Questions Answered

 

OK, I’ve amassed quite a good amount of unanswered questions in the last six months that I’ll try to take care of here, or at least take care of some of the more interesting ones, grouped by subject when possible. Honestly, this post is a good study on human thinking when read as a whole. Take a look, there are some good one’s, bad one’s, one’s that make you think and one’s that make you just say “huh” …and every single one was actually asked. Figured I had to take care of them at some point, so why not now, right?: Continue reading

Chasing the Sun

Earth.

It’s fun, chasing the sun. …a bit expensive, but oh so colorful.

Post #100. …figured I would go back to something I’m good at - photography.
…ok, not necessarily good, just more gooder than writing that is. It’s all relative.

A few from the past 100 and a few that will be in the next 100…

From top to bottom, left to right: Axum, Ethiopia // Yankari National Park, Nigeria // Lake Lagdo, Cameroon // Niokolo-Koba National Park, Senegal // Dahab, Egypt // Bagan, Myanmar // Mt. Nebo, Jordan // Kabul, Afghanistan // Dahab, Egypt // Halong Bay, Vietnam // Northern Sudan // Lake Tana, Ethiopia // Bagan, Myanmar // Simien Mountains, Ethiopia // Axum, Ethiopia // Bagan, Myanmar // Northern Sudan // Black Desert, Egypt // Black Desert, Egypt // Niokolo-Koba National Park, Senegal // Bagan, Myanmar.

I think it’s gonna be a lifetime pursuit…

Right Place, Right Time

Bagan, Myanmar.

     OK, enough of war and history and all that. …back to morning in Myanmar. Here is one that, in my opinion, epitomizes the saying in photography “it’s not the equipment, it’s the photographer”. A little bit of explanation behind the saying: you can have the best, newest, most expensive, most highly praised camera gear and equipment, but if you don’t know how to use it, it’s worthless. I really don’t know how to use it but I have always said, in a twisting of thinking here: Why spend thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of dollars buying photo gear on that “once in a lifetime” trip when you could just learn how to use a camera, use what you have and spend that money making that “once in a lifetime” trip into something like a “once a year” trip or “once in a while” trip. Ninety percent of the battle, when referring to travel type photography, is actually giving yourself the opportunity to be able to get a good photo. …not that this is so spectacular, but it was perfectly timed and I was perfectly placed, which is not going to happen sitting in your house looking at all that nice equipment that you bought for that trip two years ago …that you’re still paying off.

…and let’s face it. If you’re anywhere near Bagan, you’re at the right place, no matter what time. Another view about fourty-five minutes earlier on the same morning can be seen here.

               

PS: Bama: 6:31 AM :) …just get there early.

Sunrise

Bagan, Myanmar.

     Still going through the pics from my trip to Myanmar and, well, this is one of them - For the whole story see my index page (top right). Not much I can say except, get up early, climb a temple, …and wait for the sun. It is well worth it. You won’t see this kind of view anywhere else in the world. …and if you do get up that early, make sure you “sneak” up to the front desk and scare the h*ll out of the girls sleeping there :) , who instantly snap to life, all six of them, and just start saying “What? what? How ya doin’? Good morning? What’s going on? Ehhh-hmmm, how can can I help you sir? Morning. Good morning. Beautiful morning. Mingalaba. Yes it is. How can I help you? Good morning. Ehhh-hmmm.”

           

 

Buddha

Travels through Myanmar XI – Bagan

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar X – Ferry Ride Photos

…but honestly, that post linked above is mostly photos, so if your more interested in the story, as in actual text, I’ll start with the second to last line from The Almost Perfect Storm, which was the post before the link above – and I know, all you want to do is click a post and read it and be happy and say “that was easy …and nice”, but now your like “this is getting way too complicated” …so, sorry :o

OK …second to last line from the post prior to the prior post in the story:

…as I step off the docks/gang-planks/dirt bank and right into THE biggest scorpion I have ever seen in my life (the big black holy crap and I’m in flip-flops so I could possibly die if I take another step because the stinger on that thing is over an inch long type).

