The road is lined with buses and large goods vehicles. All cars and bikes have given up and turned back. After a ten minute walk we see our bus drive past us. Poop. We sprint, in our flip flops after the bus, terrified of getting left behind and loosing our bags. The bus stopped and we caught it up. The bus driver laughed at our vain attempts at running. He knew we were there but wanted to park further up the road. Funny man. Real funny.
We’re half an hour late for our bus to take us two hours up the road from Kyaitiyo back to Bago, so we can catch a connecting bus to Kalow. South to North. We’re late but conveniently for us, the bus is waiting. Hopping aboard extremely pleased, I remember thinking luck was on our side. Thank you Mr Back Packing Gods. However, we had no idea that there was several miles of traffic that had queued up for the last two days waiting to go over the bridge that takes you to Yangon and the rest of Myanmar. We had no idea our two hour journey would transcend into a nine hour marathon which involved three buses, a lot of hiking and hours of waiting.
Let me take you back, way back to when the four of us were sat on the bus, happy the bus had waited and excited about our future exploits in Kalow. The TV was showing the usual trash comedy the Burmese love so much to watch at full blast. The bus then stops in the middle of no where, next to a canal. We wait. And wait. The traffic builds up on the other side. We start to question the situation when we see everyone evacuate their cars and buses.
Conveniently, there is a stall selling freshly cut water melons. We escape the bus and join a rather large queue. The traffic jam is solid. No body speaks good enough English to tell us what’s going on. A little bit of excitement on our bus journey is much appreciated at this point, but playing on our minds is the thought of missing the connecting bus. Bus times in Myanmar can be bizarre. We’d planned our route well but if we were to be late by more than two hours, we would miss the bus and be delayed by up to 36 hours. The last thing we needed was to be late.
After a game of charades and broken English we think there’s been a crash between two buses. Motorbikes zoom up and down picking up passengers who don’t want to wait. Mayhem is unfolding in front of us. Escaping traffic can’t move but most people are, as always, calm and relaxed. If this was England, there’d be extreme sighing fits behind the wheel, a few angry pikey’s shouting and plenty of beeping and most would be moaning about the state of life in Britain and how they’d escape if they could. But here, they just get on with it, resilient and calm. Maybe they expect it, maybe the Buddhist philosophies and meditation make these souls able to control their emotions in a positive manner, maybe the relaxed pace of life doesn’t put pressure on them to perform for the clock. Life goes on. Another route must be found.
We wait. Everyone is out on the streets, confusion had set in, nobody was moving. More people deserted their buses and jumped on motorbikes who weaved in and out of the buses and passengers. A bit confused as to how bikes can get across the bridge and buses can’t, we figured there must be a boat crossing. Weird. Many street sellers walk the road trading food and drinks to the stranded thousands.
We hear the bridge is 3km away. Guy and I walked off to see if we can get any news.
Heated debates in Burmese pass another hour. The old man and the monks at the front of the bus were getting rather animated. We had no idea what was going on. Classic. We were certain we were going to miss our connecting bus.
After another hour of waiting and the sun already set, a young fella on a scooter turns up. He broadcast his news and yet another full on argument in Burmese fills the bus but his time everybody starts to pack their bags and get off the bus. Like lost little sheep, our confused team did the same. Our aim was to meet another bus on the other side of the bridge where we were told, would take us safely to Bago. All hope of catching the connecting bus was lost but our solo aim was to get to Bago that night so we could all get a decent nights sleep. Hope was our friend. We walked the 3km to the bridge, past the raging traffic, the beeping bikes and stranded buses. We squeezed in between cars, the locals delighted to see us, waving and shouting the only few English words they knew. Our cries of minglabba receiving big laughs and cheers. Dust and pollution from prehistoric cars and tractors filled the air. It was a tough trek.
When we finally reached the bridge the issue became clear. Some muppet crashed a massive digger into the top beam of the bodge job of a bridge, it lodging itself firmly, leaving only a small gap for motorbikes and passengers to squeeze by. Height restrictions clearly not enforced. Maybe health and safety checks are good thing eh. The picture below is only for guidance. Kids were not involved.
