There is always one isn’t there. That one person who just completely loses it, over some set of circumstances that makes their usual sensibilities snap, and drops a wrecking ball on the poor camel’s back.
I am never that person. I find conflict and confrontation far too squirmy to make a scene of any kind. I am usually the person looking on thinking …. “What is the point?” or “They’ll never get anywhere that way” or “Getting aggravated isn’t going to resolve this scenario any quicker and will only make everyone feel worse”.
On this day however, in the back of no place, somewhere in Cambodia (I think), I was that lady. Crazy bus lady. When someone decided to take my bus away.
We had spent a very enjoyable few days in 4,000 Thousand Islands in southern Laos, kayaking on swollen rivers, and marvelling at the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins* gliding past us (after a surreptitious foray to the far banks of Cambodia, to eat our rice-box lunch).
*having just looked up the dolphins (to check how to spell their name correctly), I have discovered that in 2016 the tiny population in the Mekong Basin has been declared ‘functionally extinct’ – meaning there are too few left to survive. This truly breaks my heart, and makes me feel doubly blessed to have seen these beautiful creatures.
It was time now to make a more official entry into Cambodia. And so myself, and a newly acquired travel companion (who I had gone kayaking with), booked our boat / bus journey, and excitedly started to plan our trip into Cambodia, and the awesome prospect of visiting the iconic temples of Angkor Wat.
Our boat transfer to catch our bus went very smoothly and, though subject to ‘Laos Time’ (a special phenomenon where the numbers on any timepiece cease to have all meaning), we met our bus and all was well.
Once boarded, we were told that the bus would first be heading to Siem Reap (our destination) and then on to Phnom Penh. We eventually made it to the Laos border (where we had been warned that you could sometimes be scammed by having to pay extra to get your visas / passports processed). However, on this day, we had none of these problems, and were happily on our way much sooner than we had expected.
Sometime into the journey (as I say – we were still on Laos Time – we had long since learned that checking watches was an entirely pointless activity), we pulled into a roadside petrol station / eatery. Our bus driver got off and opened up the baggage hold at the side of the bus. He called over all passengers heading for Siem Reap and said he would be unloading us here. Another bus would be coming to pick us up to take us to our final destination (as he was now going straight through to Phnom Penh). He said we could have a wash and get something to eat inside, and the bus for our onward journey would arrive within the hour (*experience of such specific time commitments producing abundant, dubious eye-rolling on all sides*).
Though this seemed a little odd to us (as we had paid to be taken directly to Siem Reap on this bus), we figured they had their reasons, and we were very hungry in any case. We headed inside and spent some time deciphering the mystery meals in the food warmers, before placing our order and finding a table.
Taking in our surroundings …. well, actually …. there wasn’t really anything much to take in. Apart from the dusty, dimly lit petrol stop we found ourselves in, there was nothing, at all, anywhere. So we ate, we had a wash to slough off the travel grime and drowsiness, and we waited. And we waited. And we waited.
Starting to get a bit fidgety, we all agreed that even for Laos Time, the arrival of our bus was taking an inordinately lengthy period. Perhaps Cambodia existed in some as yet undiscovered time-warped dimension? Eventually we decided it might be an idea to ask someone if they knew when our bus might arrive.
We asked the lady at the counter. Blank looks, shrugs, some confusing suggestion that we needed to get our own transport to catch a bus somewhere else. Well, obviously, that couldn’t be right. Our bus driver had clearly told us we needed to wait here, and wait we would.
So we waited.
Buses came and went, but all either from different companies or going in the opposite direction. We decided to ask one of the many tables of drivers who were also filling their stomachs at this increasingly depressing little roadside rest-stop. Surely they would know how it all works?
Blank looks, shrugs, no buses to Siem Reap from here. Have to get taxi to some other place, catch bus there.
No, no, no. There is obviously some confusion. We must not be making ourselves understood.
After what seemed like several hours of waiting (and in reality probably was), a bus pulled in from the company we had booked with. Phew! Finally. We approached said bus. Smiling at the driver we sought confirmation that he was here to take us to Siem Reap. Oh no he said. He was not going to Siem Reap, he was going in the opposite direction. To get to Siem Reap we had to get our own taxi to a nearby town and buy a ticket for the bus to Siem Reap from there. I tried, in my most patient and friendly tones to explain that we had already bought our ticket to Siem Reap, with his company. More shrugs and then he walked away.
And this is when it happened. I completely lost my shit.
I was tired, I was frustrated, it was starting to get dark for heavens sake! And the penny was just finally dropping that, despite my unwavering faith in humanity and that all things work out in the end, we had been conned. I cannot tell you what I said to this man, but I know it wasn’t pretty. And I have vague recollections (through the red fog that had descended) of being dragged back (like some crazed prize fighter) by my travel companion, who looked just as shocked as the drivers who were trying to eat their mysterious bowls of steaming broth.
Now, I have always loved words. And ‘Apoplectic’ has always been a particular favourite of mine (also ‘Anomaly’ – though I’m not aware of having a strong predilection for words beginning with “A’?). On this day, my face was the picture featured next to the definition of apoplectic in the dictionary. This is the only time I can ever remember being so livid in all my days. At a loss for what else to do, I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures of this driver, trying to catch his driver’s badge (which he quickly hid from me), took pictures of his bus, his registration plates, made wild and ineffectual threats about speaking to his employers, complaining in the strongest possible terms, to anyone who would listen. This was unacceptable!
And then my steam ran out.
My travel companion (God bless her) arranged for one of the stationed Tuk Tuks to take us to the town where the bus was supposedly hiding. I acquiesced. There was nothing else for it.
The Tuk Tuk driver drove like an absolute maniac. It was now pouring with rain. It was dark. His radio was so loud, with the most nerve-jangling music, I felt sure my ears must be bleeding. We couldn’t even hear ourselves speak. The situation had become so absurd and so tense that we began to laugh. And then we laughed a lot. Until that hurt as well.
We paid the Tuk Tuk driver whatever his near-death rally had cost us. Without any further ado we paid the bus driver at the other end to take us to Siem Reap (*trying not to notice how much like our original driver this guy looked – no, of course that couldn’t be the case – moving on, everything’s fine, La la la la*).
We arrived in Siem Reap at God knows what o’clock. And I had learned a valuable lesson. It really isn’t worth it. I am delighted to say that this was the only time on all of my travels to far flung lands that I have ever been scammed. And we got to our destination all in one piece and with a tale to tell (as well as a new found fiery lioness within, that I’d never realised was there until I lost my head completely).
I now have a new travel philosophy that emerged from this testing episode. As long as all my limbs are still attached to my body in the right order, and as long as I still have my passport (and even that isn’t a deal-breaker), then all is fine with the world and I must try to see the funny side and suck it up. Travelling is hard work sometimes. And yes, of course you should always be canny about the arrangements you are making, and try and make sure nobody is playing you for a fool. But in honesty, as long as you reach your destination safe and well (however eventually that may be, and however much lighter of pocket you are at that point), in the end (and to your mum) that is all that really matters.
Copyright 2017 · Words & Images · Forty and Everything After