     My first thoughts at this point – “Damn, I wish I had my camera out”, followed by “I’m way too tired to take my camera out to take a picture of this thing”, followed by “I’m only wearing flip-flops and this thing is about an inch away from my toes” …notice the importance of thoughts there with photography coming before a painful death by scorpion poison in a third world nation all the way across the world where the nearest hospital you would want to actually go to is about three or four countries over. Alrighty than, a quick, “HOLY CRAP, look at this thing”, with a skip and a jump, followed by screams of delight by the local children …followed by screams of fright by the passengers behind us (Hee,hee,hee) and we are off to find a taxi, or tuk-tuk, or horse cart, not exactly knowing what exists up here but hoping for anything but a boat.

     Success, a few seconds later and there are taxi drivers all over, as well as horse-carts. We already have a reservation made for the hotel, we haggle for about a second, getting the price down from around fifty cents to forty-eight and a half, throw our bags in the trunk that doesn’t really close but never really opens, hop in, and take off. Fifty feet down the road we come to screeching halt, or as screeching as you can get in a few inches of mud, so more of a mostly sliding, kind of bucking, more of a “I don’t think the car is strong enough to go through mud, especially with slicks on” kind of stop. Mud: 1, Taxi: 0. I feel it’s going to be a long game.

     Lo and behold, a reasoning behind the wreckage, so to speak. The driver informs us we need to buy “Bagan Archeological Site” tickets now, before going any further. Ahhh, com on’. “Can’t we do this tomorrow?”. No. “We just spent fifteen hours on the boat”. Have to do now. “Why?”. Rules. “You’re stuck in the mud, aren’t you?”. No. “OK”. So we head to the office, three walled shack, across the street, mud slick, pay for a few tickets, as other fellow boater tourists are also stopped and start to line up. A mild inconvenience unfortunately, but a necessary one we didn’t know about – if you go up there, just be aware of it and that the guys aren’t trying to rip you off or anything. Tickets bought, we hear a loud slurpy whirring type of noise across the street. Turn around to see our taxi doing its best impression of a chubby kid sliding down a slip and slide put on the side of a hill, diagonally. The taxi driver staring at us with full smile, as he guns it without a care in the world of what may be in front of him, or who or what is being covered in mud behind, because he is staring at us with that huge smile the entire time.  Clip-clop-clip-clop, the “most out of shape backpacker in the world” (see The Almost Perfect Storm, last paragraph) pulls up in a horse-cart, you gotta be kidding me, you just couldn’t take a taxi, could ya? We have to laugh. The chubby kid taxi is out, we hop back in, now we’re off!!!

     A short drive to the hotel, The Thiripyitsaya (fantastic hotel by the way), something to eat, and to bed. We get up the next morning to a beautiful, if not hot and humid day. Bagan here we come. A short walk out of the hotel, heck, on the hotel grounds, the temples begin. For those that don’t know much about Bagan, it’s sort of like a dry Angkor on crack-cocaine with about a million less tourists, which is a good thing. Small temples, large temples, colorful temples, drab temples. Mini temples, Massive temples, old ones and new ones, and ones in-between. Old Bagan, New Bagan, stupas, buddhas, kids, horse carts, cheroots, goat herders, monks, nuns, …and beer. It’s got it all.

     Bagan, once called Pagan, formally called Arimaddanapura or Arimaddana, also known as Tambadipa or Tassadessa, translated into “The City of the Enemy Crusher”, “The Land of Copper” and “The Parched Land”. …or “Angkor on Crack” of course. The “site” sits on a dry plain between the Irrawaddy River and the hills and mountains beyond. I put “site” in quotation marks because it really isn’t a site in the fact that it can be measured accurately with any kind of certainty, which I guess really confuses a lot of people. My reasoning: Old Bagan, the town, is actually newer than the actual Old Bagan. New Bagan was a new town where the people of Old Bagan were relocated too, the newer Old Bagan, not the Old Old Bagan. In the meantime there have been small towns popping up all over the place, and there are many who still live in Old Bagan, New Bagan, and Oldest Bagan. In Bagans heyday, there were over 5000 temples erected, today there are 2217, a lot of former ones destroyed from an earthquake in 1975. The only problem is that new temples are being built every day, and of the 2217 left, only a few hundred may be from the original 5000. The idea of Bagan is much more than its physical boundaries. There may be closer to 2500 or 3000 now since the earthquake of 75′, I don’t think anyone really knows, and the people don’t really care what the rest of the world thinks about physical boundaries, if they want a temple in their backyard, they’re gonna build it, whether it be in the “boundaries” or not, thus contracting and expanding the actual boundaries as each temple, stupa, or statue is destroyed or built.

