Get on the bus Myanmar – and get me there alive!

The overnight bus ride from Hsipaw to Nyuang Shwe was a rather memorable event… even more so, it makes a damn good story.

…It felt like we’d only just rolled out of Hsipaw when already we were pulling into a road house for a rather early dinner break, which was perfectly okay by me. The road houses here in Myanmar are incredible; they serve such great looking food and put the shitty road houses in Australia to absolute shame – there were no three month old shrivelled up sausages rotating on bacteria infested metal rollers here, on no! Instead, fresh curries, vegetables and rice, noodle soups, snacks and sweets, hot teas and social circles could be found at every table. You want some spiritual enlightenment whilst you eat your curry? Yeah, there were monks there too.

As the dinner break came to an end, so did our first bus driver’s shift – he swapped with a man teenager who then spent the next few hours – and way too many hair pin bends – trying to learn how to actually drive the bus.  He first attempted to learn what switch did what (turned cabin lights on, off, dimmed, on, off, lowered the bus suspension, turned the TV on, then off, then on, then the lights on, then off, then on again, found the sound button – turned that up to full volume…) before eventually crashing our bus hard into a cement barrier…
on a hair-pin bend…
on a very steep incline…
directly above a large cliff face…

I was suddenly very awake.

Reversing the bus whilst the local passengers laughed and I quietly shat myself, the driver attempted to move around the bend again… and again, he was unsuccessful and another crash, jolt and horrible scraping sound could be heard.
Managing to turn on the third attempt, he was able to drive for a few more minutes before another sharp bend saw our bus crashing again – barely missing a large truck as it drove on by at full speed, honking the horn loudly as it passed. At this point, the local male passengers were wetting themselves laughing whilst I was finding nothing about this situation all that funny.

“Oh my god. We’re going to die.”

A few more minutes passed whilst terrible Burmese karaoke continued to blare through the TV screens and our bus driver collided our bus hard with another sharp corner yet again. The grating sound was long and louder this time and even when reversing – or at least, attempting to reverse back up the steep incline – the grating on metal continued. It forced two of the other drivers/bus staff out onto the pitch black roads – bare footed and in their little white singlets and lungis – where they spent the next half an hour or so running in front of the bus, between massive trucks and speeding motorbikes and around the sharp corners, directing the driver and teaching him that he actually needed to go wide to get around these corners and not bottom out. From my window I could see this all unfolding and couldn’t help but think… “only in Asia.”

These steep roads, blind spots, hills and sharp inclines/declines, curves and bends, narrow roads and terribly rough and damaged road conditions understandably make it difficult to navigate a bus, and I spent a good portion of the night hours staring out my window watching every section of dimly lit road pass under me. The driver had obviously learned the hard way how to take corners wider but had not yet discovered the off button for the cabin lights that shone brightly all night long.

At some points during the journey I felt nervous; at other times the situation was just so ridiculous that it was actually laughable…

…Like at 12am when our bus stopped for another dinner break, giving us all an opportunity to check out/admire the damage to the front of the bus. Yep, it was… aaah, well. Let’s say “rather damaged.” Someone’s boss isn’t going to be too happy.

…and then again at 1am when I watched as our bus driver foolishly attempted to overtake a motorbike on a sharp bend – at the very same time that our bus was being undercut by a massive truck with an idiot driver behind the wheel. I mean, seriously. I’m wondering how I am actually still alive and writing this.

…and then again at2am when Akon’s “I Wanna Make Love Right Now Na Na” ringtone buzzed loudly before the phone-owner eventually answered and began having a general chit-chat.
What is it with Asia’s obsession with Akon!?
It’s becoming insufferable.

…and again at 3am when the driver was still winding his way up and around and then down and around hills and mountains; the the bus bouncing and jerking over every pothole and uneven surface… and the lights were all still on.
It was impossible to sleep…unless you were a local, of course.

Finally at around 6am I watched our bus arriving into Nyuang Shwe – more than two hours earlier than we’d expected. I was happy to be here… and just alive in general, really.

If traveling has taught me anything, it’s this:

Sometimes, you just have to trust that things will be okay.
And if you can’t trust? Then I guess you just have to have faith.”

