Thursday, December 5, 2013

Decent Into Darkness: Myanmar, Days 3-6

At this point, all of my plans for this mini-series chronicling our adventure to Myanmar have basically been laid to waste by time, sloth, and general ineptitude. However, I feel that without completing this, I can not move forward with other interesting stories I should be blogging about, because then chronologically, the blog would be out of order, and as we all know, a perfectionist can't have that. So the new plan is to mash Myanmar days three through six into one cute little package, so I can have some closure and begin a normal blogging schedule again.

Day three, things that are now things that happened: 
Early morning, Colin, Ammy, Nadia, and I woke early to get a cab to the "bus station." We left Jes and Adam behind, as they had an extra day in Myanmar and didn't need to make the journey to Bagan because they were not going to ride the hot-air balloons. As we were getting ready, I was nervous for Nadia, because after only twenty-four hours, stomach viruses don't typically take care of themselves. But with a balloon date on the line (at over 300 clams each), it was going to take more than the potential of pooping one's pants repeatedly to keep Nadia from boarding that bus.

We took our cab to the "bus station," which, as the quotation marks may connote, wasn't much of a station. There were many buses, long, short buildings in which rooms were connected and people were waiting, and lots of mud, red spit, and confusion. Thank goodness for our cabbie finding the bus were alleged to be riding, because amid the fleet of old Japanese, Korean, and Burmese buses, it all looked the same- People rushing around, bubbly lettering that is the Burmese written language, dozens of randomly marked buses snugly fit into their parking spots in front of their bus company. It was a scary maze, that to me, at the time, resembled something more of a bus graveyard than a thriving transportation hub.

Regardless, we watched the bus operators try to Tetris huge wooden box shipments some Australians were sending home into the storage bowels of the bus, at which we took that as a sign to just board the bus with our gear. It surprisingly wasn't the most uncomfortable bus I've ridden. Not at first, at least.

Before I really even realized what was happening, there were people now lining the aisle, sitting in those kiddie chairs, also taking the bus north. Good lord. What happens if/when we crash? It's bodies everywhere. This thought subsides as we embark on our supposed eight our bus ride (from 0800-1600). Now, from my site to Bangkok is eight hours, so I can do this like a boss. At one point in my life, travel days of more than eight hours took some requisite mental preparing. Now, I don't even bat an eyelid, unless it's, say twelve hours or more. As we approached 1600, I noticed we were basically in the middle of nowhere, the worst kind of nowhere. 1600 became 1630 and we were making stops literally every five minutes, much to our chagrin. I'm generally pretty patient when it comes to travel. But this was killing me. Why was there no central bus stop for all of these people? We weren't a taxi. Also, when you're told eight hours for a trip, you expect an eight hour trip. It's long enough that should the trip last longer (and with your expectations crushed and patience wearing grievously thin), any extra minute after the initial expectation is much more agonizingly difficult than every previous minute.

And thus was the next two and a half hours.

I (read: Nadia) at least got some pictures of the trip.
This cutie may have never seen Westerners before in her life.
She couldn't stop staring!
I was fascinated by the wooden huts that made up
farming villages.


The countryside was undeniably beautiful.
There was a lot of it.
We finally rolled in at 1830, sore physically and mentally, and (I was) eager to eat and rest. Over the last half hour of the ride, however, Colin began feeling sick to his stomach. Was it the garbage cookies he bought at the rest stop? Maybe. Was it the fake Pringles he also purchased? Perhaps. Did all his stomach contents get forcefully evicted mere seconds after we pulled into the bus stop? Definitely. This little projectile party proved to be quite the ominous GI insurrection...

Unknowingly walking the wrong direction, we thought we found our hotel. It actually looked kinda swanky, and I was relieved. This feeling didn't last long though, as they told us that they had no record of us calling from Yangon and reserving rooms. Fortunately, we were at the wrong hotel and they told us to walk in the direction from which we had just come. He told us it was only about a ten minute walk. We turned around and began walking. After at least ten minutes, we had only just passed the bus stop and had not yet seen our hostel. We passed some kind folk and they told us that it was a ten minute walk in the direction we were heading. O...k... Let's hope so.

