This story comes up again and again when I tell travel stories, and it was briefly mentioned on Taylor and I’s 2007 Southeast Asia travel blog.
The guy’s name was Manfred. He was 70-ish. We met him while taking the Mekong river boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang in Laos. His deal was, he’d been living in Los Angeles for the last couple of decades, working as an aircraft mechanic/builder(?). His wife had passed away, and his kids had grown up and were doing their own thing. So, here he was, relatively well-off with nothing to do. Most people his age would probably just buy a nice place, get a good cable subscription, and live off that until death. Not Manfred, ohhhh no…
Here he is drinking a beer with us in Pak Beng, our stopover along the Mekong. I am in the back, looking obnoxiously young and unworldly. Taylor is in the front left. Manfred is obviously the guy who looks at least 3 times the age of everyone else and also rocks sunglasses at night. Despite looking pretty drunk in this picture, he could definitely hold his Beerlao. The other guys were randoms; Dutch or French, I think.
So, what Manfred decides to do is, purchase a bicycle, fly in to Singapore, and then, as he describes it “bike home to the fatherland”. Apparently he had not been back to Germany for a very long time. He planned to take as long as it took for the 10,000+ kilometre trip back. When we got off the boat the next day in Luang Prabang, we donned our unwieldy poorly-packed bags. I can’t remember if he got off there or went farther down the Mekong. We didn’t see him again. Badass.