Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Myanmar - No longer smiling...

Riding south from Pyay we noticed the driving habits were gradually changing... An all too familiar pattern suddenly started to arise. At first we thought it was just a couple of idiots on the road but by the afternoon we wondered if we had crossed a border or something and were back in... dare I say it? India! It was, seriously, that bad. All of us had several near misses and were wondering what had happened to the Myanmar we had become to love. We found the answer at the end of the day...

The day started well enough when a stuff-up on my part made the GPS look for curvy roads... which it found by taking... ox-cart tracks! At first we thought it was just a bit of roadworks, but somewhat later we knew better. Non of us wanted to turn around though... we were determined to see this through! Seeing Vince, Karen and Mike in front of me going through the sandy ox-cart tracks was a sight to see. I was sure we were going to run out of track though as they were getting narrower as we went along and quite possibly end-up upside down in a river somewhere. The locals, with the more suitable transport for these roads (ie the oxen which have been used here for thousands of years) looked somewhat puzzled at us. You would do too if you were on an ox-cart and suddenly confronted with a 1200 GSA as wide as your cart, coming around the corner :-) I guess we weren't on a touristy road :-) but it was a great ride! When we finally entered the road we should have been on in the first place, we were 45 minutes behind the cars. 

Shortly after things started to change. The continuous blasting of horns and the ridiculously loud exhausts of trucks and buses we had happily left behind at the Indian border, had slowly returned. As we headed further and further south, towards Yangon, we were all struck by the noise again. What had happened? Where had the lovely Myanmar gone? Especially the bus drivers in this part of Myanmar are seriously bad. They don't even slow down for villages, kids playing or anything else for that matter. They simply blast the horn and keep the pedal to the medal. As they drive reasonably modern buses, their speed is higher than anything else on the road. Looking at all this antisocial behaviour, and the effects it has on the people living in these villages, gave me a sad feeling. If nobody steps in here then one day these lovely kids are gonna be scooped up by an idiot in a bus raging through there...

The serenity, the beauty and the peace and quiet of the north which makes this country the beautiful place that it is, had all gone. Almost like it had just been a dream. Entering Bago at the end of the day, we found ourselves in a congested filthy place with garbage everywhere and the complimenting smells that go with it. The pattern continued at the hotel, an unfriendly manager, a shower which didn't work, the illogical allocation of the top floor rooms to motorcyclists with lots of luggage while the rest of the hotel was empty and a restaurant which closed at 6 pm... The restaurant we found open presented us with the worst meal we had in Myanmar yet... The guide later told us that we had indeed crossed a border... we were now in Hindu territory while Magwe and north were all Buddhist... To be honest, I don't quite know what to make of this. 

The next morning my observations of the day before were reinforced when I saw a man across the road having a shit on the pavement, in public... I looked back as I walked past, wondering if I had seen it correctly... only to find it was in fact a woman and she had finished her business, was now standing upright, still partly undressed, cleaning her behind, for everyone to see... Another thing I noticed was the smiling faces of the north had gone. Grim faces had now taken over. The hotel had an armed security guard, another thing we hadn't seen since crossing the border, and as I was about to find out, they were needed too. While trying to get money out of the ATM, a man behind me said he wanted money... 'yeah just a minute mate, almost done' I said assuming he wanted to use the ATM. 'Give me money!' he continued... I'm not sure if he was trying to rob me or begging for money as the security guard stepped in before things could have gone out of hand.

Mike struck by food poisoning...               Photo: Karen, 2UpAdventures
Photo: Karen, 2UpAdventures
The problem with writing all this, is of course that this part of Myanmar also has a lot of very friendly and helpful people, which we should not forget. Mike had eaten something which didn't agree with him, the night before and resulted in some serious stomach problems. He had thrown up 3 times by the side of the road before the call came on the intercom that he had lost all feeling in his arms and legs...! Obviously we stopped straight away. He was sweating like crazy, had serious cramps and ran a high temperature. For a long time it looked like we had to abandon the tour and look for a hospital. Karen had given hime some tablets out of their trauma kit, which helped a lot. Very handy to be travelling together with an ambulance nurse! Meanwhile the people at the small shop where we stopped had given him a blanket to lay on, the neighbours had offered us their home to rest in and we were given fresh drinking water to boot. They couldn't have been more helpful. A local lady knew where the nearest doctor was, who despite Mike having been cooled down by Karen, still recorded a 40°C temperature. The diagnoses was food poisoning... Strange thing was that we had all eaten the same! With a stack of tablets he could continue after all. The doctor didn't want any money, not even for the tablets he prescribed! Like I said most people in Myanmar are very friendly! A big thank you in all this also goes to Vince and Karen, who not only chose to stay with us but also provided the cold drinks, much needed medical advice and stomach cramp medication out of their trauma kit. 

Mike at the local doctor, who didn't want any money for his treatment or the medication given! Photo: Karen, 2UpAdventures
The lovely ladies who sorted it all out!
Leaving Bago, heading towards the Golden Rock, things improved somewhat. The driving was still idiotic, but at the same time we saw glimpses of the Myanmar we had seen before and enjoyed every minute of it. Even the food presented at the lunch stop, which I can only describe as expensive and well out of date garden mulch, couldn't dampen our spirits. The hotel, or resort as they dared to call it, made us laugh... The first room we were given didn't have a shower head, the next one didn't have hot water, the third one had hot water but had been painted the day before with the most chemical point ever invented... we decided in the end to return to the first one and forget about it. The main reason for choosing the first room in the end, was the power point next to the bed (allowing us to charge the laptop) only to find the power point didn't work.... :-) The next post is about a special rock...