We did indeed find our hostel, unloaded ourselves, and Nadia and I went to get some food. Nadia was feeling slightly better at this point, and fortunately didn't make in her pantaloons during the trip, so she ate some pumpkin soup and rice and I had a pizza. Colin was a different story, however, and still feeling ill, retired early. After dinner, Nadia and I crashed, as we had an exciting date with Bagan's gorgeous terrain and hot-air balloons.

Day three, observations and feels:
Travel in Asia is always an adventure. You literally have no idea what the hell is going to happen, because virtually anything can happen, and chances are at least one absurd thing will occur. Should you make it to your destination with all your belongings and money, not sick, and psychologically coherent, consider it a resounding success.

The "freeway" was more like two lanes in either direction, with virtually nobody rich enough to own a car to drive in said lanes. It was haunting to be the only vehicle on the road for miles.

In Thailand and Burma I've observed that people are strikingly inept at estimating travel times. Be it on a bus or foot, one person's ten minute walk is another's thirty minute walk, when in reality it's closer to twenty total.

Day four, things that are now things that happened:
I awoke minutes before my 0400 am alarm. It was set early so we had an hour to get ready and at 0500, the balloon people drive around Bagan, picking up their passengers. I make my way to the bathroom and OH MY GOD. It's a terrible BM, which makes me slightly nervous, but I am determined to make it through the day, because balloons! As I'm making my back to bed, I hear knocks at the door. I answer, somewhat suspiciously, and it's Colin and Ammy.

"Oh, hi. What's up?"

"Balloons are cancelled. They just called. Said the wind's too strong. Also mentioned this virtually never happens in October."

"Well, ok. That sucks. On another bad note, I have the worst shits."

"Yeah, me too. I was up all night with it coming out one end or the other."

"Sigh. Ok. Good luck and good night."

Awesome. Not only is one of the main reasons (balloons) I came to Myanmar cancelled, the balloon people rub salt in our wound by sharing with us how incredibly rare this situation is. Thanks bros. Can I have my money back now?

Shortly after the door closes, I need to use the bathroom again. And again. And again. For the next eight hours. I marginally sleep, dancing on the line between full-blown sleep and barely there consciousness, for I don't want to literally shit the bed.

As Colin and I continuously output in our respective rooms, our respective partners begin the day by figuring out how to get our money back. After a bit of running around, back forth, this and that, and what-have-yous, they learn we have to get our money back in Yangon, as the Bagan office has already doled out as many refunds as they could. I envision this being a huge hassle and yet one more devastating blow Myanmar is going to deliver us.

In reality, the majority of the day is just a blur. But I believe the rest of the it is spent sleeping, avoiding food, and eventually going for a walk, hoping the fresh air would do me good. It's not bad outside, thought hot, but I tire quickly, am impatient, and feel like death on a relative scale. I eventually relent and consume a banana shake and many of the magic tummy pills Nadia received in Yangon, and hope that tomorrow is a better day.

Day four, observations and feels:
The shits and cancelled balloons. What a disaster. As frustrating and disappointing as it was, if balloons weren't cancelled, would I still have gone and just been embarrassing myself left and right at a couple thousand feet elevation?

I kinda just want to go home.

From what I saw of Bagan during the walk, it is just beautiful. Far different from Yangon, it is a small, rural area. Horse drawn carriages gallop through the streets. The town caters to tourists, as there are tons of bike rentals, hostels, and souvenir shops. Just beyond the main streets are temples upon temples. Here are some sights.
Playing "dagraw," a sport popular in
Thailand too. Nadia's photo.
Nadia's photo.


I found this super interesting. Nadia's photo.
Nadia's photo.

Nadia's photo.
One of my favorite shots from the entire trip. Nadia's photo.

Day five, things that are now things that happened:
Bagan is known for a few things, temples and sunrises being just two of them. We decided the previous day to try to get something out of Bagan and set up a taxi ride to a beautiful temple to watch the sun come up. While sleeping that night, I recall hearing a considerable amount of rain outside, but being asleep, didn't really think much of it.

