The Kindness of Strangers: The Amazing Race to Bali Edition.

The Kindness of Strangers: The Amazing Race to Bali Edition.

At some point this year I found myself negotiating the perils and delights of rural Laos with a wonderful American psychologist called Eric, and a completely useless lonely planet. Laos is probably my favourite country in the world, but can be slightly nerve wracking when your buried completely off the beaten track trying to get to a cave no one seems to have heard of, bouncing around on the floor of a tuk tuk with roof tiles, chickens and a handful of locals squabbling over the map in the guide book – who,after much shouting and controversy, reached the excellent conclusion that this tuk tuk was going no where near where we needed to be and was in fact going to the Vietnamese border (at which point I was frantically yelling at Eric who was having to hang on outside to the back of the tuk tuk “ERIC – we’re going to Vietnam, do you have your visa!?” Before bursting into hysterical laughter, much to the alarm of the locals and the chickens)

All turned out well in the end of course as it has a habit of doing in Laos, we didn’t go to the Vietnamese border, we did see the cave after spending a night with a Lao family home stay, and we did make it to the 4000 islands right at the bottom of the country where we had a simply delightful time lying in hammocks reading, snoozing, playing plenty of shit head and eating curry in electrical storms with my beautiful kiwi boys who had also arrived by this point.

All too soon it was time to move on as I had promised my dream team ladies I would be in Bali in time for Floras birthday. Now I had a slight dilemma with flight times as the trip involved getting a boat off the 4000 islands then a big long bus journey over the Thai border to Ubon where I would be dropped off at an unknown place, transfer to Bangkok, and have to get to the airport myself from there. Taking into account the journey times I had two options either go for one that by my calculations would mean I would get to the airport 2 hours before the flight took off, or book a later but safer flight that would mean I would lose a day and have to spend a night in Ubon. I had a very sincere and heartfelt discussion with the bus ticket man who assured me that the bus left at exactly the time I needed and would definitely definitely get me there in time for the early flight. I was dubious, but in a moment of wild faith I took a risk and booked it. Big mistake.

First of all the boat was late and then for some unknown reason the driver decided that it would be far too logical to drop us off at the pier, instead choosing a swamp directly next to a giant pipe about twice my height that seemed to be serving no purpose at all. Cue 20 tourists with 15kg backpacks wading through slop desperately trying to hang on to their flip flops. Thank goodness there was one of those rugged over enthusiastic Ozzie types on hand who delightedly organised a chain to pass the bags over and then physically pull all us slightly weaker specimens up over the pipe and on to the road. It was already clearly ridiculous, and my unease was mounting.

We were then left to wander absently down the road before a mini van turned up, took us about ten minutes down the street and dumped us at a bus station where I found out the bus I needed and had been assured left on time, definitely didn’t. It left an hour later. I tried not to panic. I soon gave up feverishly asking/playing charades with the locals to find out if there was any bus coming earlier as all I was getting was benign smiles that showed they clearly had no idea what i was raving about, and sat down to play subway surfers miserably, musing over how much it was going to cost me to get another flight. Then lo and behold, half an hour early the bus turned up and hope twinkled. The journey itself was excruciating, and it seemed to me that if we went any slower we would be outstripped by passing butterflies. My anxiousness was growing, I was getting twitchy legs and intermittently pulling tufts of hair out, and those that know me will know that when I’m anxious – I talk. Unfortunately I was sat next to a thoroughly miserable Swede who not only had no idea how much further away we were, or how long it took to get to the airport from our drop off point, but clearly had no interest in listening to me at all, a fact made abundantly clear by him putting headphones in as I was mid sentence.

It was at this point my angel made himself known. He did indeed have a gammy eye, abit of a wheeze and generally looked a little on the verging on death side but he coughed and said confidently in a thick American twang “sorry I couldn’t help over hearing, but it’s another hour to the border and then from there only another 3, you can get a tuk tuk from the drop off and be at the airport in 15 minutes, so I think you should make it”. For me the heavens opened and I beamed delightedly at him whilst infuriating the miserable Swede by barging him into my seat next to the window so I could talk to lovely American angel more. And he really was lovely. We got to the border and virtually ran to customs, I was frantically filling out my departure card next to him when I noticed that he was struggling to write out his, he was apologising and getting in abit of a flap so I seized his card and passport and filled out all his details in record time before grabbing him and running through customs whilst he thanked me profusely, as he apparently always has a nightmare with the cards due to his dyslexia. We ran back to the bus, in time to hear a Russian chap asking the driver if he had time for a smoke to which my American promptly responded “absolutely not sir, this lady has a flight to catch, on to the bus please”, and then carried on in half Thai half English to the driver that it was deathly important I catch this flight, we must leave immediately and he must not take any kind of speed limits into consideration.

