LEAVE THE CONTRABAND
It is uber-helpful to remember the exact positioning of each item in your luggage, to save vital time in drenching moments. It is an even more important, complimentary wont, to know the exact contents of the bag. This is crucial, for fast packing/unpacking, for example, not to leave things accidentally in hostels. If the habit of keeping track of possessions is not developed, it is also quite easy to bring prohibited items in the carry-on into the airport.
For me, it was a hard lesson learned, or rather not learned, first many times. Giving away beloved knives or home-brews to airport security has been a painful experience several times. I once had to buy a plane ticket anew just to bring a gift bottle of Mezcal from Oaxaca – painful but irremissible act. There was also once a tragedy avoided due to pure luck. I’ve smuggled contraband across borders several times (there’s a story lurking about wearing Armani suit across Polish-Belorussian border in exchange for a long-haul ride and a friendship), but it’s the inadvertent occasion that was the scariest.
Mekong River demarcates the border between Laos and Thailand for hundreds of kilometers. Upon returning from a weeklong trip in the pristine (read ‘rough’) jungles of Laos, we reached the border crossing at Laotian village-town of Huay Xai. A single, visibly beat up by life, dude, sitting in a chair on the entrance to the boat jetty, functions as Laotian border patrol and robotically stamps people out of the country. Elongated rowboats, tied at the end of that pier, are the only (legal) means of passage between the two countries at that location. After many sleepless hours onboard a noisy long-boat up the mighty Mekong on the way to Huay Xai, we were too eager to cross to the other side and finally arrive to Chiang Rai, Thailand later that day. So, we carelessly rushed towards the canoe-like dinghy without paying close attention to its rickety conditions, particularly overlooking the multitude of rusty nails poking out of its gunwale. As we wobbled into the small four-five-person vessel, the rower-owner grabbed our bags and tossed them towards the bow. Little did we know that those protruding nails had immediately pierced both of our bags in several spots, perfectly puncturing a carelessly left over beer can and a sack of grass inside my luggage.
A smooth breeze and overwhelming tiredness made the lounging cross-border trip a real pleasure. Silently, we were both soaking in the last of Mekong’s magical serenity. The Thai shore at that junction is barely settled, with a single unpaved road leading from the waterline into the Thai countryside. We teetered ashore onto the natural beach of the Thai territory and donned our bags on. A trail of beer was trickling out of my bag behind me as we walked inland on the gravel path. We strolled about seventy yards, all the way to a shabby bus station, before realizing that our passports were never stamped in.
“Where the hell is the border post!!??,” exclaimed my companion, full of frustration, a few feet in front of me. We turned around to examine the passed stretch of road for any official building that we might have missed.
“Dude, what is that stuff and liquid coming out of your bag?” – this second exclamation was a lot more emphatic as her eyes widened. Apparently, small chunks of hemp were dribbling out of the recently made hole, along with the oozing beer.
“Shit!!!” was my reaction upon seeing the… life in a Thai prison. We both started looking around for the border patrols with a hint of panic. The sack of wildly grown cannabis buds, which we collected on the side of some field several days prior, was stuffed and forgotten in the same outer pocket of my bag as the neglected beer can from the night before. Cold sweat came right out of my pores – we were standing right on the border, wherever the officials might be – someone might be watching this grave felony in action. Trying to hide the urgency, I ran to the nearby ditch to dispose of the dope. As I was dumping it all out, I looked up to see a ramshackle booth no more than five yards to the right of me along the irrigation gutter.
Inside that unpainted shack, a guard in Customs uniform was sound asleep in an armchair with feet up on the windowsill. A “Passport Check” placard was hanging above the same window. My terrified partner in crime approached me and sighed with relief to realize that the evidence has been rid of without being busted. We then woke up the grouchy policeman, had our documents stamped, and hurriedly found the bus the hell out of there. Lesson learned: consume all the goodies, don’t bring them.
The 4th guest POst in the Vital (cliché) steps to adventurous travels series from someone who has a lot to say about spontaneity, facing fears, and traveling with tips on how to embark on an adventure of your own.
The other POsts in this series can be found by following these links:
the tiny village/town behind Igor is Jelondi, Pamir, Tajikistan
Igor Postrekhin is a (seemingly fearless) world-traveler and professional adventurer. He is also my brother. Having a travel journal including more countries and cities than most will ever even contemplate visiting in their life-time, Igor has a unique perspective on wild experiences, facing fears, cultures & people, and most importantly living life without the constraints of society’s rulebook. A direct quote from his About Me section on his Couchsurfing profile (which has an overwhelming 142 positive reference list) says “Passion is the fuel that keeps me going. Extremes and adventures exhilarate me, obscure the norms.” He is currently living in Xinjiang, China.