Day 76: Myanmar takes place in review mirror, for now
Sitting alone at dirty, corner restaurant I order my last breakfast in Myanmar. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
BOUNCING across the Thai-Myanmar Friendship bridge back into Thailand, I am a bit giddy in anticipation with being reunited with my bike. Returning to Thailand after nearly 28 days, feels like coming home – it has been the closest thing to home I've known for the last five years: I can say more than “hello” and “thank you” to locals; I can go back to taking my shoes off any time I enter a building; and I can return to waiing people in respect and thanks.
Most importantly, I can regroup in Chiang Mai – sort out the necessary paperwork for bringing the bike into Myanmar, as well as review what the possibilities are for an overland crossing into India versus shipping the bike to the east coast of Africa, where I'll finally have some running room. As it is, it's appearing that the bike and I are boxed in by India and China.
It's raining as I cross the bridge, not hard, but the kind of weather that brings the Myanmar experience full circle: not so long ago there was similar weather as I unhappily trudging the other direction this bridge with my backpack.
The trip from Kalaw after a day of hiking to Mae Sot is along one. Sleeping soundly, as one does after a good day of hiking, I woke in the gray blue of the early morning to the stewardess informing me that we'd arrived at Babo – about ten hours after departing from Kalaw. My stop.
Surround the bus is country, not a building in sight. The young woman in her crisp, robin's egg blue uniform explains.
“Free taxi takes you in town,” she says.
My stuff is unloaded from under the buss, hidden behind leaf wrapped packets of some produce.
Babo is a dirty, mid-sized town, the taxi stops. A middle-aged Muslim man wearing a longi and chewing bettle nut he, rips off a pink ticket for Myawaddy, then points down the road to where I can get breakfast. It's still early, only about 6am, but the town is alive, even if most of the shops are closed.
The ticket was 16,000 Kyat, which seems expensive. But what am I going to do about it? Storm off in some random direction with piles of stuff hanging off my limbs? Of course not. For all I know, 16,000 Kyat is exactly the right price – I have no idea.
Breakfast is rice with a kind of oily chicken curry and two samosas fried up in dirty oil. In front of my table, a young man stokes the flames of a fire in a clay pot below a large, oiled surface used for frying paper thin rotti. With the flames curling up out of a hole in the side of the pot, the man returns to preparing the balls of dough on an oiled, stainless steel tabletop.
The bus, which ends up being a shared taxi, doesn't arrive until 8am. I have time. Eventually, even this time slips by and I climb into the taxi. Across the street, I'm charged 1,000 Kyat for my extra bag – the drone. I pay it. Again, I have no idea if I'm being ripped off or not, though I doubt it in this particular case.
Alone in the taxi, I momentarily hope it will stay that way, as I lay across two seats and sleep. We drive for five minutes, then stop for a 20 minute break, before lopping back to where I was picked up and picking up another passenger. It takes awhile for the taxi, which is in fact a minivan, to fill up with people. Though when it does, they attempt to put the drone bag on the roof.
“No. Can not,” I say sharply. Feeling a bit righteous after having had to pay the extra money; I'm not about to put my 600 dollar drone the roof of the van in a bag that I've already proven is less-than waterproof.
The idea of putting the drone on the roof comes up again a few minutes later, but I hold to my guns on this one. If they really push it, I'll just put the bag on my lap and demand my 1,000 Kyat back – purely out of principle, which tends to be the dumbest justification for nearly anything
I have high hopes that I've been ripped off and that we'll arrive at the boarder town of Myawaddy in no time. Those hopes are dashed when we stop for lunch – it's going to be a very long car trip.
“Noodles?” I ask.
Nope. There is only rice
“Chicken?” the pretty, Burmese woman asks.
I smile and nod. It's like that when you don't really have many options, you just suck it up and enjoy what you have.
I spice up the big bowl of fat, overly fluffy rice with roasted chili paste, pickled veggies, pickled bamboo shoots and a couple other sides that are present in little porcelain bowels on all the tables of the open-faced restaurant.
The rain that's been coming down like a child testing all the nozzle settings on a fancy shower finally finds the monsoon setting. It hammers down outside. A scrawny chicken and her chicks scamper around on the cement floor of the restaurant. I drink my coffee – ingredients listed in the following order on the packet: sugar, dried milk, instant coffee.
Outside my window of the taxi, there is so much to explore, despite the rain. Putting my book down, I want the taxi to stop so we can walk along a low bridge running out across a marshy lake to a small, golden temple nestled into the base of a limestone cliff, mostly hidden by dense jungle trees.
Further down the road a field of Buddhas appears in the tall grass behind a fence. Hundreds and hundreds of the exact same statues lined up like white tombs stones at the Golden Gate National Cemetery. But sitting here in the van, it's impossible to stop and explore these little gems hidden in the countryside.
Someone in the back leaps for the window on the far side of the van, vomit gushing out of his mouth. A bit hits the man sitting next to me, more hits the edge of the window, but the majority makes it out of the van. It takes a moment for me to realize what's going on. The driver continues driving, as people pass the poor kid wearing a water. I hand over a pile of wet wipes.
The van arrives in Myawaddy, on the other side of the Moei River is Mae Sot and my Honda CB500X. It's nearly 5pm, which is when the boarder closes. At least that's what I remember.
Anxiously, I watch the time slipping by – I know it's five o'clock somewhere, but I just don't want it to be five o'clock here. Not yet.
We drop off one person, and then another and another. The bridge is just up ahead, but it's now past 5pm.
I hope that I'm wrong about when the border shuts down, or at least it's more of a soft closing time. Though it probably doesn't matter, I don't want to be stuck in Myawaddy. I want to be with my bike in Mae Sot. I want to kiss the fuel tank, hear the engine and feel the throttle, even if it's just by poking around town for a couple minutes.
Bags in hand and longi wrapped around my waist, I make my way to the Myanmar Immigration Office. A man at the window waves me inside. Neither of the officers appears to be particularly interested in me. Eventually, one of them has me feel out the rudimentary departure form. He then places my passport on a scanner and I sit in front of the camera for a picture.
His phone rings. By his tone it appears to be a friend. He losses interest in me again, sitting back, feet up, chatting away. Finally, another officer comes in, apparently a bit confused with where in the process I am. They get it sorted out. My picture is taken. My passport is stamped. I am free to go.
Back across the bridge, I arrive at the Thailand Immigration booth. The middle-aged Thai woman in a purple Puma jacket and reading glasses chats with me a little. We talk about why I have the awkward departure-arrival-departure stamp from a single day.
“I take bike, but Myanmar says no. So I come back. Leave bike. Go back to Myanmar,” I explain.
I also have to explain why I have a business visa, but claim not to be working. The visa should be cancelled by now I explain.
“I want to show you,” she says. “Near Mandalay.”
Digging through her phone, she pulls up some photos from a trip into Myanmar she and so co-workers went on. With my backpack resting on my hips, I lean in and take the phone from her, looking at the photos as she swipes through them, sharing her 14 day trip with me.
“I'll have to go there next time,” I tell her.
Thud, thud, sounds the stamp.
“I give you 60 days,” she says, being exceptionally kind, though I don't really need that much time in Thailand. This is just a pit stop before the next dice adventure.