Jungle Woman Runs, from me

The narrow, winding, desolate road between Muang Sing and the majestic Mekong River is paved. The centuries old “M’s”, however, have doomed this little stretch of nothingness. Monsoons, Mud slides, Meandering violent rivers, Monster truck caravans, and Men, the bandit type, have made this little highway  between nations difficult, and at times, impossible to travel. Of course that is why I am walking it, alone.

An hour out of town the walker encounters gravel, loose stones, fallen trees, and potholes oozing flaccid water and an occasional rat. As I gasp for air I know I am going up steep mountain passes. I frequently devour slurps from my water bottle. A mile before I reach it, I hear the familiar, but triumphant, roar of a bull dozer. Its terrorizing rumbling medal tracks are serenaded by the melodious hum of a road grader as it artistically slices chunks of earth into mathematically designed geometric shapes. [Only a former Army engineer would instantly recognize the tweets and toots of mechanized road repair machinery.]

I am emboldened not only by these wonderfully familiar tunes. I am aware too if there are road crews about bandits are less inclined to attack. I wave confidentially at the equipment operators as I walk pass. Soon I am alone again. The upward climb strains my shins.
The deep jungle foliage squeezing the road strains my nerves. I walk in the center in case some assassin, including tigers, wild boar, angry oxen and snakes are lurking in the dense underbrush. I listen intently, not only for the rustle of underbrush, but also for the sudden hiss of large trucks speeding toward me.

I am wearing sun glasses. Perspiration gleefully bubbles on my eye lids then drips unmercifully into my pupils. As I wipe away the sweat I see her. Orange, red, green and gold flutter in front of me. Her colorful outfit and large turban shaped head covering are intriguing. She turns, sees me, and stars to run, quickening her pace up the steep mountain. Her bare feet skip over large stones and twigs as if she were in a ballet. She is afraid and so am I.The woman frequently looks back. She quickens her pace. But I am in my element and rapidly close the gap between us. I slow down worried that members of her tribe might think I want to harm her. I know the map shows that the next village is still thirty miles away. Where can she be headed? Then she suddenly leaves the road and disappears into the steamy jungle just as it begins to rain. When I finally reach the point where I had last seen her, I notice a narrow dirt trail which seems to wiggle its way high into the green canopied mountains. I do not follow her.

I walk back to Muang Sing and celebrate my birthday without alcohol. The next morning I catch a ride on a pick-up truck which leaves me off at the point on the road where I had ended the day before.

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