April 20 – Myanmar day 2
We wake up at 5:30am ready to go, except one thing – there’s not a drop of water in our hotel.
I walk to the front desk and find that the workers are missing and the outdoor seating area has been converted to a monastery.
I report back to Vi. “There’s no one out there except a bunch of guys dressed like monks.”
She laughs. “Why guys dressed like monks? Why not just monks?”
I’m open minded enough to leave all possibilities open.
We go to the “bus” station and get wedged into the back of a flatbed truck equipped with narrow bench seating. I see them dip small children into vats of Crisco so it is easier to squeeze them into any gaps left between shoulders and knees making the back of the truck one gelatinous human blob with 60 heads.
45 minutes of hairpin turns at breakneck speed up a jagged mountain gets us to a local tourist trap. I mean locals. I am the only white man. I know this because I am a foot taller than the entire sea of people. At a checkpoint, Vi and I are plucked out of the crowd and forced to pay a Foreign Visitor entrance fee. I’m insulted they presumed who we were based on the color of our skin.
A brief aside. Myanmar is not built for someone my size. It’s like I’m at the amusement park but forced to ride the kiddie rides, so that I’m bulging out in every direction like a fat lady in a bikini. The guy at the bus station yelled at me for taking two seats because I had to sit sideways, the idea that my femur was too long to allow me to sit straight forward was inconceivable to him. I attempted a demonstration that only triggered more yelling. I don’t speak Burmese but I think he said “I’m going to get Olga the Killer Masseuse to stomp your thigh bones to dust and then you’ll fit, Mr. Squishy Legs.” Seats and doorways aren’t made for me.
So far both country scavenge lists have included “get coffee with a local and ask these questions.” I can honestly say that Vi and I would quite likely go to a coffee shop, the girl needs caffeine or else Tame Dragon Lady (500pts), but we wouldn’t talk to anyone. Meeting a young man who wants to be an architect, dreams of going to Singapore, and loves the freedoms developing under the new government enriched our experience of Myanmar. Under the old government only the rich could get richer, now he thinks the system is that anyone can move up if they work hard. If everyone in the world could sit down for coffee and share their hopes and dreams we’d find we all want the same things. There would probably be no need for war. Too bad there are jerks like me who don’t drink coffee.
We make the hike to Golden Rock. It wasn’t always golden. But is so precariously positioned that it could only be put there by the hand of God. It is now a mountaintop Buddhist temple and worshippers rub on super thin sheets of gold. Vi points out a monk with a tattoo of a scorpion on his neck and I remind her of the “guys dressed as monks” statement. We see another smoking a cigarette. Is anything sacred anymore?
Myanmar tourists snap almost as many photos of the Golden Boulder as they do the Great Pasty White Wonder from America. I’m a celebrity. We rename Golden Rock to Golden Boulder for merchandising purposes. A Golden Boulder Trapper Keeper Folder just sounds more enticing. And who wouldn’t want an Over the Shoulder Golden Boulder Holder?
We get back to our hotel and need a taxi back to Yangon Airport. It’s a 3.5 hour drive to catch a flight to Mandalay that leaves in 4 hours. Our fearless Ringleader hath said, “ if you’ve never missed a flight that means you spend too much time in airports.” No time like the present to put the mantra to the test.
Only it takes us a half hour to get a taxi after getting shuffled from one to another. After painstaking delay we get a taxi with a Toyota Racing logo on the side. Our driver cracks his knuckles, packs a wad of betel leaves into his mouth, grins like he’s in pole position for the Indy 500. He names his price with a smile of dotted red and brown stained lower teeth. No sense negotiating, Vi agrees to give her firstborn if we make the flight.
Vi is a savvy negotiator, that sucker had no idea we aren’t going to have kids.
At some point it dawns on me that getting in an accident to make a flight isn’t worth it. That thought might have been provoked by passing other vehicles while going uphill around a curve at 90 km/h, a time-saving tip I’ve never thought to employ. Forget San Jose, Myanmar is the real test for autonomous driving. The slowest cars drive to the sides and other cars squeeze by through the middle from either direction. The driver is on the right side of the car and right side of the road. Which means the car has to be almost in the middle for the driver to see if it is safe to pass. Slower drivers will put on their left turn signal to let drivers behind know it is safe to pass and they give a quick “beep beep” to let you know your rear bumper has passed their front one so you can cut back in after passing. It isn’t the dance we are used to, the rhythm is different and the steps are foreign, but we didn’t witness anyone step on anyone else’s toes.
Our driver has unilaterally decided to save gas or freon and not use the air conditioning on this 100 degree day. About halfway there we pay a toll and are granted access to a well constructed highway. The admission fee must be hefty because we had the road to ourselves. That’s when he shifted into seventh and we “took off so fast I nearly got whiplash” (for the DJ Jazzy Jeff fans).
We get to the town outside the airport with 45 minutes before departure. It all seems possible, until our driver pulls to the side of the road and stops. I expect a shakedown for our secondborn. He made a phone call and got out of his car and walked away. Vi and I looked at each other. Vi said she had workdays where she wanted to do the same.
Minutes tick by and our driver returns. Another man runs up, gives our driver a beer, and they both get in the car. The new guy takes the wheel and our driver cracks open the beer in the passenger seat. The new driver doesn’t start the car, instead he puts his hands together, bows his head, and prays.
This doesn’t seem good. I try to call my lawyer but have no cell service.
Between the two of them, they have no idea how to get to the domestic terminal and neither wants to believe my pointing. When we get to the airport it is 30 minutes until departure. We run in and check in. We race through lackluster security and make it. Mind you we haven’t showered since the morning before, we bared 104 degree heat, ran with heavy backpacks on, and sat in a nervous sweat for three hours while racing across Myanmar – we were going to transform that puddle jumper into a flying sauna of stench.
But we made it! (Zero points)
We leave the bulk of our luggage at the airport in Mandalay and take a taxi to a jetty, scoot across a river in a wooden boat, and hop into the back of a horse cart for a brief tour of Inwa for big points and the chance to jam myself into a “carriage” made for hobbits. We see the ancient city walls and score even bigger points when we stop to play chinlone (imagine swapping out badminton rackets and shuttlecocks for an oversized hackysack). The game looks like it should be impossible to play. I manage to get a knee-head-head-foot combo and back over the net inbounds and Vi manages to somehow not record it. That’s par for the course for me and sports – my greatest hits montage will be all fumbles, stumbles, airballs, and gutterballs whereas all the moments of glory are somehow absent from record. It’s a strange cross to bear.
We return to our taxi by boat and head to world’s most dangerous giant teak bridge. The only thing true about all those words is the teak part. It’s more of an elevated walkway, sometimes 20 or 30 feet high, with no railings, spanning a marsh to connect two towns. The builders never anticipated people walking while looking at cellphones and I half expect to see the bodies of mangled teenagers littering the ground below after unfortunate selfie events. Vi takes an incredible picture of the sun looking like a drop of orange paint in the sky.
We arrive at our hotel at 7:30pm and check in under our new nicknames, Greaseball and Pigpen. It is an all out brawl to get to the shower first, but Vi is so grimy she slips through my grip and into the bathroom. When its my turn I notice the shampoo is called Jasmin. I readily welcome the opportunity to smell like a Disney princess.
Vi and I are exhausted but force ourselves to go eat dinner. We have the most amazing roti we have ever had and then return to the hotel and crash.
We do not set an alarm.