On the side of the road in Huay Xai with our backpacks we’re scouting for lodging options. Cute little town, pretty small place. Handful of restaurants, bars and guest houses line the street. We spot a place called Riverview Guesthouse and figure it’s meant to be since Drisdelle is from Riverview, New Brunswick.
We walk in and our Parisian friends are there. Seems they were able to make their appointment with the travel agent for booking their Gibbon Experience. I peruse the signs. It looks like a multi-day trek through the jungle. You trek in, meet a bunch of gibbons and stay at some indigenous village off in the jungle. Could be cool but we don’t have the time.
We grab a seat on a comfy sofa and wait to be helped. A lady comes over and it turns out this is only a travel agency, it has nothing to do with the Riverview guest house. Did we want to book a Gibbon Experience tour? Nah we’re good, thanks.
We find the Riverside check-in at the back of a restaurant. Drisdelle and I nab a ‘dorm’ room while MacKay picks up a private all to himself. We get taken out the back of the restaurant, through a little garden area and up a flight of stairs. In the back is a three story building that is basically like a motel. There’s a creepy collection of ripped out plane seats arranged in a seating area on the second floor. We’re on the third. We get shown to our room and it ends up just being a large room with a bathroom and 4 beds in it. 2 are already taken so Drisdelle and I get the others.
It’s coming on sunset soon so we take to the rooftop to scout it out. Nice large open air area. There is a bar, a foosball table, a handful of people in the bar seating area and another group in a section at the back looking over the river. Nice little rooftop, we’ll have to spend some time here.
I’m instantly drawn to a table near the bar with a trumpet and a guitar on it. There are 4 people around, all seemingly from different places. “Who’s playing the trumpet?”, a reddish haired girl pipes up, “Oh, it’s mine. I’m learning to play. Do you play?”, “I used to play in high school, probably only know the C Major scale now.”
The trumpet girl is from Northern Australia. She is a bubbly outgoing type, super talkative and full of energy. Her name is Leia. Seems she’s with the guitar player who has a thick Spanish accent. His name is Jakim and he’s from Uruguay. They pick up the instruments and start to play. Sounds pretty good, it’s a jazzy rendition of Summertime by Sublime.
We get some beers and meet the other two sitting near the table, Mark from Germany and <drawing a blank> from Holland. I ask Mark where in Germany he’s from but don’t really recognize the name. “It’s in the West, almost by Luxembourg”, “Wait, by Luxembourg? Is it wine country?”, “Yes, yes!”, “And a river winds through? Very steep hills with all the grape vines going up them?”, “Yes, that’s it!”, “Ha! We drove through Luxembourg and into that area a few years ago…”
Our Parisian friends from the speedboats show up and I sit with them for a bit. Only one of them seems to drink (the cool one, duh). We basically bitch about the crazy speedboats, our sunburns, cramped legs and bruised backs. “It’s only miserable at the time. After that it’s a great story.”
I pick up the trumpet and play the C Major scale. Still got it. I improvise a little diddly-doo and suddenly all of the lights come on around the rooftop bar. “My friend, your playing turned the lights on!” Jakim and Leia admit that they’ve been on the rooftop for most of the day and were alleviated of their sobriety quite some time ago. We sit back with them and get round after round of beers.
Jakim asks if I play guitar and I say that I do. He’s got a good little travel guitar with a cut away so you can get up the neck and an internal pick-up if you ever wanted to amp it. He hands it over and I start fiddling in some open A progression. “Oh man, that sounds like that Incubus song”, “Hmmmm..”, “You know, you know it, ‘Whatever tomorrow brings’..”, “Oh, Drive?”, “Yes yes, Drive.” And Jakim then shows me the chord progression from Drive. Pretty easy, there are a couple of new chords in there for me I’ll have to use later on. Jakim is a good teacher and in no time I’m playing Drive by Incubus and everyone’s trying to remember the lyrics and sing along. This turns into an Incubus scat during the verses and then full choir on the chorus parts that we all actually remember.
I hand back the guitar and we run through whatever songs come to Jakim’s mind. It’s a large mix of classics, grunge and songs that are probably popular in Uruguay. He’s quite talented and has an ear for it for sure. A lot of the time we can’t remember the lyrics and, like Drive, the verses turn into some half-Spanish, half-English scatting peppered with prominent words we think may be right, “Ok, now back to the part we know!”, “I’ve got this friend, you see, who makes me feel! And I wanted more than I could steal…”, and we’re belting out some chorus into the night air. We also destroy a hilarious rendition of Alanis Morissette’s ‘Ironic’ which Jakim just picks up by ear memory.
The sun is almost down now. Leia has bounced off to another table of people and they’re chatting away. Jakim starts rolling a joint and I’m teaching Mark from German wine country some basics on the trumpet. Tough instrument to just pick up, I’m getting him to purse his lips tighter to hit the higher notes and showing him some fingerings. “There’s higher notes?”, “Haha yeah, tighten your lips and blow harder”, <Dying elephant sound>, “You’re getting it!”
Mark takes off and some beers show up as Jakim’s pot canon starts making the rounds. I grab the guitar and start messing around, just adding background music. Everyone is sinking into a deeper appreciation now and when the joint gets back to Jakim after the second round or so he gets philosophical on us, “Yeaaah, that’s the mayonnaise of the moment.” What?! Maybe it was the delivery or the thick accent, the beers or the weed, or maybe that sentence is just so incredible and unexpected.. we all cracked up laughing, “Whaat?! Mayonnaise of the moment?”, “That’s amazing!”, “Yeah you know! You could have a salad and it’s pretty good. Pero, pero.. a salad with mayonnaise is better!”, “True”, “The weed is like that”, “This is also true.”And so possibly the greatest sentence of 2016 was created in an instant. Thank you, Jakim.