We walked past scores of people sleeping on the road under buses and lorries. Some lorry drivers had got together, lit a fire and were merrily drinking the night away. It was like a refugee camp. Our team of walkers, mainly Burmese, young and old, finally made it to the other bus. We helped each other, some had torches, some carried the young children and some helped carry bags for their elders. The restaurants were packed full of the stranded. Business was good. Trudging along for what seemed like an eternity our tired hope turned into cheers and celebrations. We bonded. We made it together. We boarded the bus and found a seat. Comfy and relaxed we again waited. This is where the bus is meant to pull off and we finally get to our destination. Wrong.
Another dude on a scooter entered the bus and babbled something in Burmese. Again we are clueless as to what was to be our destiny. We were all ordered off the bus. That’s right, we were on the wrong bloody bus. Nice touch. Regaining our bags we trundled down the road for what felt like another two hours. This time the bus was the correct one and we did head off to Bago. Eventually.
San Francisco Guest House was closed when we arrived. Luckily for us, banging as hard as we could on the shutters did the trick, waking the lovely landlady who squeezed us into our usual rooms, small, clean and extremely noisy, just how we remembered them. Bago: Round 2. Unexpected but always a pleasure.
After a much needed 10 hour sleep we had breakfast and used the WiFi in our usual tea shop. I headed off alone down to the river for a walk, discovering a huge market place. Watching life go by is still fascinating here. Ordinary people doing ordinary things.
I joined a group of men playing a gambling game. It was a mix between subuteo and pool, but they used a wooden board with holes in each corner and numbered bottle tops and counters. Four can play. Winner takes all. I watched and learned.
Walking on, applying my sun cream made the locals laugh. In fact, some locals just laugh when they see me. I laugh back. Just a little paranoid, I check my hair in a market stall mirror. All good fella. They were just jealous they didn’t have my masculine good looks and blonde hair.
There were many lanes leading to various departments of the market. The dead and dried fish section made me want to vomit although the flies seemed to love it. The fruit section made me buy bags full of bananas, oranges and apples for the journey ahead. The banana man was especially friendly, telling me his love for Manchester United. We bonded. He gave me a free banana.
Walking for what seemed like an eternity I ended up in the part of the market that was under cover in what looked like a huge wooden shack. I was confused by the buckets of brown sludge on sale.
You could buy fresh fish, flies, clothes, spices, electrical goods from the nineties, tapes, VHS, camera films, stack systems and loads of unsold toys from UK shops. The market was by what could have been a beautiful river, however there was some shabby looking bamboo shacks and a huge man made rubbish dump.
I met up with Nourdes and wandered down the main road. A car pulls up and a huge tattooed local man with rotten teeth pulled up in his freshly cleaned white car from the eighties. He was shouting at us to get into the car. I’ll admit it, for both us, we crapped it. He wore a black shirt with a dragon design and had a Timberland flat cap on. He looked like he came straight out of a New York gangster movie. I declined his offer. He insisted he wanted to show us the sites. We again declined, explaining we had already seen the sites and were going to catch a bus to leave. Before we knew it he had jumped out of the car and ripped his shirt off, his entire body covered in fine tattoo art work. We were a little startled. He demanded we take a photo and put it on the Internet. His words were, ”make me famous”. He hugged us. This confirmed what we expected, he was under the influence.
He was a forceful man who we didn’t really want to piss off so when he dragged us into a tea shop next door we accepted all the samosas, cakes, tea and soft drinks he threw at us. He caused a scene. The calm and tranquil ambience of the tea shop was broken by this large, shirt less and very drunk yob shouting his demands. We were a little embarrassed.
He tried to explain to us how he had a hardcore life with no money until he moved to Thailand and started dodgy business. His Engli,sh may have been better if he wasn’t so high. The spit that flew from his mouth whilst talk shouting was quite off putting. After he mentioned I look like James Dean and Nourdes like Charles Heston, we decided to politely tell the ranting lunatic that we had to leave. He insisted we didn’t pay for anything and again, gave us a huge sweaty hug, declaring that both of us were extremely beautiful men. A lovely fair well to Bago.
I stupidly shaved my golden locks off via Nourdines beard trimmers. My first visit to the mirror was a shock. I knew instantly I had made a mistake. My face tanned, my hair showing how pale white the top of my head was. Twat.
We finally boarded our bus to Kalow, 24 hours later than planned but with some first class experiences under our belt but my head was cold.
Destination Kalow. Trekking the game. Happy happy.