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A true travel story full of adventure.


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The following is an excerpt from high 

in the mountains of Vietnam...

Into the Unknown - Vientiane

November 1, 2002

When 6 p.m. rolled around, we boarded a small mini-bus and started out east towards the border of Vietnam. The bus was only half full, with maybe a dozen people, and Carl and I were the only Caucasians. It appeared that about five of the Vietnamese on board (we'll call them the Group of 5) knew, or worked with, the driver and the rest were just passengers like us.

At about 10 p.m., nearly everyone was asleep. I suddenly felt the road get much bumpier, as if we'd left the highway and were on a side road. I got up and looked out the window, but it was completely dark and I could only make out the shapes of some small shacks, my eyes still blurry with sleep. We pulled into a driveway and the Group of 5 got off the bus and began talking with a young boy peering out of the open second floor window of a shack. After a minute, two large doors on the ground floor swung open and the guys started hauling these large sacks, about one-meter square and a half-meter thick, over to the bus. At first they intended on strapping them to the roof, but for some reason changed their minds and attempted to jam them into the bus with us. The sacks were just too big, so they broke them open, revealing dozens of smaller, black plastics bags filled with something quite soft. They began tossing them in through the windows, and things started to get tight as they filled every nook and cranny available. They tried to take Carl's pack out the window to strap it to the roof, but he held on, flatly refusing. They eventually filled the entire back seat of the bus, almost to the roof. Unfortunately, that had been Carl's seat, and they just expected him to lie on top of it all!

I was feeling a little uneasy about what kind of bus trip required five staff members, and what sort of cargo they were picking up from a shack in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. I asked Carl to poke around a bit in a few bags once we got moving. I could hear him rustling around in the dark once we were on the road again, and he whispered that they felt like they might be stuffed full of fabric. Or they might not.

Our options as to what we could do, even if we wanted to, seemed pretty limited, so we decided to just let things be for the time being. I'm really not sure whether it was the decision I was comfortable with, or an admission that other options like getting off of the bus into the darkness of night would be equally as uncomfortable. I tried to tell myself that everything was fine, but at about 1 a.m. things got a little stranger.

We've just stopped again at another shack on the outskirts of some small town. My watch says 1 a.m. The Group of 5 are chatting in Vietnamese to the other passengers, I think asking them to get off the bus for something to eat. They motion to us, but we say were staying on board, along with one lady and her child.

They've started up the bus again and are driving to the other side of the road and parking, about seventy-five meters away from the shack.

The Group of 5 have been chatting with each other for about five minutes and now we're driving again.

A couple minutes have passed and we're now stopping beside a river in a valley between two small hills, very much out of sight from any surrounding shacks. The Group of 5 are starting to pull all of the small plastic bags out of the bus. At first I thought they were laying them on the ground outside, but it appears that they are putting them up on the roof. Perhaps they are just using the spare time to rearrange things and make more room. It seems strange that they've driven a kilometer to this remote and hidden location to do it, though. I can hear them up on the roof doing something with wrenches now.

A voice inside my head is progressively getting louder, telling me that something about this is not right. I'm getting a little worried. In fact, I'm wondering why I haven't emptied my bowels a couple times already. Come to think of it, maybe I have, but my mind and body feel kind of numb, almost as if protecting me from whatever the reality of this might be.

It has been about thirty minutes and they seem to be finished. We're now driving back to where they dropped the other people off.

We've made it back, and the Group of 5 have gotten off the bus again, turning off all the lights, leaving Carl and me with the lady and her child in the darkness. Carl went out the window to check out what they've done on the roof, but to our astonishment, he found that it's completely empty! There's nothing up there. It seems they've put, or perhaps hidden, all of the bags underneath the roof of the bus.

This is really strange.

It's pitch black inside the bus, pitch black outside, and we're not sure exactly where we are or how long we'll be here. It's now about 2 a.m....


And from the opening pages of the book...

"I feel that the experiences - the adventures - that I have collected over the past three months cannot really be fully conveyed by what I've written on paper, no matter how colorful my language, or how skillful my writing. It's really beyond words, or even storytelling. The days unfold before you, like the unrolling of a richly-colored fabric from its spool, the colors sometimes flowing together in harmony, sometimes clashing and with no recognizable pattern for you to grasp onto.

Perhaps you've had to listen while a friend has practically gurgled with excitement as they told you tales of their adventures beyond the hotels and resorts, to a land much rawer than your own, with only the possessions they could carry on their back. Maybe you've understood and listened with interest, or maybe you've felt like rolling your eyes, wondering what all the fuss is about, and shrugged off their seemingly life altering experience.

But the impact upon them is very real. On a trip like this, your emotions can be overwhelmed and your senses challenged with strange sights, smells, and exotic tastes, sometimes to the extent that you tire of it and just want to go home. But those periods are usually brief and vanish quickly, washed away by some new, fantastic experience that leaves you refreshed and once again clawing onward for more.

You cannot help but be closely touched by the people and their diverse cultures, whether you are seeking that or not. You will learn about them and their history, and you will feel the pain of their tragedies and the joy of their victories. Your heart will bleed for the horrors that their country, their home, has gone through - from the terrors of the S-21 prison and Killing Fields of Cambodia to the lingering reminders of the Vietnam War.

You will meet fantastic people who will never be forgotten; people who will go out of their way to help a traveler, to be a friend in a strange land, and to make you their guest. Just friendly neighbors, half a world away."

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