Do we or do we not head back home?

Do we or do we not head back home?

Night was falling by the time we started to leave the waterfalls, pushing our bike through what was left of the roads, which had turned to a sloppy, muddy mess in the afternoon rain. And then our bike died – completely! – in the dark, and 40 km. from Pakse. We managed to get it to a house where three men worked on it for two hours. We had only gone one minute when it broke down again, and so we were back at the same house, for more work. Finally they got it going, and we went very slowly all the way back to town, praying that it would deliver us safely. All I kept thinking was that if the bike didn’t make it back to Pakse that night, we’d have to sleep by the road somewhere, and all our chances to make it home by Sunday would be dashed. We thought about hitching a ride, but soon realized that that hope was unrealistic, as there was absolutely no traffic on the road in the pitch black and the falling rain.

I was thankful when, a few hours later, we arrived safely in Pakse. We thought about our options a bit more that night, and then slept soundly after a long day. We set straight to work on Thursday morning, checking out ticket costs and availability on the Internet and then calling a dozen travel agencies whose numbers I had taken in Bangkok. We finally found tickets available for the following night, and ran back to the hotel to do a hurried pack job and check out of our hotel. We biked like mad across town to the station where we had to find a pick-up taxi to the Thai border. The last taxi left at 3:00 PM; we arrived at 2:50, sweating and panting. If we had missed it, we figured that we would just continue biking north towards Vientiane; after all, the whole point was to be there in time for the party. If we couldn’t make the party, we’d just have continued on our way.

But as it was, we were sitting there in the taxi with a dozen other Laotians, headed for the Thai border, and with our bicycles strapped to the top of the truck. We reached immigration just ½ hour before they closed for the day, and we hurried through. The next hurdle was to see if we could get a night bus back to Bangkok. This would determine whether or not we would make it in time for our tentative flight on Friday night. Luck was shining upon us – there was one bus left that would accommodate our bicycles, and that was leaving in 20 minutes’ time. We loaded everything on, and then we were settled in for the 11-hour trip back to Bangkok.

We arrived in the city at 5:00 AM, dead-tired, and started the two-hour bike ride across the city in an atrocious downpour, pedaling through puddles over half a foot deep. We arrived at our guesthouse, and Stephane set out across town to see if he could find tickets at a more reasonable price. We would still only fly if we could find tickets that weren’t too outrageously priced. I packed a bit, and then waited for him to return. Hour after hour passed, and still no Stephane. 5:00 PM rolled around, and he still hadn’t showed. I started to think that he couldn’t find any plane tickets within our price range, after all. Well, we could always take the bus back to Laos. And then, just as I figured all was lost, he came rushing in, two tickets in hand, and we did the fastest pack job of our life. We had only two hours to organize our entire life and all our belongings and to pack for the airport and store the rest of our stuff at the guesthouse. But what to do with the bikes? We found a solution: the owner of our guesthouse proposed that we lock them up in the kitchen until we returned!

We took her up on it, locked them up, and ran out the door, hailing a cab and eating our grilled chicken and sticky rice in the taxi on the way to the airport. Aaaghhh!! Friday night traffic slowed us down, and we were stressing a bit about the check-in, but we made it just in time. Now we had to figure out how to get from JFK airport in NYC back down to PA, all the while trying to keep the surprise from the family. We’d be arriving at JFK on Saturday morning, and the party wasn’t until Sunday night. I called Kevin from the airport, but his phone kept ringing and ringing. He wasn’t picking it up, no matter how many times I called, and I just figured that he was teaching a class right then. I could hear the intercom in the background: “Last boarding call for the Thai Airways flight to NYC!” One more time…”Come on, Kevin, pick up!” I willed him…and then he did! I explained in half a second that we’d be arriving in NYC the following morning at 6 AM, and could he come to pick us up. He answered just as quickly, and then we were off, racing through customs before settling into a long flight over three continents and twelve time zones.