The old man

The old man

Midday in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It’s a busy town along the Mekong River. On the street corner you’ll find tuc-tuc drivers, they spend their time shouting to the tourists: “Tuc-Tuc? Tuc-tuc?” On the edge of the river there is a market. Here you might buy some souvenirs or enjoy good street food for only 1-2 euro, sold by the older females. Yesterday I checked in at a reasonably priced hostel. This morning I applied for a visa for Thailand and this afternoon I cycle around to see what the city has to offer. And to buy a reasonable priced lunch from the street.

Mekong river view

Fish market at villages along the Mekong river in Laos

I make a stop at a stall along a side road and order some sticky rice with a green experimental looking dish. An elderly looking man is walking towards me. At first, I think he is a wanderer but that would be strange because he has an European appearance. He walk to me closely and ask: “Can you please help me with a cheap place to stay?” The man doesn’t look very healthy. He has a long gray beard, unwashed clothes and taped wounds on his legs. I make a little chat and decide to help him. He explains me that he is 82 years old and has been a sailor for his whole life. With the monthly pension he receives now, he travels around. “I slept for one week under a tree in the shadow at the river, I have infections but went to see a doctor. The doctor did not believe that I slept at the river. My bike got stolen there. I want to sleep in a bed for a few days to get better.” I can’t believe it. 82 years old? Sleeping outside in the tropics? What a survival power a person can have. We laugh together about his adventures, but I’m a little bit worried about his wounds.

Traveling isn’t without the ups and downs. Spending a long time traveling on a bike is not always easy going. When I cycled into Vientiane I was delighted. In the afternoon I made my own omelette on a homemade can stove made out of a soda can. I use medical alcohol as fuel. The lady in the restaurant was so impressed that she asked if I would like to marry her daughter.

It was funny, it made my day.

Making an omelet at one of the street restaurants in Laos - much fun the ladies even help me, would not happen in Europe though

When I arrived in Vientiane I was excited. A new city with some days rest. What was I going to do? At least plenty of time to relax. But the following day I noticed a void. My visa for Thailand was ready in three days and in the meantime I had to wait for the weekend. It was also my birthday. How I was going to celebrate that? Without my girlfriend, without any family. What was I going to do here all these days?

Without any good reason I doubted what I was doing. Sometimes it just happens. It takes me a lot of energy to be positive. Energy I don’t have at that moment. The downs in traveling, perhaps the downs in life.

Jørgen, the sailor, came from Denmark, from Copenhagen. But what was actually home for him? All his relatives were deceased. All his life he had been a sailor and traveled the world overseas. No wife, no children. No fixed place. I take him that afternoon to the cheapest guesthouse in the district. I decide later in the evening to visit him for a moment and take some first aid equipment along for his wounds. He is happy to see me again and start to tell stories to me. I see him cheering up and notice that he probably had no social contact for a long time. I just take the time to listen to him. At least, now I have some time. “You know the secret of why Rotterdam was bombed by the Germans in the Second World War?” Obviously I don’t know this. He smiles: “The Dutch people are smart, you know, they made a deal about the Rotterdam harbor with the Germans. They let the Germans believe that they could take the harbor without any resistant.” I lean forward, is this the Rotterdam secret? “When they came to take control over the harbor the Dutch started to fight them and that made the Germans decide to bomb the city. It was a clever play. They didn’t made it easy for the Germans.”

An hour later and with the Rotterdam secret in my pocket I walk down. I give 50000 kip (5 euros) to the guesthouse owner with the message to serve the old man with a good breakfast in the morning.

Sometimes I've the honour to meet real adventurous people - this is a sailor 82 years old

I think he deserves it. He just taught me to be passionate about life again.