The team, Guy, Nourdes, Isabel and yours truly, were fast asleep on the bus, when we awake to a man shouting ‘Kyaitiyo’ in our faces, shaking us. We evacuate the bus, startled and a little bit confused. It’s late, dark and some smiling Burmese dude is asking us where we’re staying. We’re in the middle of no where. Before I know it, I’m on the back of a motorbike, back pack on, being driven through the black unlit countryside towards what I hope is the guest house I’d booked for us. The ride was long. The team had no idea what was going on. Our trust was placed solely in these smiling motorbike taxi fella’s. We arrived at our destination after a 30 minute bike ride from hell. I get off and burn my leg on the exhaust pipe and find out the twat of a hostel manager has booked out our room to someone else.
It’s 11pm. We’re in a strange place and have no accommodation. I’ve been in worse situations. Luckily for us the men who drove us down here are happy to take us to the next place, for free. These guys actually care whether we get a place or not, rather than lining their own pockets. We are taken to Sea Sar Guest House. They have a triple bed room and a single. Result. We accept without checking the room. Captain Hindsight says ‘silly mistake’.
The Planet states that …………..
“The cheaper rooms look like a crime scene”
That was an understatement. It looked like a scene out of Saw. A horror movie plus some. Weird old machinery lay in the corner. Dust everywhere. A huge green moldy slobber lay on the floor. Rubbish was scattered around the room. The bin was full. The beds had new but dirty sheets on. The bathroom had some treasures too, a pipe coming of the wall was presumably the shower and the red stain smeared all over the toilet was unidentifiable. The whole room looked like a murder scene. I’ve stayed in some holes but this, by far, out shone anything I’d ever seen before. Usually, Myanmar offered basic but ‘clean’ accommodation. This took the piss.
To make matters even more enjoyable after a night of broken sleep and nightmares about Freddy and Jason, the truck park next door came to life at about 5am. This is when the revving started. Then, Mr Monotone decides to repeatedly yell down the microphone, megaphone, sound system thing. His call outs were savoured every 5 minutes. This hotel just kept on giving.
Do not go there. Ever.
That night we opted to visit the local tea shop to watch the football, unable to sleep after hanging off the back of a mentalist driven scooter for half an hour and being checked into ‘Saw’ Hotel. All the tea shops were packed. They are football mad out here. More so than the Brits. I love their enthusiasm. We order a beer and Guy declares his hatred for Manchester United publicly. This was a poor move. It’s Man Utd v Arsenal and the tea shop was full of Manchester fans. I sank my beer and watched Guy insult them. He’s a funny guy. No pun intended. Down to my side was a bin. It was full of red spit from beetle nut. Nice. The power cut kicked in and so did some of the shops generators, bed was calling. What a hell hole we found ourselves in. However, this is what back packing is all about, being in weird, unpredictable and sometimes unsafe surroundings of a foreign land. Out of my comfort zone completely, I secretly loved it.
The morning brought new optimism. We would definitely move out and catch the bus up to Mandalay via Bago. The timings would be tight but what could possibly go wrong, the roads seem empty and quite well organised.
The first and only stop before our exit was the world famous, not sure why really, Golden Rock. There was a truck waiting for us to take us to the bottom of the hill. When I say truck, I mean a huge truck, like one they would use to take building supplies to building sites. Massive beast with a few wooden planks in the back for our seats. Big enough for small Asians, not large Europeans.
The truck set off to take us to the bottom of the hill with that large gold coloured rock on it. This was another form of transport I’d never had the pleasure of experiencing yet. And boy was it an experience.
The ride was a roller coaster. Again, Myanmar manages to surprise me with its methods of transport. The truck went up and down, around and over the hills at uber lightening fast speeds. Jesus. My hair swept back by the wind, I loved every nerve racking minute of it. With nothing to hold on to I hoped for the best, occasionally bashing into the toothless old lady next to me, who was smoking a huge cigar while clinging onto what I presumed was her three year old grand son. Classy.
The truck pulled in and we escaped as soon as possible. Knowing we had a bus to catch that afternoon we decided to walk up the mountain at a fairly fast pace. Shops and restaurants lined the path up the mountain, which had clearly seen a lot of Burmese tourists over the years. We found a few little treasures on our way up, such as wooden toy guns and samurai swords. Simple things.
At the top was a row of hotels, souvenir shops, places to donate money and shops selling flowers and candles. This place was booming, a top pilgrimage for the Buddhist people’s.
The rock however, was merely a rock balanced on top of another one, painted with gold leaf with a pagoda built on top. If you’ve been to Hampi in India, you won’t be impressed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a special place, and I was that tourist that went snap happy but I was told that the rock was balanced in an impossible position and that it was a miracle it had balanced for so many years. Debatable but it looked good all the same.
Many pilgrims came and offered donations and lit candles and prayed. A sacred place for Buddhists and one I am glad I witnessed, quickly. The thing that made my day special was the view from the top and the village life behind the sprawl of tourist shops and restaurants that has amassed the mountain top over the years. I walked past the pagodas at the top of another peak and down towards the villages that cover the peaks further down. Real village life embraced me.
I passed bamboo shacks, some covered with tarpaulin. People cooked food, washed clothes and sat talking. Children played. I wandered further and further. It was peaceful here, the views pretty nice. These shacks, like most, had TVs and sound systems. Music was played loudly by one hut and enjoyed by others, singing was heard everywhere. In England, I’d have been told to turn it down. I like the vibe. I like that they like music, however bad it sounded to me.
I met a doctor who sold animal skins, bones and medicines. I’d go as far as calling him a witch doctor of some kind. I befriended him and his wife as they gutted squirrels. There was snake skins, cows and pigs skulls, horns, stuffed squirrels shaped like the furry thing from Ice Age films and entire wild boar skins, dried. The squirrel tail key rings were a lovely touch as was the still soggy pigs hooves. Blood, fruit and animal giblets were sold in old whiskey bottles and a variety of feathers and animal skins could be purchased.
The fella was lovely but communication was minimal which left me with a lot of unanswered questions. For example, what the hell do you do with these things? Was it some kind of medical practice? Was it based around a religious thing?
Either way, I was fascinated, smiling and shaking hands, I departed and ran back to catch the others for our roller coaster truck ride back to the hotel of horrors to catch our bus. Time was short, I’d wandered a fair way and started a gentle jog to catch the others, to the amusement of everyone I passed.
We board our truck late and in our minds we’d missed the bus. We were a little narked about this but when we arrived back at the town we had a rep from the hotel of horrors greeting us. He tells us not to worry, the bus is waiting for us. Ha. I love this place. A bus waiting for you. There’s a first for everything. Transport links are limited so we had to rush to get to Kalow on this particular bus, otherwise we would have missed connecting buses and lost two days in transit. Transport is a funny beast out here. It changes constantly. Boarding the bus we have no idea what journey is in front of us. Watch this space.
Clue: the journey demands a full blog post.