Day 365 – 29 February, 2016
I guess I was aware that was about ready to hit a big milestone, but only in the sense that small talk with other travelers usually involves the question, “how long have you been traveling?” After I hit the 6 month mark, it was becoming more and more unusual to meet someone that had been on the road as long as me so I would start tempering that question by answering that I had been in Southeast Asia since December, not elaborating on the rest of it unless it was an engaging enough conversation for some other reason. It’s a nice thing about life as a solo traveler as to how many people you meet along the way, although sometimes the rhetoric can be redundant and I would try not to say one year or twelve months to draw too much attention to myself. Twelve months though?! On the occasions, when I did own up to the amount of time and actually said it, the revelation shocked noone more than me.
I thought back to the naïveté of the girl who trekked the W route in Patagonia with all of her own gear, food poisoning in Chile, heartbreak in Bolivia, the death of my dog, sandboarding down the dunes in Peru, a bus accident in Ecuador, a trip of a lifetime seeing wildlife in the Galapagos, walking 875km across the entire country of Spain on El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Spanish lessons in Córdoba, watching the sunset over the Sahara Desert with Martyn, trying and failing to scuba dive, entranced by the wonders of Angkor Wat, and eating rat in the backcountry of Vietnam. These memories and everything in between felt and still feels kind of like a dream. It doesn’t feel like so much time as passed, but when I think of everything I have experienced and all the places I have been, I know that it wouldn’t have been possible without so many months at my leisure.
Because I hadn’t given it much thought, I also didn’t really have a big celebration in mind either. I spent my one year travel anniversary on a 23 hour bus ride between Hanoi, Vietnam and Vientianne, Laos. How fitting…. This is a legendary ride, only 750km from here to there and an unexplained number of hours in transit. Many travelers buckle and buy a flight when they hear of the dreadful stories. I wasn’t deterred. How bad can it really be, right?
Well, usually those are famous last words, but it wasn’t really that bad. I suppose I’m not unaccustomed to lengthy bus rides. So far, the Vietnamese night buses came equipped with full reclining seats and this one was no different. Darcey and I met on the bus as often happens when you have so many hours to kill. From Boston, Darcey was taking a gap year and was well-traveled enough that we both were able to take the bus journey in stride, like the flashing strobe lights, the aggressively loud techno music, and the drunk Russians who wouldn’t stop talking (including one who may have been having a psychotic episode). We arrived at the border at 3am, which of course, was closed until 7am so we parked and waited. Why not leave Hanoi 4 hours later, you ask? Good. Question. The best answer that I can ascertain is that we were there for queueing purposes. The bathroom facilities were what most of us call a hole in the floor. You’re not traveling until you’ve used one of these.
Vientianne, as a destination, was not anything special. It was kind of a layover before I had to get on another bus and as it turns out, Darcey had the same plan. We had only one day and that was more than enough to see the French-inspired Patuxai, a war monument which was modeled after the Arc de Triomph in Paris, and the Golden Temple. This travel milestone came and went in an uneventful fashion, but it was nice to have company as I began traveling in my 15th country.