     UNESCO, in all their infinite wisdom, doesn’t like this, and I was really surprised that this wasn’t one of their World Heritage Sites, because there isn’t anything in the world like it. Their excuse is the haphazard restoration of some of the temples and some buildings around them. Idiots. A bad government and the fact that it can’t be really measured physically doesn’t mean one of the last remaining cities full of thousands of stupas, temples and statues dating back to 107 AD doesn’t exist. Of all their reasons given, none of them are substantial and the only thing I can come up with is they don’t like the government. I’ve seen about a thousand UNESCO World Heritage Sites throughout the world, and many are literally shacks or mounds of dirt sitting in the middle of trash piles, yet they don’t think a few thousand temples are worthwhile. Again, idiots. Another example of political thinking over doing what is right. OK, rant over.

    Bagan is huge. You, or I, could walk it, ride it, climb it, as well as photograph it for weeks and not see all of it. There are a few paved roads, but not many, and cars aren’t allowed off them, giving most of the roads over to horse-carts, bicycles and pedestrians. Some of the temple roofs are accessible, some have fifty foot buddha statues in them, old, new, white-washed or gold-leafed. Little food stands and drink carts ply the trails and are placed around the temples. Kids are found throughout, selling postcards, harassing the non-wary – although not nearly as bad as most places. A number of towns are within riding distance and everything is relaxed. I think we went two days without seeing another tourist, except at the hotel.

     There isn’t much I can even say about Bagan, that could accurately describe it. It’s one of those places that has to be experienced to be understood. It’s out there, and not very accessible, which only makes it more desirable for me, but there also great places to stay, to eat and certainly to see. The people were fabulous, the “site” of Bagan itself was extraordinary, and the time and effort it took to get there was well worth the effort. The photo up above is a shot of the “Postcard Girls” working their magic …outside one of those multi-level, multi-thousand year old temples that isn’t worth saving according to UNESCO.

     We see the most out of shape backpacker in the world a few more times …still in the back of that friggin’ horse-cart. One day we see him with the most red sunburned tourist girl in the world. We see a few of the other people we took the boat with. We yell at the swiss couple one night from the back of our jeep as the driver whizzes by at around 40 mph. We meet a character named Bo-Bo at one of the temples, selling his masterpieces to the world… We sit at one of the nicest, as well as biggest, pools I’ve ever had the pleasure of dipping in, eating BLT’s and french fries, looking out over the Irrawaddy and watching the sun drop under the hills beyond. Mostly though, we walk, explore and look around in awe …as well as sweat. A fantastic ending, almost – still have a few days back in Yangon, to a fantastic country.

     Maybe a disappointing ending to an eleven part, close to twenty thousand word story, I know, but to try to explain Bagan is beyond me. I still have hundreds of photos to go through and put up, and will continue to do so, with stories for each, but for now, I’m going to have to say that this pretty much concludes my story of Myanmar, at least in continuous story form. From Bagan we headed back to Yangon for a few days, and from there off to Thailand. It is an amazing, amazing country full of absolutely amazing people. I would recommend Myanmar to anyone, from the experienced traveler to the timid unexperienced. Support the people as much as possible without supporting the government, read up before you go and remember to smile …as well as remembering “Mingalaba!!!”.

