On Vientiane; or A Brief Brush with the Midnight Oil.

Having survived the island jungle our entourage headed north, bound for Laos. Returning to Vientiane was largely uneventful. The Laotian capital is a sleepy riverside town in comparison to the bustle of touristed Thailand and not much had changed since I was there last. We feasted on the excellent Indian cuisine, sipping Beer Laos in the afternoon sun, and wandered along the river’s edge trying in vain to get a game of Frisbee going, with the wind strongly in opposition.

At the insistence of Tijo, Redbeard and I were cajoled into heading out for a few beers. It was a quiet evening and the curfews in Laos make for some fairly tepid nightlife. Vientiane is not a party town but none the less we persisted, Tijo obviously gravitating towards the one ex-pat girl in the quiet bar. A few brews later and we were reluctantly accompanying an increasingly drunk Tijo to go get a sandwich on the other side of town, the new girl fallaciously assuring us that it was just around the corner. And then around another corner. And another.

The streets are deserted so it is with some surprise that we round one final corner and are finally presented with the promised vision. Tijo munches on the first of what will be many late night baguettes, and we hop in a tuk-tuk to head home. The tuk-tuk driver, however, has another suggestion.

“hello my friends, you like opium?”

Never against trying something new Redbeard and I agree that yes, we think we do like opium, and perhaps we could come to some sort of mutually beneficial agreement with the driver? 100 000 kip later and we are the proud owners of a small lump of dark tar wrapped in plastic. It is black but not particularly odorous and its sticky nature frustrates our attempts to roll it into a cigarette. We have no real idea how to smoke it; amateurs forced to improvise.

We cut the bottom off a water bottle, and heat small balls of the opium in the tin case from a used citronella candle. Hunched over the contraption I hold the tin with my nail clippers, and apply a steady flame to its base. The first wasps of smoke begin to rise and Redbeard inhales deeply, the heady smell of citronella filling the room. We take turns and are rewarded with a dissociated sense of calm, relaxation washing through our limbs.

A few rounds later and Tijo heads to bed. It isn’t particularly strong, and Redbeard and I finish what remains of the lump between us. Still, the sense of floating is almost zen in its pervasiveness and I fall into a deep contented sleep.

Just to balance everything out I take a full day off the following day. Yes, that’s right, one full day of detox. Water under the metaphorical bridge, one might say.

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