if I devoted my life to traveling, there still would be more to see, more seas to charter, more borders to cross. I'll never forget the taste of frog on the Mekong, or maggots in the local Chiang Mai market. I'll never forget the adventure that took me 20 below the sea one day and to the top of a mountain the next.

I can't deny the things I've seen, the people I've met and the "trail magic" I've experienced. Because as small as the world may seem, and it did seem this way many times on our path, the world is not small. It is a massive, glorious beast. 

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