I am sailing in the Indian Ocean on my way to Mauritius and later South Africa. We have crossed the Equator and the voyage is more than half-way done. How is life? Like being on a roller coaster, it has its ups and downs, turns and loops, but overall life is fantastic. I found some more time to write and with so many thoughts racing through my head I knew I had to make another post. This time it is about my time in the country of Myanmar, formerly Burma.
The country has recently taken on democracy, just over a year ago! Things have been changing rapidly there and it was amazing to visit a country that was once off limits and corrupt only to North Korea. The most amazing thing is that it has been my favorite country on this voyage, at least until we get to South Africa and Ghana, my favorites from the previous voyage. There are so many things that made Myanmar great but the one that stands out to me the most is the friendliness of the locals we encountered.
We docked in Myanmar late because the tides had to be right for the ship to make it up a river. I wasn’t off the ship until 8pm and was supposed to be off at 9am, eleven hours of waiting was not the best, but as soon as I touched land I was thrilled to begin my journey. We had to be bused to Yangon, the city closest to the dock, which took over an hour. So, my journey didn’t begin until 9pm so there was not much to do during the night in a place I had never been. Typically the group I travel with will look to me for advice on what to do while in the port, but I was in the same position as them, lost like a little puppy trying to find its way home. Fortunately I had an idea of things to do and a handy map to get around so I actually wasn’t that lost. There were six of us traveling together and we had booked a night at the Panda Hotel because the following days we were leaving Yangon and traveling to other places. Go figure, me booking a room at the Panda Hotel, I guess my love for pandas is quite obvious. Anyway, before going to the hotel we decided to grab some beers and see how the nightlife was. As we were walking the streets I was immediately falling in love, it was dirty, scary, underdeveloped and full of people. This is what I did Semester at Sea for, not to see the rich and fancy but to be with the less fortunate, to look for opportunities to help them for a better future. That opportunity came fast because as we were walking the streets a young local, Thura, came up to us and started asking questions in broken English. He explained that he was a student studying English and was curious where we came from and why we were traveling to Myanmar. I told him that we would take him to dinner and we could talk more if he showed us a great place to go. Turns out that the best food was street food! So we ended up in China Town at a small hole in the wall chatting away, eating local food and drinking the local beer. It was one of the best nights on this trip and one I will never forget. I learned from Thura that he was studying to be a travel guide to foreigners because they make a better income than most in the country. This was great news to me because I had a lot of great advice to give him about studying tourism. It also helped me learn more about how tourism operates around the world and how it truly can be the number one industry worldwide. He helped me find my passion again and I am back in the mentality of always thinking about tourism and how travel affects those I am around. It was getting late so Thura agreed to show us to our hotel and then he would meet us in the morning to take us to a bus station to buy tickets to Chaung Tha beach.
The following morning we went to the bus station and bought our tickets for an overnight bus, not quite our plan but the one that worked best. We had another full day in Yangon so we went around and did some shopping and eating. It was so hot and humid there, over 100 degrees, that we ended up at a 5-star hotel to take in the air conditioning. We spent a few hours there just talking and relaxing and getting some good grub. Soon it was time to leave for the bus and to say goodbye to Thura. He was very sad to see us leave so soon, but we have kept in contact with him as the voyage has continued which is something that has been really great for me. One of my goals for this voyage was to interact more with the locals and I think I have been doing a great job at that. We boarded the bus after exchanging emails with Thura and began our seven hour journey to Chaung Tha. The bus ride was bumpy and we were being flung all over the place because the infrastructure is not that great in Burma. I didn’t get any sleep on the bus which was irritating because all of the others were catching up on their z’s. We finally arrived in Chaung Tha at 4am with no idea where we were going to stay. Another adventure was about to begin.