The End :)

A list of all the posts in the “series” – links opens to another page,
and also available anytime on my Index Page:

Travels through Myanmar I – Mingalaba!!!
Travels through Myanmar II – Before You Go
Travels through Myanmar III – Money Matters
Travels through Myanmar IV – Yangon
Travels through Myanmar V – Shwedagon Pagoda
Travels through Myanmar VI – The Seamstress
Travels through Myanmar VII – Mandalay
Travels through Myanmar VIII – Munchkin Banana Pirates
Travels through Myanmar IX – The Almost Perfect Storm
Travels through Myanmar X – Ferry Ride Photos
“Travels through Myanmar XI – Bagan” …this post.

Gang Planks 2

Travels through Myanmar X – Ferry Ride Photos

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar IX – The Almost Perfect Storm 

      A few extra shots from the ferry ride from Mandalay to Bagan. Admittedly, not the greatest photos technically, and the white balance was off for most of them, but some of the best memories I have of Myanmar nonetheless. These first few from the Village Of Watermelons, where I really started just having fun. All taken with a simple 50mm lens, no cropping, it is as it is. As you look through the shots, realize you’re looking at some of the most oppressed people in the world, living under one of the last military regimes in power in the world today. Notice the smiles on many of the faces, and imagine the laughter in the air at each and every stop. Continue reading

Fried Watermelon

Travels through Myanmar IX – The Almost Perfect Storm

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar VIII – Munchkin Banana Pirates

Irrawaddy River, Myanmar.

     Back to the river. On to the next stop, wherever that may be. A few big ships up here. Many with huge loads of timber that was recently raped from the northern forests of the country, illegal to export, illegal to buy or sell. That’s a lot of wood to be carrying for fun. About forty-five minutes later, yep, I see it. Next stop. The village of watermelons. Just across and up the river from the last village. Now this one is interesting. After being surprised by the village of bananas, all of us tourists are ready for this one. All the cameras come out, I’m crushed against the railing from all sides, cameras clickin’ away, tourists yappin’ away. Oh yeah, now this is vacation. The closest we can get is somewhere around twenty to thirty feet from shore. The gang-planks come out, the village gang-plank leader orders his troops to bring theirs out. He starts rallying, and/or just yelling at, the troops to hook em’ all up. Yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs. Arms akimbo and waving everywhere. Helping where he can, throwing wood together into a bridge alongside the boys. I can only guess he’s yelling at how he needs to get the bananas off, get the watermelons on, get this stuff done. We need potatoes from the next village. Get movin”!!!. Load the melons, Everyone charge…

     The bridge is finished, the crowds who have formed on the shore suddenly burst onto the wood, the passengers on the boat waiting to get off charge from the other end. A maelstrom of mixing fruits that would make Snapple jealous. Bananas meet watermelon. Monks meet passengers. Bicycles go around the elderly. Elderly go around the off-loading and on-loading troops. A few go into the water. The captain of the gang-planks and troops still yelling and screaming, jiggling around like Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street, sometimes on the gang-planks, other times waist or chest deep in the water. Playing the part, hamming it up for all the cameras still clicking away, throwing up pieces of watermelon (we were all on the second level), ever more animated as the time goes by. We brace for the “attack”, all eyes scanning the village for mini-munchkins, but nothing materializes. This village is different, the Spanish fort of Irrawaddy villages, all business, or mostly, not many kids. I could only guess that watermelons are just too heavy and unwieldy to be used by the children, who are all biding their time until the day they can get down to the next village. A woman slips and falls, the gang-planks becoming slippery. The troops start sanding them down, creating traction, helping the elderly navigate the slippery boards, repositioning the boards, chattering away. …I like to call that photo above “Do A Little Dance, Make A Little Love, Get Down Tonight …get down tonight” as a few of the troops were quite the characters, setting up the gang-planks, than, well, doing a little dance on them. That’s the gang-plank captain in the green shirt walking towards the water.

