The Highs and Lows of Travel
08.03.2010 - 13.03.2010
View Burma, Indonesia and Laos on jonshapiro's travel map.
We arrived after a bumpy six hour bus ride from Yangon. The beach on the Bay of Bengal is wonderful. Warm clear water, smooth bottom, and enough waves to be fun without being scary.
There is some development , though surprisingly the primarily upscale hotels are tastefully set back beyond the swaying palms. This is not a beach for locals, except perhaps for the generals and their ilk. Luckily, at this time of year the beach is practically deserted and the hotels are empty, except for ours, Shwe Hin Tha, one of the cheapest at $20-$30 US. Though not full, it had a good crowd, primarily Europeans of various ages. There is a restaurant nearby where the food is reasonable, if not especially good. Better food is to be had in some of the places closer to town, a rather longish walk of 45 minutes. If you get lucky someone may offer you a scooter ride for free if you eat in their restaurant. Otherwise they want to charge an exorbitant $2 a person.
Our bungalow, right on the beach, was a good place to stay, despite the rather lumpy beds. Our immediate neighbors were a delightful couple from Frankfurt, on a year long round the world trip.
There is absolutely nothing to do here except sunning, reading, and swimming. It is perfectly suited for unwinding from the rigors of traveling in other parts of Burma.
A walk to Lover's Island, at low tide, provides a nice diversion.
On the bus ride over we met Hugo from Portugal, who had just been at a silent meditation center for a week. We spent much of our time at the beach with him, as he happened to be staying in the same hotel. Over the course of several days, he told us most of his life story. His parents divorced when he was quite young, and he was raised by his mother and his abusive stepfather, until Hugo kicked him out when he was 15. His father is a simple, poor man with left wing politics living in the Algarve, and mother is now a successful businesswoman, married to a wealthy attorney from an old, conservative Portuguese family. Hugo has had a lot of responsibility for many years, and seems to be a natural at running his guest house in Lisbon. Having a business partner gives him the freedom to travel half the year.
One entire afternoon was spent talking, as well as listening to Fado on his tiny, but pretty damn good, Ipod speaker. After a while I put on some of my own music, Otis Redding.
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,
Watching the Tide Roll in and Away.
Indeed, we did just that, while taking swigs of a bottle of Mandalay Rum. The music was accompanied by the ever present sound of the surf, as well as the occasional oxcart, huge wooden wheels, laden with bamboo from the nearby forest. What a juxtaposition of sights and sounds, East and West. Modern technology and stone age transportation. I burst out laughing at the thought of it all happening simultaneously.
Other days there were fishermen.
A Good Segue into THE LOWS:
Around 3 PM a local woman came by selling barbecued fish. Delicious, or so we thought until a few hours later. Nanette was the first to get sick. I thought I had escaped, but it was not to be. In my fantasy, the indomitable, spy, Dr. Myint had struck again, this time going for broke by poisoning our intrepid travelers. GOTCHA. We should have known better. While the fish was cooked, we didn't see it cooked, and who knows how long it was baking in the hot sun. Or perhaps it was the sauce?
Shitting and vomiting all night long. Nanette especially, was weak as a kitten for almost a week. Both of us had aches, pains, and then extreme lassitude for a good part of our stay at Ngwe Saung. Yes I suppose it was a good place to be if we were going to be sick, but it was BADDD for several days and then on and off after that. (More on than off). Hard to keep anything down, we each lost weight in a hurry. It was mostly tea, the occasional piece of toast, and half a banana.
So the rather melancholy Fado music was an appropriate prelude.
AND BACK TO THE HIGHS: (Slowly)
At one point, slightly recovered from our near death experience, we took a long walk along the beach with Hugo. We were trying to find the only internet in town. By the time we got there, we were both exhausted, but we wanted to book our hotel back in Bangkok, where we would return in a few days. There was a rather bizarre email from our ethnobiologist, Dr. Myint, asking where we were. It seems there was no escape. We paid the price the next day, once again being laid low by our stomachs. Gradually, we improved with papaya and ginger tea, and the warm sun and perfect waves were just what the doctor, and I don't mean Dr. Myint, ordered, or would have ordered had their been one.
One afternoon we got to chatting with Anna, a Paraguayan born Korean, who grew up in Vancouver and now teaches English in Seoul. She seemed excited to hear about our own Korean adopted daughter and was full of travel stories to places like Iran, Syria, Egypt, etc. I was again reminded of the special quality of "travel friends."No past, no future, only NOW. Each moment has an intensity to it, as does so much of the travel experience. It feels unique to be in Ngwe Saung with Hugo, and to have met and talked to Anna, Lisa and Oliver, our Frankfurt couple. Yes, this place is a bubble, mostly populated by adventurous Europeans. And yet, last night, still somewhat sick, we were at a restaurant in town being serenaded by the owner, strumming his guitar while singing Myanmar love songs. So the bubble is far from complete.
Nanette, Hugo, Yours Truely
On this evening the sun is going down and the pink sky contrasts with the low clouds that seem to form every night. At this time of year, they bring no rain. The waves are quieter now, though the sound soothes as always, as the cooling breeze blows off the water. Only a short time left. Despite the stomach problems, it will be hard to leave.