We wake early, and this day I don't have to rush to the bathroom every twenty minutes, so quickly it is deemed a resounding success. We are waiting in the lobby and we're approached by a woman who asks if we're headed out to the temples to watch the sunrise. We respond we are and she asks if she and a friend can join us. We are happy to have her, beyond the fact waiting for her friend makes us later than I felt comfortable with, but we depart with plenty of time to spare.

We quickly make our way out of town and are on some former dirt, currently mud, roads, courtesy the all-night rain we received. No worries, it might just be a bit dirty at the temple. The driver is navigating the mud pits decently, until, of course, he doesn't. I'm watching through the windshield and as he ascends this slight incline in the road, there is also a water/mud pit that he attempts to drive right though. I see it, too, and contrary to my mind working as hard as it can to steer the van to the side of it, he attempts to pass right through the middle of it and gets us stuck.

With nothing more than a "let's go, let's go," and a pushing motion, we all exit the vehicle and make our way to the back of the van, while he returns to the driver's seat. Nadia, Adam, Colin, and the stranger's friend all begin pushing the van, while I'm on the side watching. The driver begins flooring it as people push. Now, I've never been stuck in mud, but watching the tires spin and the effort of the pushers, I feel like it was unwarranted to accelerate as much as he did. We get the van unstuck, and simultaneously transfer the mud from around the tires to all over the pushing individuals. With nothing more than an "ok, let's go," (i.e. no apology, no thanks), we board the van once more, with friends worse off than just moments ago.

Even though I didn't get muddy, I felt bad for those who did, and begin to just loathe everything Myanmar.

Shortly after the mud debacle, we arrive at our destination and scale it to the top and begin to wait. We're all a bit tired, sick, upset, miserable, but make light of all that's gone wrong and await the allegedly beautiful sunrise. The cabbie makes mention of where east is, and we position ourselves to watch.

As light begins to creep in, we see a ton of clouds, and the driver tells us there are clouds and that we won't see the sun at all. Thanks, genius. We can see that, too. Sure enough, it becomes lighter, but we certainly see no sun. Basically, Myanmar served us nothing and forced us to like it. We try to make the most of our early morning adventure, and snap a few photos. Note: You will not see us at our best in them.




An unimpressed Jay.
A muddy Nadia.


We decide to leave and as we begin to descend the temple, I look in the complete opposite direction of where the cabbie told us to watch for the sunrise (had there been no clouds), and see rays of sunlight streaming through broken clouds. Sigh. I mean, I know we still wouldn't have been able to behold the sunrise in it's entirety by any means, but, c'mon man. You drive people around for a living, surely you've done this before. Wouldn't you know which direction the sun comes up by now? Myanmar 38, us 0.

After we returned, we packed up our stuff and trekked to the bus station for a return trip to Yangon. At least this time I held no illusions about this bus ride being an eight hour trip and was prepared for the eleven to twelve hour slogfest.

We get into Yangon, find a cab, and take a ninety(!) minute ride back to Okinawa Guesthouse. The rest is a bit of a blur, though likely inconsequential, as we all just wanted to sleep and leave, in that order.

Day five, observations and feels:
I want to go home.

Day six, things that are now things that happened:
Our day started early by collecting our things and thanking Okinawa profusely for being such wonderful guests. We take our leave and make our way to Balloons Over Bagan's Yangon office, which fortunately is only a ten minute walk from our lodging. Fortunately, they knew to expect us and had everything prepared for us to collect our refunds and leave, which is exactly what we needed, as our flight was late morning and we needed to get to the airport.

The feeling of returning "home" felt phenomenal. After getting into Bangkok, we said our farewells to Ammy and Colin, and Nadia and I went to Siam Paragon to reward ourselves with new books and dessert for surviving Myanmar. We at After You, a fine dessert bakery, getting our usual Nutella Honeytoast. We didn't find a book to purchase though, sadly. Finally, we made our way to Sai Tai Mai, the southern bus terminal, and returned to Chumphon, ever relieved to be home.

Day six, observations and feels:
Myanmar definitely out-crazies Thailand. Which is really crazy, because I thought Thailand was totally crazy.

I love Thailand. It's home.

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