Up up up. Oh, too much last night. A bit off hangover, but not more than I’m able to wear. We have a lot to do today.
We have the room until today and will check if we can get to Bagan later today. We get out after breakfast and get out of the hotel. The air is nicer in the morning and we walk over to a coffee place around the corner.
A quick plan was made after we got to bed last night. Now we put the plan on paper and move down to a travel agency. We know the location of two agencies and just walk into the first down the street. Lucky for us they are decent English speakers and we get tickets to Bagan later today. We also get tickets back to Yangon from Inle lake, but will have to get tickets for the bus ride between those two locations when we’re in Bagan. To pay for these tickets we have to pay in cash.
Most prices in this country seems to be made in U.S. Dollar and then translated back into Kyats. We end up with 464000 Kyats and I have to do a money run. The ATM’s only disperse 300.000 at every transaction and preferably in 5000 bills. That’s a lot of bills. So when the account was settled I felt like a villain from a Mexican mariachi movie throwing around large stacks off bills.
The flight leaves at 15:00 so wet have plenty of time. So Katja suggests we go down to the river and see if there is anything to see there. This town is, as I guess any developing country is, filled with opposites. The new mobile phones, BMW and Mercedes’, ATM’S and coffee bars on one side. On the other you’ll find the broken down but still running tricycles, the food stalls, the markings they bare on they’re faces, the tea salons and the manual labor.
As we cross the big roads that separate the harbor from the rest off the city we walk into the old and traditional. There are people half my size emptying a truck with sacks of rice. Each bag weighs 50 kg and these small figures walk bent over by the weight between the truck and the boat. Wearing nothing but the traditional sarong and a dirty singlet. We go past the workers and look at the boats on the river. If anything is old in this town I think these boats are their grandfathers. They look like something out of a Agatha Christie novel from the Murder on the Nile. For all I know they were used there before the English brought them here.
We almost pass a tea salon with the miniature plastic chairs and tables. We have the time and sit down and ask for tea. They have these huge cans of tea, and then pour over into smaller serving cans. This makes the tea nicely temperate d and you can set the pots directly on the plastic table. The are lots of locals here and only us as tourists. It seems we are a great entertainment for them.
Right next to us a man is stripping sugar canes and making ready to make sugar cane juice. I walk over and ask to take his photo and he smiles with the characteristic reef smile from the chewing tobacco. When I ask him how the whole process works he eagerly shows me. The stripped sugar canes are placed in water to soak up more. After a while they use an old apparatus to grind the cane. As it gets more and more mushy it’s folded over and over to squeeze out as much juice as possible. As he shows med this all the locals are watching, thus it’s obviously not common behaviour at the docks. At one point he asks, by gestures, if I want to swirl the handle for the apparatus. I eagerly jump to the occasion and put my weight behind it. It’s heavy, but with a little effort we crush through the last party of the folded cane. Now the locals are all in and come to show their appreciation for their sugar cane juice maker. One guy makes him flex his right biceps which are larger than mine, but his left is not half that size. We all laugh and giggle and we return to our tea. We order some veggies from the tea lady and get served rice and beans. It tastes good and we look at each other. We have previously talked about not eating unsafe food when we are to travel. Being food poisoned is bad. Being food poisoned while having to flying out ride any kind of vehicle is death. We shrug it off and hope for the best.
Then we get some complimentary Okra. “Good”, the man says and points at my knees. I don’t know if it’s because I have my knees by my ears here at the child sized table. I make a gesturing joke while eating it and the locals laugh out loud and now all of them have turned their chairs to look directly at us.
We enjoy the food and tea then it’s time to move on. As I check something on myth phone a local comes over to show how big his phone is compared to mine. It was really big and we joked again to howling laughter. We got a bill of seven hundred Kyats, that’s 0,5 Euro. Just across the street in the city it would be ten times that. We say goodbye to them and plot a course back to the hotel. It’s time to pack and check out.
We pass a barber on the way and I hope I can get my haircut there when I return. It’s gonna make for a story of its own.
Pack, check out, leave the big bags at the hotel and leave only with the small day-packs for the next week. We walk a bit and look at the salesmen at the street. Old tools, broken phones, chargers to about any mobile phone every made, books, clothes- used and new, Buddha figures and the classic waving cat.
We hail a taxi and go to the airport. A bit of traffic but nothing compared to what we’re used to. At the airport we find our check in counter and get a sticker on the chest. For a moment there we thought that was our boarding pass, but it was much more sophisticated than that. We got boarding card’s and was sent through security but think they slept, and no-one looked twice on the water bottles or the can of soda water.
And on that note do I think we have been stripped of the folding knife we used for cutting fruit and a training knife. They all were placed in my checked baggage from Manila to Myanmar, but only one trainer survived the trip. Go figure why the last one was there, they were together in the pocket on the top of the bag. Simple theft or confiscated. I don’t know.
We did lunch at the airport and walked down again passing the sign to the CIP lounge. Critically Important Person?
In the departure hall we meet the Canadian couple from last night. They’re flying to Bagan as well but on another airline. Same route, same time, same stop over and same final destination time. Efficient.
There are four domestic airlines in Myanmar and they compete on the same stretches of course. The tourists fly between five destinations and that’s where the money is.
We board, fly, stop over, fly more and in two hours we’re here in Bagan.
Coming out of the plane wasn’t a cold shock, but it was notably colder than Yangon. It’s about thirty minutes to sundown and I’m wishing for my long pants. Suck it up, big guy! You left those in Yangon.
We meet up with Marissa and Eli (the Canadians) and we make dinner plans together. They live in the same street as we do and we’ll walk to their hotel after check in. We try to save money by sharing a taxi, but the regulation here is strict. Fixed prices, but to one hotel only. Guess it’s a way of protecting what little business these taxi drivers have.
We get to the hotel we booked this morning and are pleasantly surprised. It’s very nice and we liked it immediately. Quick freshen up, then walk to meet Marissa and Eli.
We met them at their hotel and we take a juice while we talk about different subjects. That’s how we come to learn each other’s professions. We decide to walk to the restaurant street down the road and move on. We end up on a cozy place called The Black Bamboo. We had a great meal and had lots of laughs and heard great stories.
Bagan is dark compared to any city. Here you can see the stars and point to constellations and just marvel at the beauty of the night. We walked together and split up for returning to our separate hotels. Hopefully we’ll run into them again, but otherwise we have exchanged mail addresses and can keep in touch digitally.
The bed called out for me with last night’s bad sleep and all of this day’s adventures. The bed is firm and nice, I have my own douve and don’t have to share with Mrs GrabAndRoll. This is gonna be good.
Superman is, after all, an alien life form. He’s simply the acceptable face of invading realities.
– Clive Barker