Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 5 - Valentines Day in Luang Prabang

Preface. Today begins 4 months earlier at the train station in Florence, Italy. EZ and I were waiting patiently in the main hall for our platform to be announced for the train that would take us to Venice. Our train was delayed and there was some confusion in the hall as to what was happening on the tracks beyond the station. There were a number of muffled messages, in Italian, over the stations public address system, but nothing we could decipher. Suddenly, after one such public address a mob of people started to charge the ticket booths. I thought it best I do the same, so I left EZ with the bags and went to line up. Rumors in line were that our train to Venice was now leaving from another station and we would have to board another train here, go to the other station and connect with the Venice train there. My line mates were an older English women and a younger couple who looked Swedish, but, I didn't ask. We were all in it together. I got to the window and the fellow behind the glass was very helpful and gave me very clear instructions on where I needed to go. The young couple was not having much luck with their customer service associate so they ended up leaning on me for help. We had to hurry as we got this information at the last minute. I ran as fast as I could through the crowed station and yelled to EZ to grab the bags, we had to run to make our connection. The young couple, the english lady, EZ and I charged to the train and got in just as the doors were closing. Whew! We settled our sweaty frames into some seats and we were on our way to Venice, hopefully.

Which brings me to Luang Prabang, Laos, 4 months later. A French colonial jewel smack-dab in the middle of Northern Laos. Chalk full of Europeans, who appear to have never left since the 19th century when the town was incorporated into the 'Protectorate' of French Indochina, Luang Prabang is a sleepy romantic town on the banks of the Mekong River. We arrived on Valentines Day and after we settled into our guesthouse, we ventured out to connect again with the mystical Mekong. We sat where the low tides met with the sand, and watched what was definitely a 'top five' sunset vanish behind the palm tree line. Fishermen balancing on their long boats confidently cast their nets into the water, while youngsters played Thai volleyball on the shoreline. We even got to speak to a couple monks who wanted to practice their English.

As dusk settled we left the shore and made our way to the town centre for a lovely Valentines Day dinner. At the time, having been on the road for 10 months, days of the week, and Western occasions for feast, were somewhat bypassed with a shrug, but, nevertheless it was a lovely meal.

Afterwards, we took a walk down the main drag which closed itself to cars at night and featured a night market full of gaudy Asian tourist artifacts and a cast of equally colorful characters. We chatted with locals and playfully bartered for a pair of flip-flop sandals. It took a couple hours to navigate up and down the street. Eventually, we were ready to head back to the guesthouse, when out of nowhere, a young couple, approached us. "Hello", said the young man. "Do we know you from somewhere?". Having been in Asia for a few months already, I was used to the locals taking my photo and declaring me everyone from Matt Damon to Michael Schumacher (neither of which I even remotely resemble), but, this was the first time a Western couple approached us out-of-the-blue. The four of us simply stared at each other for what must have been two minutes.

"Have you been to Moscow?"


"Have you been to Singapore"

"Not yet."

We stared a little longer and continued to name cities of the world. They did look familiar. Suddenly, it dawned on me, as I'm sure it already has on you; this was the young couple that we had a brief 'run-in' with in Florence 4 months earlier. What are the odds that we run into them again, in Northern Laos no less? We exchanged brief recounts of where we had been since Florence and where we were going. It turned out we were going in opposite directions, so we left it at that. Both parties going their separate ways. Nevertheless, I was flummoxed at such a chance encounter.

I suppose all of us travelers are on essentially the same route (no matter what your desire to reach the unexplored corners of the earth) and the odds of running into the same people twice in one year could be quite low if you're both doing extended travel, but, it's moment like this, that make this world seem so small, and all of us incredibly connected to the fates of each other. The train station in Florence, Italy and the night market in Luang Prabang, Laos will forever be intertwined in my mind. I know that we shared with them two very insignificant moments (I don't even remember their names), just an encounter and a revelation of that previous encounter, but I'll always remember it as an example of the fact that we are all a part of the same silly story.

They were from Iceland.

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