     The selling, trading, tasting, eating, clicking away, yapping and buying ensues. The Johnny Walker appears again, the women start touting their product. Watermelon. Whole watermelons, sliced watermelon, watermelon chunks, watermelon juice, fried, yes fried, watermelon, watermelon on sticks, watermelon in bags, watermelon salad, watermelon rind carvings, watermelon seed bracelets, watermelon seed necklaces, watermelon seed purses. Any and everything you could possibly do with a watermelon part is available. I gotta give it to them, they know watermelon, and are quite the entrepreneurs…

     About forty-five minutes later it’s just about over. The horn blows, the village kids on the boat scramble, the last of the watermelons are loaded, the village gang-plank captain is screaming from the deck below, the gang-planks are removed. A woman is seemingly launched from the side of the boat down below and into the water. Watermelons flying everywhere. She hits the water with a loud SLAP as everyone on the boat looks on in horror, one simultaneous “OOoooohhh” from the crowd. The woman surfaces, smile on her face …as her recently acquired Kyat slowly floats down the river. “Uhhhh” the crowd gasps …and points. The gang-plank captain to the rescue, jumping in behind her, gathering up the money and handing it back to her, with a lot of yelling and arm flailing of course. Seems we just found out what happens to people who are on the wrong side of the gang-plank when it’s pulled away. …that’s one question answered. Back to the river… Another stop at the village of carrots and it’s almost noon, maybe 1:00 PM. Each stop taking little more time, twenty minutes, a half hour, forty-five minutes.


     The boat looks like it’s getting a little lighter. A bit more room. Looks a little cloudy out, darker than it has been I should say, as it’s been drizzling for a while… That’s OK, we should be there in an hour. Storm clouds on the horizon. Some choppy seas, or, river. A little drizzle. A bit of light thunder. CRACK. A lightning bolt strikes the shore way too close, followed by what sounds like a thousand watermelons hitting the metal roof of the boat, as a fifty mile an hour wind gust hits us without a whisper of a warning and clap of thunder directly overhead. All at once, without warning, the rain starts moving sideways, another round of thunder and lightning, Crack! KABOOM!, the locals on the boat run for cover, we get instantly soaked, everyone tries to move to the middle of the boat, with their packs and everything else including the kitchen sink. It doesn’t matter. We’re soaked through in a second. Ahhh, monsoon season in the tropics, gotta love it. The storm only gets worse and the boat is heaving from side to side. The captain does what he has too. He turns the boat and heads to shore, and straight to shore, and doesn’t back down until he hits that shore, straight on, full force, up the bank, as far as he can go. At this point we see people on the shore just crouching down, holding each other and holding their possessions, trying to save anything and everything from blowing away with the wind, including the children. Nowhere to hide and nowhere to stay dry. Forward to an hour later, still sitting in the same spot. One of the worst storms I have ever seen, but we made it, and everyone is alive, unlike the storm in Sapa a few weeks before, and the boat is still, somewhat, floating. About 2:30 now, so we actually should be there soon, maybe, hopefully, god willing, but just happy to be alive really, so who cares, but what did happen to those people on shore? They’re gone now. Gulp.

     Shwwooo. That was close, maybe closer than we know. A few firm pushes and we are off again, albeit a bit slower, due to the still choppy and engorged river, and a bit wetter , to put it lightly. A few more stops. The village of potatoes, the village of carrots, the village of cabbage, the village of …well, there really is nothing here and not a hut or house in sight, just a bunch of people with their flip-flops off in the middle of a field on the edge of the river looking like flip-flops are the local crop… so the village of flip–flops, the village of the hut floating in the middle of the river where a lot of stuff is being unloaded and loaded, etc, etc. It just gets later and later. The seven hour, maybe eight-hour, already past the ninth hour, could be a ten-hour ferry ride goes on. We dry out by the wind, thank you Jesus. The ferry eventually trims down and everyone spreads out this time, actually having room to spread out. A cup of coffee at the “restaurant”, which is quite good, all the while sipping it thinking about that bloated rat that floated by earlier in the morning as the “restauranteur” pumps up more water from the river, as I talk to the waitress/busgirl/cashier, …as I think about all those people I know who wouldn’t touch the coffee for fear of some unknown deadly virus as they pour the anti-bacterial stuff all over them and starve to death for fear of eating local food. Well, bring it on I say. I’ve never had a problem before and a little bloated rat in my coffee ain’t gonna stop me!!! (I can feel the Karma changing already).

