Fly to: Yangon, Burma
Internal Transfer: 4 flights to Thandwe, Heho, Mandalay & Bagan
Visa required: Yes if British
Currency:Myanmar Kyat (MMK)
Time Zone:+6hrs30mins GMT
Day 5, 10/02/11: Burma - The Golden Shadow
Over breakfast it was decided that I would accompany Joanne, her egg stains and her Lonely Planet Guide into Old Rangoon. A place she'd wanted to visit ever since seeing a pub by the same name as a wee nipper in old London town.
We took a rather rickety taxi down to the gardens then walked solo; two strong, independent women in the bustle of Old Rangoon. Challenge 1: crossing the road; sounds easier than it apparently was.
It was a good job we were together, a prolific combination, what with Joanne's lack of small print vision & my astute (ahem a term used loosely) map reading skills we were primed for anything.
Old colonial buildings rose up from the side streets. It was an obscure place to walk, obviously two white women, holding a guidebook blended in with the discretion of a turd floating in a cocktail but the obscurity came from the buildings themselves.
The grand colonial buildings were very British in their architecture but appeared to be in disarray, their neglect visible from every angle. Gazing up I was transported into war-time Britain, the air-raids, with each building telling a story; its plaster, its brickwork scarred by untold hardships. If walls had ears then these pitted, blackened walls must've heard many a cry and if they could talk, well who knows of what atrocities they would speak.
We grabbed two rickshaws, for two reasons really, first off we figured it'd be a whole heap of fun but perhaps more significantly we figured our drivers would know far better than we did how to get to our intended destination - The Scott Market.
Cutting in and out of the traffic was a little unnerving; at one point we cut out in front of a bus which was changing lanes. I closed my eyes in the hope that my rickshaw driver would be able to pick up the pace. As a glanced towards him he looked completely unfazed, but then again he would, it was me who would've taken the impact.
The Scott market was just setting up so we only got a slight glimpse of how big the market was likely to be. Joanne wanted a coffee, so we stopped at a place which had all the tell-tale signs of a Starbucks (well, less the sign & coffee machines of course!). After we both nodded in confirmation, we were seated.
Four year olds would have probably been more suited to this miniscule plastic table & chairs, it was hilarious; I felt like an Umpa Lumpa. One of those surreal moments which will probably make me smile for a long time to come, the added bonus of course was that it demonstrated I could still touch my knees to my chin.
To the sound of Joanne's plead of, 'real coffee, is it really coffee...' We were soon given hot water and a packet mix of coffee; hmm I'm not quite sure that's what she meant...
As we made up our drinks a monk came to our table...eeek what to do...what to do...
After a rather drawn out discussion on whether we were permitted to make eye contact, whether we should give money, 'do you think he wants food?'
The guy next to us prompted that we should present the monk with some food. We did so but by now he just looked rather displeased, turned and walked away. It would seem our accumulation of good karma wasn't going too well today.
In an attempt to make up for the error of our ways and armed with the knowledge of 'we know what to do next time' we saw an elderly nun on the other side of the street. With our intention in place we set off in pursuit, cutting back & forth across the street. It would seem the nun however was having none of it; always keeping just out of reach.
It didn't take long before we conceded and set about the mornings other challenge; finding toothpaste for Joanne, who up until now had been using soap. Blessed with the universal sign language for 'toothpaste' - a finger scrubbed across the front teeth, we set about our task with our usual vigour & enthusiasm. Unfortunately, toothpaste from the 1940's didn't seem to appeal to my travel companion.
Back at the hotel Roshi delivered a teaching. To meditate with the group was an absolute gift and enabled me some much needed time to ground myself.
We packed up our belongings and boarded a twin prop plane; destination Thandwe or more precisely Ngapali beach; approximately 50mins away. As the plane came in to land we were cruising just over crashing coastal waves; jagged rocks rose from the turquoise waters.
Stepping into the Hotel Amata was like stepping into paradise. My room overlooked the Andaman Sea along with miles of an unspoilt golden beach. The sea here is the most stunning colour.
We ate our evening meal overlooking the gentle waves. Whilst tucking into a magnificent banquet Jo announced it had been her birthday.
The evening was filled was deep conversation, much laughter, sharing and to top it off Ede had arranged a surprise birthday cake.
After everyone headed to bed, Jo, Paula and me headed onto the beach, the sand & sea still warm from the intensity of the sun's heat. Under an almost full moon it was decided we would indulge in one last act before retiring for the night; skinny dipping.
The atmosphere was perfect though the fear of bringing untold shame upon our beautiful Sangha featured extensively in our discussions. I so wanted to indulge, to free myself and step naked into this beautiful warm ocean but I was filled with absolute fear, of what I've no idea but it was like I experienced a re-birth as I struggled with each one of my conflicting desires.
Under a starry night sky Paula pointed out Orion's Belt and the Big Dipper, the sensation of the water against my body was captivating. Initially each swell that rose and fell brought with it much warmth, caressing my body; occasionally though a rogue swell would bring with it a cold, icy chill which made my skin prickle and jaw clench.
After reclaiming our bath robes we headed up to our rooms. As we crossed the threshold into Paula's beachside retreat, Joanne & I were tickled with the giggles. On entering we had noticed an unusual looking frog attached to Paula's window. As we giggled hysterically Paula's attention moved above Jo's head...
Panic filled our bodies, without looking I scurried across the room towards Paula. As I turned and looked up at the wall there was the biggest spider I have ever seen. Seriously this spider was 'face' size. Needless to say our nervous laughter progressed onto a whole new level...nearly, but not quite into the snot bubble realms.
Paula took charge...well it was her room! Jo & I offered our support and instruction from a safe distance; I think I stayed pretty calm considering my overwhelming sense of panic. Then Paula pulled out a magazine, 'Ooo-no don't you dare flick that over here' squawked my voice, a voice now several decibels higher.
Through either fatigue or complete boredom the spider decided to meander out of the room of its own accord. The girl's (for which I'm grateful) did a safety & wildlife check in my room, finding only a few geckos.