The rest if the journey was intense, we were both peering out the windows and yelling gleefully whenever we spotted a sign saying how many kilometres it was to Bangkok, and then he had the brilliant idea of trying to ring the airline to say I may be late. Obviously I had no phone and nothing with a phone number on it, so he called his friend IN AMERICA to google the number for Air Asia for us, the friend texted back a handful of numbers, the first two were wrong, and on the last one we finally got through to the right airport, I was halfway through explaining my situation when his credit ran out, which meant he wasn’t going to be able to call his friend for a lift when we arrived. I felt awful but he assured me it was fine, and that he’d figure it out. what seemed like forever later he was like “this is it, were nearly here, now there’s going to be a mad scramble to get off the bus and get tuk tuks so I’m going to hold up the crowd and give you clear reign to get off the bus first….” I felt like I was receiving the battle plan from the commander and was getting fully over excited by the whole situation. Finally with 12 minutes till check in for my flight closed, we turned up in a random car park, I could see the tuk tuk drivers running either side of the bus. It stopped, the doors opened, my American valiantly used his body to block the rest of the people trying to get off (fuck you miserable Swede hahaha) and I literally ran for my life.

I seized the nearest tuk tuk driver and yelled “AIRPORT” in his face, he said “ok ok, 50 baht” at which point I looked him dead in the eyes and replied “you get me there in 10 minutes, I give you 200 baht” there was a split second of understanding between us and without another word he ploughed a path through the melee yelling “which bag yours!?” over his shoulder, I pointed and as he grabbed my rucksack like it was feather light we literally, literally sprinted for his tuk tuk. The last I saw of my beautiful American was him waving and shouting “GOOD LUCK NIKI” from the middle of an irate group of Russians.

Now then, 200 baht is only 4 pounds for us English bods, but it clearly meant a lot more for my tuk tuk driver who took his instructions extremely seriously. I was thinking maybe a little too seriously as my body was pinned to the back of the seat by G-force, and I was having to turn my head sideways to be able to breathe normally. I actually screamed and ducked at one point as we sailed in between a lorry and a moped with a child on the back of it, so close I could see the whites of their eyes, Michael Schumacher however didn’t bat an eyelid, a look of grim determination on his face as we weaved though the thick traffic, totally ignored red lights and at one point were driving on the pavement for a solid 7 seconds. We screeched to a halt outside the airport pretty much 8 minutes later, I looked completely deranged with hair everywhere and an air of hysteria floating around me, he was already off and loading my rucksack on to my back as I shoved the most well deserved 200 baht ever into his hands, and then I was shouting “thank you, your insane but amazing” as I stampeded through the airport doors. Obviously I was going too fast and struggle with walking at the best of times normally, so it wasn’t long before my legs were tangled and I was epically face planting along the floor (again, sigh) which in turn set off a toy monkey that I had attached to my bag and makes very loud monkey noises when pressed.

Trying to ignore the stars dancing merrily in front of my eyes, and the throbbing pain in my face which had turned a fetching shade of crimson I doggedly hobbled up to the Air Asia counter and threw my passport at the lady. There was a charming little baggage handler guy standing next to her who had seen my spectacular crash and burn clearly, as he was grinning sympathetically at me whilst clambering over the counter to help me take my bag off, setting the monkey off once again. It seemed to cause much joy amongst the workers, all except my check in lady who’d gone from expressionless to scowling menacingly between the monkey and me. I was just asking for the fifth time if I’d made it in time when she quite unexpectedly took the monkey off my bag and came out with:
“No monkey, must come off”
Me: “what?”
Lady: “yes must come off, take battery out”
Me: “are you serious the battery doesn’t come out, it’s sewn in, look” (demonstrates sewn in battery)
Lady: “monkey no come, communicate with American terrorist, you know, naa”
Me: silence, except the sound of my jaw hitting the desk.
Baggage Handler wades in and says (looking disbelievingly at lady) in Thai but I imagine something along the lines of “stop being so bloody ridiculous and pull your shit together”
Baggage handler takes monkey. Lady is outraged. Argument breaks out. Monkey is snatched back by Lady. Baggage Handler is getting high pitched, takes monkey. Monkey is thrusted into my hands. Lady beings to look alarming. I’ve had enough and bawl:
“GUYS! I really don’t care about the monkey. Have the monkey, look (puts monkey on desk) I just really need to get on this flight, please. Please.”
Baggage Handler has a “see, now you’ve gone and upset the customer” look on his face and defiantly takes the monkey and shoves it into my hands with and air of finality.
“Alright” snarls Lady, “but you declare at customs for talking with terrorist ok, ok”
And with an utterly baffled “ok, fine whatever thank you” from me… me, myself and the monkey made it through the gates with not even one second to spare and the champion Baggage Handler winking cheerfully at me.

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