Inle Lake: I’m here.

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Bad Drivers, Strangers, Couch Surfing and a Little Bit of Trust

You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.

Trust. It’s a beautiful and daunting concept. Hard to gain, easy to lose – isn’t that how it goes?
But, what about when you travel? Does it become a whole new concept? I think so.
Sometimes, you don’t get a choice… And sometimes, that can work out to be better than you ever imagined.

When it comes to travel, I am constantly reminded to think “You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.”

And it’s true, for the most part. I don’t believe you can travel, if you are not open to trusting others.
Travelling, [especially backpacking], and trusting people work together.

I’m not suggesting you walk blindly into any situation and just hope for the best. Sometimes common sense kicks in, or maybe it’s your gut feeling that guides you, and you can tell wether it’s a situation you’re comfortable in, or if you want to get the fuck out. Sometimes you can just ‘know’ when you don’t need/want to trust, but other times… you just have to.

Like when you get into the back of a taxi, and spend the entire time with your heart beating wildly in your mouth. You don’t have a choice – if you want to cover a distance to get somewhere, then – at some point you’ll have to take transport, and trust someone to get you there safely.

Or when you check yourself into a backpacker dorm, pack your belongings into your locker and your important doccuments into your day pack… You need to be able to trust that as you sleep/shower/eat, your basic belongings  will still all be there when you come back to your room.

What about when you order a meal? Your common sense and gut instinct can help you here to an extent, but other than that – you have to trust what you eat is safe enough to not have you spending the next 4 days with your head in a toilet. As travellers – we all know this is really difficult and not always possible.

And what about people? People can be so hard to trust! How do you trust that overly-smiling tuk tuk driver when he says “yes, yes, very good, very cheap, the cheapest, yes, yes, follow me, come come, I give you so cheap.?
How do you trust that weird guy in your dorm when he asks if he can borrow your lap-top for a little while?
How do you trust a stranger in a foreign country when they say “Of course, I can help, I can guide you…”
How do you trust someone who you’ve never met before, and known only for a few short minutes, with your life?
I’ve been in all of those situations, and sometimes, you just have to trust.

Sad but true, I’ve found that occasionally when people offer me something generously in a foreign country – somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder why they would be so generous. It’s terrible to admit, but sometimes that little part of my brain telling me to be cautious starts buzzing, alerting me to the idea that “it’s too good to be true”. Is it the same for you? Sometimes, because of this, I am reminded to trust – becuase not every person is trying to take advantage of me in some way.

What about Couchsurfing? Have you ever tried that?…
Jake and I plan to couch surf in every country we visit during our trip – we’d like to do a lot of it. Not for the “saving money” side of it at all – our reason for couch surfing is to meet locals, and see a country as a traveller, rather than a tourist. Couchsurfing can help us to do that…

But, how do you trust someone you’ve never met, and agree to stay in their home, travel with them, eat with them…? There are no lockers there for your pack, no locks on your bedroom door, and you have no idea who these people are…
Yet, you click a few buttons and type a few lines, swap a few e-mails and there you go – you’ve got somewhere to stay and the possibility of a great new friendship. What a foreign concept to me, what a great one at that! You push aside all those “stranger danger” and “online safety” alarm bells ringing in your head, after years of being taught that in school, from your parents, and through the media.

Couch surfing is built on trust. Trusting your instincts, and trusting others… Thinking of strangers as friends you just haven’t met yet… And I like the concept. A lot.
There are some not so nice people in the world, true, but I think there are a lot more, a LOT more good people out there. And I want to meet some of them.
We’ve already got some couch surfing opportunities lined up, and we hope they work out for the best…

I like how travel pushes people to trust, more so than they might usually. It’s a hard concept to get my head around, but I appreciate it.
We can’t wait to travel; we can’t wait for those dingy hostels and bumpy bus rides. We can’t wait for those people we are going to meet – where ever you are. We can’t wait for our new friends, and those couches we are going to sleep on.
We’re excited to experience travel, and life, and trust is simply part of it all.

So we’re going travelling with open hearts and big smiles, and we look forward to meeting you somewhere Asia!