Tuesday 16 November 2010


I've done some pretty stupid things over the last few months. Things like asking for Loperamide instead of Loratadine in the pharmacy, and constipating myself for three days instead of mitigating an allergic reaction to some particularly fierce mosquito bites. Or turning up to board a flight to Vietnam and discovering you actually need a visa before they let you in.

'Plan' might be stretching it a bit, so let's say my 'intention', having arrived in Hanoi two weeks ago, was to spend a month travelling south to Saigon before crossing over into Cambodia. The visa I hurriedly mustered in Luang Prabang gave me 14 days instead of 30, scuppering any hopes of reaching Saigon.

One thing you get better at on the road is reading the signals; understanding your own instincts and how you react to things. Knowing where to eat, drink, sleep. When to keep driving, when to stop. How, when you make mistakes, wrong turns, to accept and incorporate them, and see where they lead. When you don't really know where you're going anyway, you've got nothing to lose.

I could have got a visa extension for Vietnam. I'd have had to stick around in Hanoi for an extra four days, right when I was loving it least. As the days tick by and the unmentionable looms ever larger, time is a more precious resource than ever. My own stupidity might have ripped up the plan and chucked it out the window, but you roll with your own punches. So I decided that there was more than a smattering of Providence in all this and booked a flight to Vientiane instead. Vientiane, the capital of Laos, the country that two weeks ago, I'd wished I didn't have to leave.

Flying back to Laos from Hanoi, we hovered in our little propeller plane above a sea of meringue towards the setting sun, orange and pink in the distance. It was almost dark when we stooped down to land. I got my visa on arrival from some cheerful immigration staff, and from the moment I stepped off the plane, right up until the seconds in which I type these words, the smile has barely left my face.

I just need to find a pharmacy, that's all.

This renewed a contemplation, which had often come to my thoughts in former time....how, when we were in a quandary (as we call it), a doubt or hesitation whether to go this way or that way, a secret hint shall direct us this way, when we intend to go another way - nay, when sense, our own inclination, and perhaps business, has called to go the other way, yet a strange impression upon the mind, from we know not what springs, and by we know not what power, shall overrule us to go this way; and it shall afterwards appear, that had we gone that way which we would have gone, and even to our imagination ought to have gone, we should have been ruined and lost. Upon these, and many like reflections, I afterwards made it a certain rule with me, that whenever I found those secret hints, or pressings of my mind, to doing or not doing anything that presented, or to going this way or that way, I never failed to obey the secret dictate; though I knew no other reason for it, than that such a pressure or such a hint hung upon my mind.
- Robinson Crusoe

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