If I had a super power, teleportation would be it. (Or selective mind-reading, but that is beside the point.) Being able to teleport would save time and money. It would prevent emotional instability and loads of mental breakdowns, road rage and traffic accidents. Not to mention – I could go anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye. Talk about instant gratification.
And a few days ago, I would have given anything in the world to teleport to Nong Khiaw, Laos. But, before I get to this point in the story – I want to talk about a specialty of mine called hangovers.
Let me put it this way. If there was an Olympics for hangovers, I would win the gold every weekend. Mostly in the vomiting event. Ever since I started drinking, I’ve always been a next-day puker. And not just one and done, it’s an all-day, can’t keep water down, barely can eat, “you should know better” sort of day. I’m so used to it that I’ve learned there are different levels for me. If I get sick within 2 hours of waking up, I stand no chance – cancel my plans, put on a movie and pray there’s no headache. If I make it 3 hours and 15 minutes and can eat something, I’m in the clear.
The sad part is that the amount doesn’t matter. Two drinks or ten, I’ve suffered through it all. I’m 99 percent sure that all the damage from puking is the reason my acid reflux is so severe at 26. In fact, I could write a rather hilarious book on all the embarrassing ways I’ve puked. However, this day nearly tops my list.
Waking up in Luang Prabang, I knew right away it would be a hellish day. (Boy was I underestimating.) For starters, I couldn’t even consume one-tenth of the pineapple shake that had become my morning routine. It was only 10:30 a.m., and at 11, I was to board a bus to take a 4-hour ride to the north. (And by bus I mean a giant tuk-tuk, which is basically a truck bed with some benches and roof and some guard rails on the side. It was the furthest thing from a bus.)
Feeling miserable, I knew the time had come. I walked to the farthest corner of the bus lot, tucked my head between my knees and proceeded to expel the pineapple juice onto the tin fence. While holding my hair back, a little Laos boy came a sat next to me, keeping me company while I was at the mercy of the night before. He pretended to do the same, spitting on the ground next to his tiny feet as I did the same. When I looked at him, he smiled. He looked at my arm – at the colorful saints decorating the pink bracelet surrounding my wrist. I took it off, handed it to him and we picked out our favorite ones in silence – not able to communicate in any way but through our eyes and smiles. He held out his hand, and I gave him a gentle high five before returning to the bus from hell.
With 10 people on the bench seats, and 5 in the front, I apologized in advance for what was going to happen. I think they thought I was joking.
I wish I had been.
Within 20 minutes, half of my body was leaning out the open side, as I tried to avoid hitting children on bikes, construction workers and the people on the bench seats behind me. It was after the fourth time, a smelly tuna sandwich next to me and a harsh rain that forced us to seal the open sides shut with plastic, that I tried to enact my superpower.
“But Annie,” said my travel buds, laughing. “If you could teleport, you’d miss out on all this great character building.”
Character building? Ha. Maybe they were still drunk. (If only I could’ve been so lucky.) I buried my head in my arms, on top of the backpacks stacked between the benches and tried to will away the sickness. The nausea. Tried to forget that at any second, I could spew on everyone around me, and they would want me to teleport too. With my eyes closed, I focused on what they said.
Character building, after all, was the point of traveling. The foreign cultures you walk through, the diverse opinions and clashing personalities. The broken flip-flops on a long walk home, a leaky shampoo bottle in the suitcase and a 4-hour wait in a crowded, smelly room to extend your visa. All those small and insignificant moments are just another opportunity to learn. To practice patience and compassion, to calm an angry mind or stand up for your convictions. In these moments, traveling teaches us what matters most in life and what we can let go of holding onto.
The 22-hour bus rides, 4-hour boat trips, 15-hour layovers and 10-minute walks aren’t just ways to get from point A to B. They give me time to appreciate the journey, where I just came from and allow me to get excited for where I was going. To observe life as it is and better understand the fullness of being alive.
As the bus came to a stop, and the French man next to me pulled out some sort of BBQ meat on a stick, I hopped over the wall of packs, scooted out the back of the truck and ran to the most secluded area in front of the crowded Laos market we stopped at, where I once again destroyed my esophagus.
As I cleaned my face and hands with baby wipes, I thought to myself, “Fuck character building. I want to teleport.”