     We get to know the other tourists on the boat. The Chinese family. The Euro, Canadian, Australian, South African, who knows what he was guy that just talked way too much, about anything and everything, but most definitely about nothing. Ughhh. The same guy who pulled on two rolling suitcases in the morning along with a backpack on his back …and his front. Ten hours later, thinking back to that moment, now I understand. The Japanese girl, the most out of shape backpacker in the world …who actually looked like he just had a growing spurt because his clothes were way to small, short and just plain tight. Even his shoes looked like they were too small for his feet. Two Italian ladies, the Swiss couple of course, and a group of younger backpackers from Australia. A good mix. Throw in two Americans, a Thai and a Taiwanese girl, and things were quite international. The rest of the ride was smooth sailing, quite enjoyable actually, as we passed the tenth hour, eleventh, sun is going down, twelve-hour ferry ride. …note here that Bagan is only 90 miles (140 km) from Mandalay, where we started this journey …and I’m at 2500 words now, so I’ll hurry this along.It’s dark now, and we see the docks and lights. Yeeeah!!! As much as I love ferry rides in third world countries, it’s getting a bit much. At hour thirteen, 7:00 PM, we finally hit the dock. A real dock. Everyone out… WoooHooo… Wait a minute, not our stop. What??? Back to watching the dark. This is the village of most of the locals are getting off and laughing at the rest of us for still being on the boat. Damn. 8:00 PM, nothing. 9:00 PM, still going. The waitress/busgirl/cashier goes to bed for the night …ahhh come on, she was still sleeping when we got on the boat this morning. Can’t give her too much grief though, and you’ll see why in an up-coming post. 9:30 …the journey ends. All-in-all, fifteen and a half hours on the boat. …wish there was a fast tourist boat, but honestly, I’m glad there wasn’t. An experience I will remember for a lifetime, and one I wouldn’t trade for anything. I saw what the locals had to go through on a daily basis. How they travelled, traded, bought and sold. It’s Myanmar, and little variances in time have to be accounted for, no matter how big those variances are (over 100% this time). I probably learned more on this ride than a lot of people learn in years of social studies classes, plus it was a lot cheaper, and probably a lot funner also. An experience in itself, and one I would suggest to anyone. Don’t fly, that’s to easy. If the destination is all about the journey, this destination is well worth it. …even if it does take fifteen and a half hours to go ninety miles. Hey, it’s Myanmar!!!   …as I step off the docks/gang-planks/dirt bank and right into THE biggest scorpion I have ever seen in my life (the big black holy crap and I’m in flip-flops so I could possibly die if I take another step because the stinger on that thing is over an inch long type).

     About two weeks after we step off the ferry I see a news headline. “Irrawaddy ferry capsized by storm. One hundred missing. Fifty confirmed dead.” Damn. I hope the pirate queen is alright…

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar X - Ferry Ride Photos

The Ferry

Travels through Myanmar VIII – Munchkin Banana Pirates

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar VII – Mandalay

Mandalay, Myanmar.

     Beep.Beep.Beep. Uuugghhhh. 4:00 AM. Time to get up and head over to the ferry for the eight-hour, could be seven-hour, but maybe ten-hour, boat ride to Bagan. We should be there by 2:00 PM. Get up, pack it up, head out the door by 4:30. Not that I’m not excited. I love boats, and I have wanted to go to Bagan for years. …it’s just early …with a bit to drink last night. OK, let’s go. Check out. No problem. The staff at the Myit Phyar Ayer Hotel even packed us a boxed breakfast – (not a bad place to stay at all, but after seeing that link I just posted, I had to laugh …maybe I’ll do a short review later). Awesome. Head out the door. Hey, look at that. The tuk-tuk driver we talked to yesterday is actually sitting there. Great. Hop in and head down to the docks.

