Dear Daniel, my brother, my apologies for the way this blog exposes certain graphic elements of our childhood. It’s necessary, and you’ll appreciate it.
We’re moving down another hill in the “King of Buses,” (no really, that’s the neon painted name on the front windshield . . . I’m pretty sure the bus driver can see around the lettering), this is the third or so in a series of ridge climbs and descents, and it seems there’s at least a dozen more ups and downs before we arrive. One of the young twin boys seated next to us is standing on his mother’s knees, holding on to the seat in front of him and somehow managing to pee directly into a blue plastic bag. Impressive.
Impressive especially since I can’t figure out how to simply stabilize my body around all the twisting turns. I’m using climbing moves that I utilized when climbing with my brother three days before departing on this trip, but they’re not quite working. I’ve got my knees jammed against the seat in front of me and I’m applying opposing back pressure to my seat (like a rock chimney), but I seem to continually rock back and forth.
This may not seem all that important, but it’s was absolutely crucial to my survival. You see, when we were young, my brother and I were known as the baf brothers (in Matt and Daniel Gray language, that means barf brothers . . . neither of us could pronounce our “r”s with any ease). Mountain roads? We would be sick after the first mile. Our Uncle Bob’s boat? Couldn’t even get on the dock without tossing breakfast. Flat freeways in Southern California? Okay, those might take a while, but at the end of 100 miles to our grandmother’s house, we were bound to be hunched over a take-out cup.
When we boarded the bus at 7:50 am, bound for Luang Pabrang, just 387 kilometers away, you can imagine my dismay when I realized my dramamine was stowed in the baggage area underneath us. No big deal, I thought, we’ll be there by lunchtime.
Lesson #1: never use the word “just” when estimating the time it takes to travel distances on 30 km/hour, up and down, windy, teetering ridge-top roads that travel through remote mountain villages and a rather rainy countryside, (30 km/hour on this road would be a brake-neck speed that would land you at the bottom of the valley floor after a thousand foot freefall). Lesson # 2: never under estimate how much one such bus ride (in a bus that I’m pretty sure was missing its front left shock and its right rear break) can slosh your body around a tiny space.
I would love to retell the many lessons I learned on this ride (ten hours gives you plenty of time to think) or describe the many memorable details (roadside vegetable stands, children shooting toy guns at the bus, people bathing five feet from the road, pigs and dogs barely escaping run-ins with our front axel, water buffalo chewing lemongrass, and the remote beauty of a jungle wonderland), but none of that will help you if you find yourself in a similar situation.
At about hour number 6, I was about to give up and succumb to reliving the baf brother days. I threw my left hand behind the arm rest of my seat, I think in frustration, as the bus made a sharp left turn. Bingo. My body didn’t swing to the right and when the bus turned back to the right, the arm rest blockaded any further movement in the opposite direction. My strategically placed palm created the additional opposing pressure that I needed.
Lesson # 3: stabilize yourself using the correct body positioning and avoid motion sickness for a ten hour bus drive through some of the most beautiful country on earth. Oh, and don’t forget your dramamine.