We were dropped off at this one hotel that was on the beach but we had done a little research and found this hotel down the beach. While the others were talking with the reception trying to figure out where to go and if we could get a room I discovered that I left all of my money, ship ID and credit card on the bus. I immediately went into a panic and started running after the bus. Within seconds a motorbike drove by and stopped asking if I needed a ride. I put all of my guards down and didn’t even think twice before jumping on the back and telling him “Follow that bus!” Thankfully we caught up to it and I ran inside to find my money right where I left it. My heart was racing so hard because had I lost everything my trip would have been over. No credit card meant no money and no ship ID meant it would have been an extremely difficult process to get back on the ship. Needless to say I stopped panicking when I got my money back. I jumped back on the motorbike and the driver took me back to my group at the hotel. I gave him $10, a hefty tip there, but didn’t even care, he just saved my voyage for me. Once I reconvened with my group I noticed that they didn’t even know where I went or what was going on. They said that they saw me and then the next thing they knew I was trying to get on the bus. I think they thought I was mad at them or something, not the case at all. The group decided to find this other hotel, so we began walking down the road for a couple of miles before reaching the destination. When we got there I let them talk with reception to see if there were any rooms available. I was very hungry and saw that we passed by a snack stand so I went back by myself to get a drink and some snacks so I didn’t get sick. While I was purchasing my items I noticed that the man who was helping me was looking me up and down and speaking in Burmese. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable because he never stopped staring at me. Then he asked if I wanted to have sex! I couldn’t help but start laughing, smiled, said “No thanks,” and then walked away to be back with the group. As I left he said he really liked me and that the offer would still be on the table. Haha, even thinking of it now starts to crack me up, I guess I was very attractive to some of the Burmese, sorry though, I am taken by a beautiful woman back at home and I am very dedicated to her. Anyway, when I got back to the group I found out that there were no rooms available and that there were no rooms available at any of the hotels except the one we started at. So, we all walked back to the original hotel, another two miles, and got our room. It ended up being a great place to stay, a small blue bungalow right on the beach. The beds weren’t that comfortable but we had mosquito nets and we were only going to be there for one night. We all checked in and the idea of sleep was nonexistent. The sun was coming up and I was full of energy.
I set my bags in the room and then went straight to the beach. It was so cool! We got to see the sun come up as the moon went down. It is very rare that I get to see something like that, but seeing it in Myanmar made it incredible. We walked the beach for a few hours and turned into celebrities. We couldn’t walk five feet without a group of people wanting to take pictures with us. I think many of the people thought we were from Jersey Shore and if not that it was because we were white. Either way it was pretty cool to have a bunch of pictures taken of us. We ended up at a part of the beach under some umbrellas. A few of my friends took a snooze while the rest of us went into the water to enjoy our one day in Chaung Tha. The water was so warm! It was great to be on the beach, drinking beers, soaking up the sun and lots of swimming. This was also the first beach I had been to that had crabs everywhere! There were thousands of little holes in the sand and every once in a while a little crab would run out and back in. After a few hours at the beach we walked through the town and did a little shopping. It was another hot day so the shopping and walking around didn’t last long. Later in the afternoon we went back to the bungalow and relaxed on the small patio we had. We relaxed for a little while but then it was dinner time so we needed some grub. That night we set off fireworks on the beach that we bought from a local girl. It was an incredible night but it wasn’t quite over! We stayed up for a few more hours just having fun and talking with everyone. By the time I went to bed I had been up for 40 hours so I was exhausted. Unfortunately the beds were like sleeping on rocks so I only got about four hours of sleep before waking up and continuing my adventure in Burma.