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Just Smile


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Yesterday, I experienced the first negative energy day I’ve had in a long time.  It started with this policeman stealing my motorcycle at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

IMG_2328I managed to get my bike back, but then I almost ran over a black puppy that darted in front of me as I was cruising at 80 kph.

The puppy and I survived the near-miss,  but I then had a flat tire only a few kilometers from the Vietnam/Laos border that I was planning to cross. It seemed like everything and everybody were determined to thwart my progress.

The flat forced me to push the bike a few clicks back to a little family house where the dad fixed it while we played with the kids and had a beer.

I was thrilled to be able to pay the $8 USD repair bill, knowing that it would be a boon to this family during the lunar new year.

My cousin looked at me as we rolled away to the border and said “Good Karma.”  We talked about how lucky I was to have a flat in a situation like that — where traffic had slowed close to the border — rather than at high speeds where death would have been the most likely result. We also strategized about how to cross the border the next day.

Getting a flat tire fixed in VietnamWe were looking to cross into Laos at Cao Treo, and had heard that it was difficult. Should we stick a $20 bill in our passports in order to grease the entry of our Vietnamese bikes into Laos?  “Let’s do it with just a smile,” we decided.

As we approached the checkpoint, the Vietnamese border patrol told us that no bikes are allowed in Laos, and that we had to walk to the border and continue on.  At the border, they refused to stamp our passports, but then we noticed that everyone else was paying a fee. We did the same — 20,000D ($1 USD) each — at which point they stamped them. The officer even gave me 60,000D change for the 100,000D note I handed him. But the officials still kept saying that we couldn’t take the bikes.

In broken Google translate language, we asked if we could ride to Laos, check with the guards there, and if not alLAOed (Laos is pronounced without the “ess”) to enter, ride back to Vietnam. Our multiple-entry Vietnam visas with a few days left on them would allow it.

We walked/jogged towards the bikes, hopped on and were ready to ride away, when one of the guards came to explain again that “no motorbike in Laos”. We had 500,000D notes in our hands, but they weren’t even looking at the money.

Recognizing that our options were few, Cuz suddenly dropped to his knees in the middle of the highway, begging and saying “please” in Vietnamese. The guard, apparently taken off guard (hahaha) by this display, broke into a smile and said OK. The second guard came out and was also all smiles. We shook hands, said thank you and drove on.

selfie in VietnamI’m glad we didn’t try to rush out the first time because we learned quickly that there is an additional checkpoint on the Vietnamese side. Again, a guard sternly instructed us to park our bikes and hand him our passports.

He went in the booth, which had an AK-47 prominently displayed, and picked up the phone. We looked back and saw the first guard, standing where we had just genuflected, talking on his cell phone and looking at us, waving. The gate guard hung up the phone, came out smiling, gave us both hugs and waved us on.

There was no problem with Laos. We rolled up to a game of Bocce ball with the guards, threw a couple balls, went inside and paid 8000K ($1 USD) and were granted access. As we started up the bikes, a man leaned out the window and said something about motorbike. I pointed to the barrier and asked “OK?”, and in reply he pointed, smiled and waved us through.

What luck, we said to each other at lunch, and how great a change of energy with a couple new stamps in the passport. As we rode on, I saw a butterfly in the distance, approaching me at 50kph. It landed on my right shoulder.  I looked down at it, and while I’m pretty sure it didn’t speak English, I swore it said “Welcome to Laos!”  As soon as I thought to grab my camera, it took off and flew away.  

Landscape in Vietnam

And then, in the middle of this spectacular scenery, I felt my tire pop again.

Shit. I made it to the side of the road.  What we need is a truck going that-a-way, I thought. Boom, a nice Laotian couple with a truck and ramp stopped and rolled me in to the back. Thanks to the generosity of a few Israelis who had given us a Laos phrasebook a few days before, I was able to ask to go to a mechanic, and then to say thank you.

Another mechanic replaced the tube again, this time for $3.75 USD.  My rims must be special, in fact, glowing.

He got me up and rolling and out of there within an hour, in time to see this on the way to Kong Lor Cave.

What a day.  What great karma, and what a wonderful experience of humanity. Keep smiling.

Motorbike in Vietnam