     Get to the docks …here we go, where’s the dock? There is no dock. But these are “The Docks”. That is correct sir, say the people. The docks with no dock. Aha, Myanmar, almost forgot. The “ticket shack” is jam-packed. A heaving mass of body parts flailing around and fighting for any inch of space that gets that body part a half-inch closer to the way too small window, or hole, in the side of the shack. Everyone fighting for tickets. Touché, we already have our tickets. Yes. The office we got them from said they were the actual tickets, and said we didn’t need anything else, but seeing the “fight to the hole” …I figured we “misunderstood”, but it seems we are the only people in the whole of Myanmar who don’t have to wait in “line” for our tickets. Sweet. Right down the gang-plank and onto the boat, after a few minor purchases of food and drink on the way. Almost the first ones here. Whoops, “not our boat”, says the guy with the big gun, it’s the boat that is docked to this boat that is docked to the gang-plank that leads down from the parking lot, right next to the shack/hole/ticket booth. No problem. Still one of the first to arrive. The on-board “restaurant”, ok, the on-board table with bench and small stove with river water pumped in, not “restaurant”, isn’t even open yet. …not even close. The waitress/busgirl/cashier still sleeping on her mat. We take our seats in the “tourist” section… 

     Note: we actually had to take the “slow boat” as we were told the “fast boat”, or tourist ferry, has actually ceased to run due to the lack of tourists. We were told this, and purchased tickets for the slow boat, two days before. …approximately one hour before we met a nice Swiss couple who told us they just purchased tickets for the “fast boat”. D*mn. Oh well, too late now and everyone else we talked too said the fast boat no longer ran …we’ll see. …end note. (The fast/slow/tourist/local ferry pictured below ↓ ).

     A few minutes later, people start piling on, in, in-between, all-around, all through, and everywhere and anywhere there is an inch of space. Flashbacks to the “ticket shack-hole”. No worries. We have some room. Than, lo and behold, the Swiss couple who purchased tickets for the “fast boat” come trouncing on. Looks like there is a “fast boat”, it just happens to be on the same schedule and moving at the same speed at the same time on the same days as the “slow boat”. I have to smile at them as they give me a sly smile back. It’s all in fun. The boat is scheduled to leave at 6:00 AM. We pull out around 7:00 AM. Not too bad, I call this a win, remembering the ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa, which was supposed to pull out at 7:00 AM, …as we watched the sunset at 6:00 PM from the same exact spot. That’s another story though. As for this one, the typical old, third world type ferry, with plenty of patches, everything well-worn, and looking like it can turn over and sink at any second without an instant of warning. Good enough for me, if not a luxury liner, at least we have coffee. About an hour in you cruise through the hills of Sagaing. Through the outskirts of Mandalay, under modern bridges and power lines. The landscape becomes more and more rural, until, at about 9:00 AM, nothing but fields with the occasional stupa and shrine. It seems like the boat is getting more crowded at this point, with most of the tourists spreading out, stretching their legs, messin’ things up as tourists usually do. I may love boats, travel and ferries, but I hate being packed into a corner. A few more hours of cruising, or more like slowly floating against the water, and we should almost be there. Just watching the sights from the top of the boat, a dead rat floating by here, a bloated dog there. A fisherman here (yes, in a boat, still alive), a kid running on the shore and waving there. 9:05. Cha-ching. The Chinese man behind us calls out the time,”WA-CHA-MY-HA”, at the top of his lungs I may add, as he pulls a bottle of Johnny Walker Black out of his bag with a big smile. The Swiss couple makes it a check as they pull out a bottle of “Myanmar Rum”. Gulp. 9:05, I guess it’s late enough. At least I know how to say “drinkin’ time” in Chinese now. Check that off the bucket list. …as the local Burmese look at us with faces of wonderous “What the heck is going on, are these guys crazy?” kind of stares. A few sips by the older local gentlemen and women and everyone is family, as well as happy and smiling for some reason. PS: the picture to the left up above IS the waitress/cashier/busgirl …more on that later.