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel and got back on the bus to Yangon. This bus was much worse than the overnight one we took to Chaung Tha. The roads were bumpy again, the A/C didn’t work, and then I got sick. It came out of nowhere; I was just sitting on the bus felt it coming, grabbed the black plastic bag in front of me, and spewed out my breakfast. Coincidentally, so did my friend right next to me. We still had three hours left on the bus and there was no stopping. It was hell. For the rest of the bus ride the two of us were puking our brains out. As soon as we got off that awful bus ride I was going to be sick out the other end. I ran around asking every person and shop owner if they had a bathroom, I would pay them whatever amount, I didn’t care because I was about to die. They all kept pointing me in the direction but I had no idea where I was going. Finally, I grabbed someone’s arm and begged them to show me where it was. Once I got to the bathroom I puked again because it was the most disgusting place I had ever been in and the smell was like one thousand dying animals all in one place. Finally there was relief and I started to feel better. I left the bathroom and got back together with my friends to find out that Alexa, the girl who was sick with me on the bus, was also in the bathroom getting sick again. I started feeling like crap again; I was dehydrated and kept refusing to drink anything because I knew it was going to come back up. On top of that, the heaving was the absolute most painful thing I have gone through, I honestly thought I was not going to make it much longer. There were six of us and we had no idea what to do because two of us were so sick that we could barely walk. One of my friends ended up using a locals phone to call the ship’s medical team to ask what to do, but they didn’t answer. He then called the Dean on duty to let him know the situation. The best we could do was make it to the Trader’s Hotel, the 5-star one I mentioned earlier, and call again. So two of my friends, Summer and Brad, got me into a cab and took me to the hotel. Mike, who made the call, waited for the other two friends, Alexa and Lauren. We were driving in the cab and I felt sick again, I popped my head out the window and started heaving. I felt so bad for the driver because I made a mess all over his door and was essentially hanging outside the car. I could care less what the other drivers were thinking, my body was rejecting something and I was clearly facing a serious sickness. We arrived to the hotel and I ran inside to the bathroom once again. I changed my clothes because I had puked all over myself on the bus and washed my hands and face like crazy. I then walked out and almost collapsed because I was completely out of it. I couldn’t think straight, I felt like someone took a chainsaw to my stomach, and I was severely dehydrated. Mike was at the hotel too and was making another call to the Dean on the ship. The best we could do was make the shuttle bus and get back to the ship, once there the medical team would be waiting and be able to help us. I grabbed my bag and was ready to leave to make the shuttle bus. Even when I thought I was going to die, I refused to let anyone carry my bags or walk me to the taxi to get to the bus. Summer and Brad joined me again and helped me get to the bus where I went to the back and laid down. It only lasted a couple minutes though because the bus had to be completely full until it left for the ship. So, I was stuck in a corner in the back of the bus with a plastic bag, I feel so bad to the students that had to sit by me. I only got sick once and slept the rest of the ride. I woke up right when we were pulling into the dock area and then we got off the ship, I was the last one off. A lot of people knew I was sick but I was again too stubborn to jump the line and get on the ship. I instead waited my turn just like everyone else until a second bus pulled up with Alexa in it. Once I saw her and how bad she was I decided it was time to tell everyone I needed to get on that ship, I was in serious need of the doctor. The two of us hobbled up the gangway where we met the Dean and went straight to the medical room. I was sitting in the chair talking with the doctors and couldn’t keep my head up or form a complete sentence. I was in so much pain from getting sick that even talking or just the thought of it hurt. It was 8pm when I got into the medical office, five hours after it all started. The medical team decided that I needed to stay overnight and was to be administered IV fluids. I was laying in the hospital bed thinking things couldn’t get worse until I was stabbed with a needle in each of my hands to receive the fluids. I could feel the cool fluids going up my arm and I fell asleep. I woke up a couple hours later and was feeling so much better, I could think more clearly and hadn’t gotten sick. They decided to release me to my room so I was put in a wheelchair and escorted to my bed. My bags had been dropped off and some of my best friends on the ship had already gotten me water and crackers with notes to get better soon. It was a great feeling to have those friends on this trip because getting sick in Myanmar was more than ten times worse from when I got sick in India on my last voyage, and you can read all about that in my blog that has already been posted. It wasn’t over yet though, I was still sick for the next three days and it felt like I was in hell. Thankfully, my stomach has recovered and I was nice and healthy to explore India when we got there.
Getting sick didn’t ruin anything about Burma for me. I think it only added to the experience and helped make me stronger. I still love Myanmar and really hope that I can go back there someday. This voyage has been so incredible and I am so happy to be pursuing my passions once again. I want to leave you with another quote by James Michener, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”
Lots of Love!