THE POINT isn’t to dwell on the fact that I had ingested large amounts of hallucinogenic substances sold to me at the restaurant where I ate my pizza and drank my beer.
But just to get a solid grasp on the situation and the headiness of the coming machine guns it would do you well to know that I was tripping major balls.
I was lonely. Over a month and a half without my wife. On a shoestring budget in the middle of Laos at 10 PM.
There was the sound of crickets.
I was also a little bored.
I sauntered out into the night, pupils yawning.
Brushing my hands over roadside grasses, listening to the half drunk ramblings of a group of backpackers heading to their room with a fresh bottle of rum I found myself creeping from shadow to shadow until I reached the bridge that joins Vang Vien with neighboring villages.
I wandered across the bridge and down a muddy lane. Through the dark, sloshing in puddles, I rambled in delirium. A path widened to my right and led directly to a river illuminated by a nearly full moon. There was the rabble of a thousand frogs.
I waded in. When the water ran past my shins and began to wick up my trousers I stopped and gawked at the naked sky, humming softly.
My first thought when I saw the two men was that I recognized their guns. The first true assault rifle and perhaps the most prolific gun since the Smith & Wesson Model 10 Revolver, the AK-47 has been a ballistics icon since 1949.
Gun metal gray, sloping banana clip, polished wooden stock and grip, it’s been brandished by military forces, terrorist groups, and militias all over the world since WWII.
Now two were pointed at me. The moonlight reflected dully on the barrels.
Maybe they saw me wade into the river. Maybe they stumbled upon me while they were doing who-knows-what with their AK’s. Either way they whistled for me to turn around and with a gesture that is unmistakable – move and die.
From the far psychedelic reaches of the rings of Saturn I whiplashed back into my body.
Earth to Joshy, Come in Joshy; Fifteen feet away are two bogeys in matching yellow shirts pointing AK-47’s at your body. Do you copy?
Despite the pulsing wad of terror in my throat and my altered state I saw immediately that they were pointing their weapons at me, they are not aiming them at me.
When you are standing in a random Laotian stream humming “strawberry fields forever” this is a key distinction.
Without deliberation I lurched two steps forward, chuckled and pantomimed tipping a big bottle of whiskey down my throat.
I am a drunk tourist, harmless and stupid, you know the type.
Pushing past the men, who looked confused and a little scared themselves I saw the barrels of their weapons like the false eyes of a resting moth.
The men did not lower their guns as I brushed past them mumbling “ok, ok, ok.” They did not lower their guns and they did not call after me as I put one numb foot in front of another in the muddy jungle darkness, wondering just how far I had gleefully wandered from my hut.
They did not lower their guns as they tailed me for a quarter mile, 10 paces to my back toting 30 round clips crowded with slugs that could take half my head off.
I glanced back once to see them behind me.
I couldn’t sleep until dawn.
Have you had guns drawn on you while traveling?
What’s the sketchiest travel situation you’ve ever been in?