most adventures that people go on while traveling these days are.. well, not all that adveturous. pretty much everything anyone does and any place anybody goes is based on information they read in a guidebook. people follow well trodden paths, and even when you try to go “off the beaten track”, there’s probably been tons of tourists that have done the same thing before you. during this trip, i’ve really been hoping to do something a bit adventurous, something that millions of others hadn’t done, but i could never figure out just what i could do, nor how i’d find out about it.
in myanmar things are a bit different. because of the government’s carzy rules, foreigners are totally forbidden to all sorts of random areas of the country. there are pockets all over where not a single tourist has gone before. one of the places i was particularly interested in was Chin state, which is in the west of myanmar. foreigners are only allowed to visit one tiny little area in the state, and this even only on a very short half day guide-led trip. i decided that i really wanted to go there. although bagan (where i was now) is not all that far from chin state, there are no roads going there that are open to foreigners at all. the only way to get there for a tourist would be to do this huge loop that would take days and days and days of travel… but there were roads that burmese people could take.
after thinking about it for a while, i decided that this would be my chance to do some adventuring. i was going to chin state no matter what. i was going to ask around and try to find a local who could sneak me in somehow. part of me though this plan was ridiculous, and really sketchy… but hell, people have done crazier things than that, and you only live once. what’s the worst that could happen, right? the government here has deported people for doing things it had forbidden, but being deported wouldnt be the end of the world. the main question i had was how i would find someone to bring me… and that’s where the two brothers walk into the scene.
on my second day of sightseeing in bagan, i was walking away from a temple when two burmese guys walked up to me and told me that they wanted to show me something inside the temple. i was a bit weary, but i went back inside anyways. turns out, they are artists and they spent the next 20 minutes showing me their art and pressuring me to buy something. and then, believe it or not, i find out that the reason they are anxious to get money, is that they are going to a festival in chin state the following day and were hoping to earn some extra cash by then. i couldnt believe it. all of a sudden it looked like my opportunity had fallen right into my lap. so, diverting the conversation from the paintings, i started asking about the festival, and then basically told them that i wanted to come with them. they were a bit surprised at this, and told me that they were traveling by boat and that traveling would be rough… sleeping on deck, no western food, no tourists anywhere, uncomfotable, etc etc. they tell me i probably wouldnt be into traveling like that, and then try to diverge the conversation back to selling their art.
but i’m insistant. they tell me that they could probably take me, but they’d have to talk it over w/ the boat owner. they ask me one more time to “help them” by buying a painting, and i mention that if they can help me get to chin state, i’d help them w/ 10 bucks. with that they said they’d go talk to the boat owner and stop by my hotel later. as soon as they left, i started worrying a bit. was this such a good idea? going off, god knows where, w/ two random brothers and their friends? the other though that kept nagging me in the back of my head was, what if i got these people in trouble? i wouldnt want my stupidity to affect others, and who knows what kind of punsihment would face them for taking foreigners into restricted areas. all of these thoughts rolled around in my head as i biked back.. but then i comforted myself w/ the thought that the brothers may have been lying and probably wouldnt even show up at the hotel.
precisely on time, i got a knock at the hotel door. uh-oh. the brothers had talked to the boat owner and he had agreed to take me. the cost of fuel etc for the boat was expensive, so he would need 40 bucks compensation. also, part of that money would be used to bribe authorities along the way if there is any trouble. was i down? if so, i’d have to grab my stuff and check out of the hotel immediately. i thought about it all, realizing that if i decided not to go, i’d probably regret it.. and so i agreed. the brothers (Naing Naing – 25 and Lwin -19) also told me not to worry about the 10 bucks i had promissed them, they thought it’d be fun to have me come along, and didnt want any money from me. they went on to say that they’ve been to this festival 3 times now, and that there has never been a single foreigner there. i was to be in for a real treat.
i rushed back to my room and gathered my stuff. when i told the hotel that i was taking off right away, and forgoing my night’s lodging, they were really shocked, but said ok. they asked me where i was going, and after i told them, they started arguing loudly w/ each other in burmese. uh-oh. it was an awkward situation. on one hand, i didnt want to give anything away, in case the hotel tried to stop me, but on the other hand, i kind of wanted to know if the hotel seemed to think that this was really unsafe. all of a sudden, the argument stopped, and they let me leave. hrm.
the brothers lived in new bagan, a village about 9km from where i was staying. we took a scooter there, and the ride was absolutely terrifying. 3 people on a scooter is one thing, but 3 people and a *huge* backpack is quite sketchy. add to this lots of gravel in the roads. and bumps. ugh. when we finally arrived, i was extremely relieved. we pulled up to their house and i met their family. their father was a fisherman and their mother sold the fish in the village. the house they lived in was tiny. made out of bamboo and thatch, it didnt have much in the way of walls and the floor felt like it would give way beneath you any second. no furniture of any kind.. no bed, table, chairs, anything. the family slept at night out on the porch. the bathroom was an outhouse in the back of the yard. it really is a surprise to me that people live like this, although i guess in myanmar it’s the way life goes.
we had a few hours to kill, so we walked around and lwin showed me some pagodas near his home. eventually we wandered over to the boat owner’s house where people were cooking *huge* vats of food for the trip. the boat owner was a really cheerful guy who seemed excited by the fact i was going on the trip and assured me i’d have a great time. he also told me that if i had any problems w/ anyone or anything, i should bring that to his attention immediately. the atmosphere at his house was great and full of anticipation. everyone just couldnt wait to get going!
eventually we wandered back to the brothers’ home and it was time to get 2 hours of sleep before our 2 am departure time. w/ no fan and no aircon, it was near impossible to fall asleep, but eventually i drifted off.
more on the trip later!