Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar

The Peacock Lodge set-up a shared taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin. I had asked about bus and was told "No bus. Only taxi or shared pickup. Pickup not good for you. You go taxi." I was a little disappointed because I thought a shared pickup with the locals would be fun. I was considering it and asked how long the trip would take. She said 3-5 hours in pick-up and only 1 hour by taxi. won. I like the idea of a quick trip anywhere. I was told to be ready at 9:30 AM for the taxi that I would share with 3 other people. I sat and waited....and waited and waited. It was 11:00 AM and no taxi had arrived. I asked the receptionist and she said they were sometimes late. After another hour she called to check on the taxi. The said they would be arriving in 30 minutes. It is the waiting around that makes travel hard. My control of the situation is out of my hands. I am learning to be more patient.  It finally arrived at 1:00 PM. The woman had booked the front seat for me. Not a bad deal for $2 more.  I looked for my seatbelt. It had been removed. I can not get use to no seatbelts on any mode of transportation. I have relaxed a little with the Asian driving. It is scary if you pay attention but I have gotten to the point where I just watch the scenery. I don't freak out as often. That solid line down the middle of the line is just a suggestion to not pass in Asia. Most of the drivers do not follow it. I realized this was not a trip I wanted to be in the front seat. My  driver thought he was in the Indy 500 and we raced up and around curves and around pickups on mountain curves. I knew we were going over the side of the hill if another car was coming down. I just shut my eyes and put on some relaxing music. I kept telling myself I had to let go of control and trust we would arrive safely.  We made several stops to deliver what I suspected were movies or video games to stores along the way. Then we pulled into a college campus to pick up a girl. After some searching they find her and she walks out with 4 gigantic suitcases! The taxi driver had a long discussion with her and she finally left one of the bags and then tried to cram everything into the back of our car. I was happy I had paid extra for the front seat. The people in the back seat had to hold her luggage.
After a 2 hour trip,  I was happy as I opened the door and felt the cool breeze. It was 42C when I left Mandalay and 30C in Pyin Oo Lwin. This felt refreshing after weeks being hot and sweaty!
Pyin Oo Lwin is a scenic hill town. The British came here to spend their summers and vacations away from the heat. I spent the first afternoon wandering the streets and markets.  That evening at dinner, a man walked in and asked if I would like to do a motorbike tour of the area. I talked to him and looked at his book of pictures. I told him I was planning to rent a bicycle but if I changed my mind I would look for him in the morning. He told me where he has tea and to come there if I was interested in seeing the area. I woke up the next morning and was feeling lazy. I decided to go find Mr. Guy with the motorbike.
We started off the morning with a visit to the Kandwagyi National Botanical Gardens. They were planted during the British rule and his grandfather was one of the gardens. He joined me on my walk through the garden. It was had beautiful flower gardens, rolling lawns and lakes.  I needed this after the sweltering heat of Mandalay. We wandered through the beautiful paths and enjoyed the serene surrounding.

We saw the flowers and fish ponds and then he wanted to show me the swimming pool. It was just a pool but I was happy we had walked over. On our way back, I heard a loud howling. I asked if it was a monkey and he told me there are no monkeys in the park. Then we met a friend of his that works in the park. He laughed as he told him that I thought it was a monkey howling. His friend said the joke was on him. It was a monkey! He pulled me to the side and pointed high in the trees. I could see a black monkey. Then, we heard a howl behind us. I turned and a monkey was walking from the lake back to the trees. It was waist high. I was shocked! They both told me I was very lucky because this rarely happens. 

The park is 177 hectacres with numerous areas of paths, lakes and animals. We walked on and fed the fish and geese in the park. Then through the orchid and butterfly house before arriving at the watch tower.

The elevator was broken so Mr. Guy said I could walk the 10 flights of stairs on my own. It was an easy climb and the breeze was wonderful. I walked around and around. At the 7th level I found 2 young adults having a romantic interlude. And then 2 more at the top. The poor young girl was so embarrassed to be caught making out with her boyfriend. She apologized to me for not acting appropriate in public. I smiled and told her I was not offended and she told me how her parents do not like her boyfriend because he is too poor and will not give her enough wealth. I listened as they told me how much the love one another. Then she asked me if my parents get a choice in who I marry. Ha, ha, ha! Never!! (Sorry, mom and dad!)  I smiled and answered their questions about American life. They let me take a photo of them by the wall with love messages (where they were kissing).

As I talked with Mr. Guy, he explained that many of the old British homes are now government controlled hotels. He was friends with a few of the proprietors and offered to take me to see two. We drove towards Circular Road and stopped at  Craxton first and then on to my favorite hotel, Candacraig Hotel.
This hotels need some tender loving care and will probably be updated as tourism increases. I asked the cost of these hotels and was shocked the government run hotels were very expensive.
We continued on past the Chinese temple. Over lunch, I continued to ask Mr. Guy abut life in Myanmar and the changes he has observed over the years. As we talked, I was amazed at how the people openly shared their thoughts and feelings about the government and their hopes about the election in 2015. The overwhelming sense is that the Burmese people hope Aung San Suu Kyi becomes the next president of Myanmar, but they are hesitant if the government will allow her to be president. Only time will tell.

After lunch, Mr. Guy asked if I would like to see his home. I thought we were just driving by to see where he lived. Instead, he pulled up to a cinderblock wall and we got off the motorbike and entered the gate. It was a small courtyard where his wife greeted us. She invited me in to her home. It was small. Just a living room, bedroom and an outdoor kitchen and bathroom. He and his wife and daughter lived here. The whole area was probably 500 sq ft. His wife offered me tea and cake as she motioned for me to sit in the living room. She asked me about life in America and turned on the tv- because Americans love tv! I spent 2 hours at their home answering her questions about life in America. As we left to continue our journey she wanted to send the rest of the cake with me. I thanked her but said I could not eat that much sweets. It was a nice experience and once again a stranger opened their home and life to me. These are the experiences that I would never have if I did not trust these people or open myself up to the opportunities. I know as I leave Asia, I am going to have to be more careful and less trusting.

Our journey ended with a trip to the waterfalls and a tour through a village. It was the end of the day and the sun was setting. Families were headed to the river to bathe and water buffalo were relaxing in the fields. Mr Guy took me up to one of the oldest railway stops in the area. He told me this was like the old Pony Express in the USA. I smiled and thanked him for a wonderful day.

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