Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Is that a retractable claw that's pierced your tail bone and protruding from your pelvis or are you just happy to see me?

"Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you, but not in the one ahead."

-Bill McGlashen

Is that a retractable claw that's pierced your tail bone and protruding from your pelvis or are you just happy to see me?

In a jungle on an island in a foreign country a hemisphere from home you don’t see a sole human soul for nine hours. In same places the rainforest’s overgrowth constricts the trail’s width to a mere three inches. In some places there is no trail, only jagged limestone you must find a way up. You realize that rainforests, they’re the metropolises of the natural world, the vegetation as dense as the insect and animal life. Locusts hum, birds cry out, shadows shake the foliage. You spot ants as large as dragonflies, dragonflies as large as lizards, and lizards as large as a Cat Ba langur, a golden haired monkey with a punk rock hairdo.

You don’t see the langur though. It’s one of the world’s rarest primates, the most endangered of Asia, supposedly no more than sixty-five strong, all on this island. Observations during your exploits lead to a Wikipedia update. The Catba Langur is now extinct.

The locusts’ orchestra halts hastily, the birds swallow their calls. The silence, it lasts a split-second as palms sway in the distance. Branches break, fauna bends and upends itself to make way for the large object hurtling towards you.

Then it hits you. A semi-truck-to-the-forehead realization. There’s a reason this island looks a lot like Isla Sorna, the island from Jurassic Park. A damn good reason. Then you remember that not only do velociraptors hunt in packs, that not only do they stand homo-erectus upright with physical abilities superior to panthers, they have eight-inch scythe-shaped retractable claws that disembowel and ask questions later. Your intestines will be drooping from your fingertips before noticing the quill knobs on the reptile’s head, telltale of its aviation evolution. You’ll be so busy with the last throes of death you won’t even register the feathers lining its spine.

You’re about to meet your maker. Say ‘hi’ for me. Ask him why, when molding myself, such a copious amount of clay was plastered around the nostrils but so little of the pink spongy stuff was placed between the ears. Am I the product of an apprentice or was the kiln in arrears with repo-men on the way so was formed in haste?

Vietnam’s Cat Ba Island, in the majestic Halong Bay, is cinematic. You go from Jurassic Park to Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s just you, a kayak, and the open sea. Strike that. By no means is it ‘open.’ Around 3,000 limestone mountain-islands erupt from the emerald waters of the Gulf of the Tonkin. Schools of small fish fly out from the water fifty at a time parallel with your vessel, you’re pointing and exclaiming even though alone. You sail through grottos and caves carved by wind and wave, your eyes sending images to the brain so stupefying chin stubble grates against the belly-button. As the afternoon settles in so does the mist. Now paddling through clouds, sheer gray-green cliffs cut through the heavens.

The next day you're in Star Wars: Episode 6 zipping through the Ewok forest on speeder. Either Chewbacca's moaning in the background or your stomach’s telling you that, in your excitement, you forgot breakfast again.

Damn, Chewy, we’ll double up on lunch, okay?

Confucius say, ‘Harder throttle turn harder dragonflies smack face.’

Commandeering a motorbike, leaning into the turns around the island's coast line, it’s California’s Pacific Coast Highway One turned psychedelically tropic, bereft of development aside from a few small farms and shanty houses. Oh, and you have to dodge herds of goats. Either they don’t understand the consequences of collision or have lived karmically sound goat lives and are eager for rebirth as higher beings.

Perhaps, post impact, the goat and you, you’ll switch places, only for the event to play out again in the next cycle. As it will be for eternity.

Maybe you’ll get lucky, you’ll only maim a baby and get dinner out of the ordeal. Bones or headlight shards, it all goes down—and out—the same.

Maybe the island is small and you have the rest of the week—nay—the rest of your life to see it all. You’ll wait five minutes or five hours for the herd to pass. “Wisdom is the power to put our time and our knowledge to the proper use” and this seems as proper a use as any. Then again, no one’s ever accused you of being wise.

In Laos, the ‘Land of a Million Elephants,’ your wisdom declines rapidly. The pace so slow, so humidly tranquil, that your days are filled with nothing more than lingering, dawdling and other like verbs indicating complete and utter inaction. Even in Vientiane, the country’s capital, whispering is the norm of the open markets as orange-hued monks stroll for morning offerings.

A passage from the Lonely Planet Guidebook well sums up the country. “Peter, a Dutchman, [had] been seriously ill in Berlin. A week after his arrival in Laos he found that his constitution became stronger; a month later he dispensed with his medication. ‘There’s something about this place,’ he said, ‘it just slows my heartbeat.’”

Getting to Laos sped mine up considerably. If you want adrenaline hop on the back of a motorcycle taxi and explain to the driver in broken Vietnamese that you’re late for the bus to Laos, that you know traffic at five in the afternoon in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, is at a standstill, but if he can get you across the city in under half an hour he’ll be the beneficiary of an extra 50,000 dong ($2.50).

Then hold on.

I guarantee you those Six Flags thrill rides will be forever inadequate moving forward. Assuming, of course, that you survive. Red lights, one-way streets and construction road-blocks aren’t barriers, but hurdles. Sometimes jumping is in order, other times ducking. A horn makes little sense when it’s always pressed down. How dare you scream on the Batman Ride, or the Superman, or the Incredible Hulk. How dare you feel superhuman afterwards. There’s a rail and seatbelts for Buddha’s sake, you’re more likely to maim yourself watching The Days of Our Lives.

I guarantee you how your knuckles will look is skeletal, even though there’s nothing to clutch on to. The crotch rocket, it wasn’t made for two passengers.

I guarantee you that you’ll need to change your underwear after. If you’re not wearing underwear, well then, I wish you, sir, a very pleasant twenty-two hour bus ride to Vientiane, Laos.

Keep drifting.

Cat Ba Island's interior.

Looking out towards Monkey Island, Halong Bay.

A cavern that begs for exploration.

Cat Ba Island via Star Wars speeder.

"Yes I am a pirate, a few hundred years too late..." -Jimmy Buffet

Is your bully button feeling chin stubble yet?

A floating pirate village in Halong Bay.

The mist starting to settle in for the afternoon

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