     …to the first stop. The village of bananas. Yes, bananas, and I didn’t name it this until after the next few stops, but the reasoning behind the names I picked is because it seemed every village we stopped at had one, and only one, product to sell and trade. It was actually kind of cool. You could see the yellow from about a mile away. The village of watermelons (upcoming) …you could see the green and pink about a mile away, etc, etc. It seemed that the reason this wasn’t considered a “fast boat” was because, well, it was slow to put it mildly, but it also stopped at every village along the way. Every village. At each village, the local “product” would be loaded, off-loaded, traded, sold, bought, eaten and everything else you could do with that particular product. I gotta tell you, it worked. Why bother growing all kinds of different produce when you can just concentrate on one and then use it to trade for the rest. Yes, there are problems with the thinking, big problems, but if it works, it works very well, and it looked like it was working. Back to the bananas. First stop. The boat pulls up, a few feet from the actual shore, because there are no actual docks, and the river is too shallow to pull all the way in …and the gang-planks come out. Stick with me here folks, remember this is the land of docks without a dock. People on shore start running, people on the boat start heaving stuff over the side, everyone is in a panic. It gets real loud. People getting off, people getting on, hawkers up on the boat selling their wares, er, well, bananas. Whole bananas, fried bananas, bagged banana slices, banana sandwiches, banana balls, bananas on sticks, banana salad, banana pie, banana juice, banana chips, dried bananas, banana oil, banana paste - I think you get the idea. Kids running everywhere selling this stuff, weaving in and out of the crowd, in-between chairs, over railings, through legs, around backpacks, like a little munchkin banana army wielding an array of banana products. “You buy Banana!” “Cheap, Cheap”. Nothing but a few kyat will fend them away, you can’t hide, they’ll find you. You can’t climb, they’ll reach you. You can’t run, they’ll catch you (not that you could even move on the boat at this point). At one point I think I had one stuck to each leg, stabbin’ me with bananas in the shins, trying to trade for my camera, for my hat, for my flip-flops, one on my back, “I trade for you hair”. A few shakes of the legs, and I am free… I teach one to say “AArrrggghhhh”, another “Ahoy Matey”. A few I teach to say, when asked their names, to answer “Jack Sparrow”. A loud chorus of “JACK SPAWWO” goes roaring through the boat.

     The waitress/busgirl/cashier is standing on a table at this point, actually I should say “the” table, long metal spoon in hand, seeming to rally her fellow munchkins, playing Queen of the Munchkin Banana Pirate Army as her troops create havic all-around. I want to give her my “I’m a Pirate in Real Life” t-shirt, but realize I left it at home… A few more long, loud, hectic, very amusing, minutes later, the horn blows, the gang-planks are pulled in, the munchkin banana pirate army exits the boat anyway they can, like a bunch of plundering munchkin banana pirates should, being done with their mission. Down the already moving gang-planks, over the side, through the rails, jumping off the bow, the stern, the roof, bananas scattering everywhere, kids screaming in happiness as they play Pirate’s of the Irrawaddy. Yelling back at the boat, arms, and bananas, waving in the air, the ferry passengers egging them on. I hear an “Aaarrghhh” in the distance, a few Jack Spawwo’s running around the shore, all the while thinking about the next ferry that stops by :). The crowd on shore laughs, gathers their munchkin pirates, money, mini Jack Spawwos, and bananas up, and disperses till the next opportunity to attack comes (wish I was there for that). Everyone is in a happy mood again as the boat pulls away, without a tourist on the boat knowing what the heck just happened. Were we just attacked by munchkin banana pirates? How do they know who got on, who got off and who may be stuck on the boat from the village? Where did they put all those bananas? What if some are still on the roof and waiting to sneak attack? Why is this kid next to me still trying to get my empty bottles? Who owns this kid? Did you see any of the munchkin pirates swinging by a rope to get off? I think one is hiding in my backpack. Why is there a banana in my back pocket? Where is that Rum?

…and it doesn’t end here. This is just the beginning of the Ferry to Bagan. Stay tuned for more. It only gets better, or, well, worse, or both, or neither, depending on how you look at it. Next stop, the village of watermelons…

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar IX - The Almost Perfect Storm