Life Events – Cambodia/Laos 2002

This day 18 years ago we sat contemplating our next moves. We would later declare the day our very own International Negotiations Day. In 2002, there was only one paved street in the entire country of Cambodia. Dirt roads heading north into Laos, while available, were slow, cratered, muddy, and ambushed daily. The safest route was the Mekong River according to the US diplomat we met at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh. We got our Visa’s and chose to avoid the road ambushes and take chances with pirates on a 7 hour cargo boat ride up the Mekong. We had hopes of finding floating villages on the way up to eat but instead we had to satisfy our hunger via rain water off the edge of the boat from passing thunderstorms. Just before nightfall we finally arrived at a tiny village near the Laos border. After a day and a half of no food, I ordered my Go-To safe bet – Chicken Fried Rice – only this time, the feet, the beak, and some feathers were included. I again chose to go hungry another day. With only $100 in travelers checks we were able to luckily find some missionaries that could exchange with us for USD currency we could use for negotiating. We found a small motorized canoe to take us to the Cambodian checkpoint so we could exit into Laos. The elongated motor later broke in half. But after repairing it with tree bark, we finally floated up to our first checkpoint. Three thatched huts, four Cambodian military personnel in tank tops laying on hammocks and strapped with AK’s. We were led to the commanding officers post where we sat on top of and next to cases of RPG’s and ammo. While not friendly, we were able to get our exit stamps without many issues. It was the other side of the Mekong that was the most difficult. The Laos military post wanted steep bribes to allow us entry even though our Exit Visas were already approved. This post had however came under heavy attack recently. They knew we didn’t want to stay in the area very long. Jake meanwhile hid our USD in his sock. We even challenged the small army to a game of volleyball for entry. No budge. The last bus out of the small village was forced to leave without us with more aggressive, agitated action. Nightfall was not far and what was comical turned more concerning. Eventually we were able leave by hitchhiking on the back of a fisherman’s truck. I can remember sitting on those soggy, smelly fish nets thru the Laos jungle praying to make it out of insurgent controlled territory before nightfall ambushes. We did. Good news: We finally found food and enjoyed $1 a night thatched huts surrounded by waterfalls, dinner for 75 cents, beer for 15 cents, and snake wine for 10 cents. In other good news, The Pig is back open ALL DAY Thursday thru Sunday for take-out and bar service on the patio!

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