After getting the mayonnaise giggles out of our system Drisdelle and I decide it’s time for some food. Getting late at this point. MacKay bails for his solo room.
Down the steps, passed the eerie plane seats, through the garden, through the restaurant and back to the street. There is a place basically across the street from the Riverside called ‘Bar How?’. Good name. Seems decent, a few rounds in and we’re not too picky. Looks like every tourist in town is here. “Maybe HOW stands for Home of White People?”
We get a seat and scope the menu. There is a full wall of homemade flavored whiskeys or something. Have to try some of it. We get a round of the Honey whiskey shots. Not bad. 2 more! We also order something called River Weed. No idea what it is but worth a shot. It’s a dried leaf of some sort with seasoning and sesame seeds. Crack some off and try it. That is damn good!
The teenage waitresses come around and are taking pictures for the Bar How? facebook page. They hit our table and we douche it big time with the duck lips and gun fingers (cuz we’re pretty much drunk… and we also just do that for 85% of all pictures now). They go around to the other tables and then return to ours for several more pics. Apparently we are delivering the goods.
Overhearing some conversations it seems most people here are gearing up for that Gibbon Experience in the morning. “Well, I’m not Gibbon a fuck right now”, “Back to the rooftop?”, “Yerp.”
Back to the Riverside rooftop and most people have split but Jakim and Leia are still going strong with a few others around the table. Another round of beers, Jakim hands me the guitar, and we’re dipping into music philosophy now. “Music needs no ears”, things like this and better start coming out of Jakim’s mouth. And there was a convincing conviction. His accent lends depth to the ideas that may or may not actually be there. Regardless, his intentions are pure and we’re right there with him to spiral with the topic and verbally dance with it until we’re all laughing towards some enlightened revelation. Suddenly, Leia produces a pair of spoons from her pocket.
“They’re made from bombs found in Laos”, “Oh yeah, we saw stuff like that in the night market in Luang Prabang. Necklaces with peace symbols and stuff. Ash trays. All recycled from unexploded ordinance.”, “Yes! So cool, right!”, “Fuck, I wish I’d seen those. I totally would have gotten some”, “Sometimes I teach children how to play. Jakim will play guitar.” We are now the children.
There’s a Dutch girl here now I haven’t met yet. She’s a little reluctant to hit the spoons. Leia gives her a run down on the spoon moves she’s learned. Jakim plays a bluesy little ditty and she starts figuring it out. Sure, it’s just spoons, but there’s some hidden nuance in there to be found. She starts kind of getting it but she’s a little too shy to really let loose and allow the spoons to take her. We started calling this Spoon Face. You know you’re deep in it when you’ve got Spoon Face.
Jakim passes me the guitar and Leia has the spoons now. We’re mainly just messing with some progression in the background while people are talking. She’s really on my wavelength though. As we begin to click with it the foreground talking lessens and the background song we’ve improvised starts to shine. We’ve created a sequence of parts and repeated them enough that Leia and I each knows what the other is playing and can tighten up and improve it. We slow down to a fizzle stop and by the time we’re done the rooftop is slightly mesmerized. “Shit, that was really good!”. Our Spoon Face is strong.
During this time German Mark has returned. He’s game for some spoons too. I pass Jakim the guitar and he’s back on the task with a new jazzy guitar number needing spoons accompaniment. Leia goes over the moves again. Mark is a quick study and he’s getting in the groove with some spoons kick and backbeat. Cupping his hands for different tones. Yep it’s on!
Drisdelle, Leia and I try to figure out how to become part of this new jam now, without any instruments. Drisdelle, having sunk deep into the musical philosophies of Jakim post-dinner, invents a new sound from nothing at all. It’s the flip flop shaker. You just scrape your feet back and forth on the pavement. The slight, dusty friction between flop and concrete sounds like a shaker. Unsurprisingly, this pairs well with spoons.
Leia is clapping and the occasional ‘Yip!’ comes out. I’ve got some beer bottle caps that rattle around pretty good in my cupped hands, that high tinny symbol range. Mark is perfecting his spoons technique. Jakim is all smiles on the guitar as the ‘band’ begins to take shape. And so we’re laughing and inventing something uniquely amazing here in Gibbon-A-Fuck, Laos.
It’s getting on late o’clock and we’ve been throwing down tunes for hours now. There’s an unspoken agreement between us that it is fact bed time. And wouldn’t you know it, Leia and Jakim are our roomates!
Drisdelle and I get to the room first and there’s another girl in there. We’re trying to be quiet and respectful upon our drunk entrance but she’s clearly already awake, “Just turn on the light”, “Ahh, yeah. Ok”. The light goes on and there’s a cute little Argentinian girl smiling at us from the other bed. “Did you have fun?”, “Yeah. Yeah we really did.”
Leia and Jakim bust in with a giggle and it feels like our room is a nice little happy family. Enough time and substances have exchanged over the course of the evening that we’re all comfortable in our skivvies, laughing and chatting it up with ease.
Argentina girl seems sweet. She’s worried because they never actually came in to change the sheets today. “But there was a little Japanese girl in your bed last night. I think you’re safe from bed bugs today.”, “Japanese girl? Oh yeah, I’m fine. <pillow sniff> Oh it still smells like her!” Room laugh (creepy humor, when delivered properly, is undeniably funny after 20 million beers).
The lights go out but our giddy snickering is unstoppable. After a while a conversation formed of 5 drops to 4 to 3 to 2 to “Good night”, and our family is collectively soft snoring peacefully just before sunrise.