Hell’s Highway – The Thai Visa Run
The night always seems the darkest as you find yourself standing alone outside your home, waiting for that van to come by and sweep you away. Some say it is the price that we must all pay for living in the Land of Smiles. A small blemish on what is otherwise a land of paradise. We may avoid it; find some temporary loophole, this month’s latest trick. But try as we may, it eventually catches up to us, the inevitability and the curse that is the Visa run.
For those who have ventured out on this great journey before, the feelings are mostly the same. Should it be in our fates to die on this trip, let it be quick and in the beginning, not after enduring the 24 hours of nightmarish hell that we were about to embark upon. For it would be the greatest of cruelties to cut our trip short when our journey’s end was within sight and a faint hope of a better life lingered just beyond the horizon.
Long Road to Nowhere
As the hour arrives the traveler grows restless. Eager to end the waiting, yet dreading what is to come next. And as that van approaches, a specter moving through the shadows of the night, the heart skips a beat, for the anticipation has just become a reality. As the driver gets out and slides open the door, it becomes clear that this is no fever dream, but the awful truth of your existence for the next day of your life. For those fortunate enough to be one of the first passengers, those seats with extra foot room are still available, offering a small bit of relief from the dread that has yet to come. But for the other unfortunate souls, over cramped, close packed seating that makes economy on a low budget airline feel roomy.
Once everyone is wedged tightly into their tiny metal deathtrap, the real fun begins. The drivers training has obviously fallen short as he has not quite mastered the art of braking, but who needs the brakes when you have the two greatest tools at your disposal, the accelerator and the high beams. Caution be damned, for like a banshee flying down Hell’s highway, no car is fast enough or any road too narrow that the driver cannot overtake. The least experienced travelers sit white knuckled, clinging fearfully to their seats, the walls, the ceiling, anything within reach. As for the more grizzled road warriors, they lie napping, unfazed by the chaos playing out around them.
With occasional stops to load up on caffeine and stave off sleep for a few more kilometers, the driver continues onward. Ever moving, accelerating with the flashing of high beams to ward off those who could possibly impede the drivers haste. The lights on either side of the van pass by with such speed that they are no more than a hazy blur, a mishmash of vibrant shades and hues. They are almost hypnotic and at times can lull the driver to sleep. The passenger who sits in the front most backseat is known as the watcher. For it is his task alone to be aware of the driver’s vitals and to jump across the divider and take over should the driver fail in his duties. With any hope, he would not be needed on the trip.
After many hours and without any warning, the border approaches. The van pulls to a stop and all the passengers are free to roam and stretch their legs. Most cross the checkpoint without delay, but there is always one straggler that slows down the entire group. Whether it is an extended overstay, or the lack of a white entry card, the trip grinds to an abrupt halt. The waiting is almost painful with the goal so close at hand, but eventually the straggler returns to the group and the journey commences.
Upon arrival into that foreign land, the sun begins to rise on the Eastern horizon and there is a great calm that washes over the weary travelers. But it is a peace of mind that cannot maintain. For the trip is only half complete. Like a ship sailing into the eye of a storm, solace is a mere whisper in the wind, for all minds are on the inevitable return through the maelstrom. With only a brief reprieve, a bite to eat, and maybe a quick nap, the journey begins home.
There is a false sense of security that befalls the group as the light of day illuminates the road, making the drivers vehicular acrobatics almost sensible. The lanes are well marked, and hazards are spotted well in advance of their arrival. A sense of renewed hope falls over the travelers, for maybe they will live to see home after all. But hope is a fickle bitch and just as the spirits of the group have risen, they are crushed by the inevitable darkness of night.
The shadowy visages of Hell’s highway have returned to mock us in our final stretch. But we have tasted that sense of hope and it cannot be taken fully away. We peer upon the horizon, ever vigilante, always chanting within our own minds. “We will make it. We will make it…” It is the anthem of our journey, the final chapter in our great saga. The only desire left to us, to see our homes once again.
As home approaches, a feeling of calm begins to set over the traveler. The sense of dread begins to vacate the mind, and a feeling of normality begins to return. As the van passes the familiar sites and locations, an excitement builds up within the traveler’s heart. As he steps down from that van, his home for a day, there is no reminiscing, no reveling in the tales of the journey, only revulsion and a desire to never return. He is home, he has made it, he has survived to tell his tale.
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