I wasn’t game to look down, but I was sure my knuckles were as white as. It wasn’t so much the trucks we were weaving in and around, it was the speed at which were doing it.
I had been waiting to meet the rest of the trekking party. The two day trek would take us through remote Myanmar villages. Suddenly a motor bike pulls up in front of me. I’m ushered to get on the back. In particular I was instructed where to hold on. This wasn’t the arrangements we had discussed with the guide the day before. Never assume I reminded myself.
I thought we may be going a few streets away to meet the others. Instead, before I knew it we were well into the country side. The highways here I’m sure are not much more than flattened oxen tracks with bitumen thrown over top. The road surface challenges even the plushest of busses. For a passenger, it’s like a full body massage on wheels. Or for a more vigorous work out, on the back of a motor bike as I was experiencing.
A half hour had already passed. As we shuddered our way along our share of this highway experience at a breakneck pace, I glanced over the shoulder of the driver. I was curious of our speed. I discovered the disrepair state of the speedo was just the tip of the iceberg. It looked like half the motor bike was missing. Wires were hanging loose, some barely connected. I pondered what difference it would make if they were all connected. Part of the electrics were wrapped in a piece of dusty plastic. Even one of my foot rests was missing.
I gathered from the speed we were doing, my driver was under instruction to deliver me post haste. A destination I was yet to find out. I never got to see the face of the rider as he was wearing a full face helmet. Curious about his age, I studied his hands. I gathered by the smoothness of his skin he would have been quite young. As we overtook yet another vehicle dodging a truck coming the opposite direction, I figured he was definitely around the invincible, I can live for ever age. By contrast, it was quite clear he had no appreciation that his passenger on the back was more at the preservation age stage of life.
Helmets it seems here are more of an optional fashion accessory. I quite like the “achtung schnell schnell” German style ones, as I call them. At least my driver was wearing a helmet. That offered me some small level of comfort knowing my driver must have at least some morsel of consciousness for safety. Until I suddenly thought, “oh shit”, as we continued hurtling along the highway, I was not wearing a helmet. Wasn’t offered one. I could feel the grip of my hands tightening as I pondered the potential consequence. I started doing a mental check of the state of my travel insurance. If in fact they would pay out any way. I did have a baseball cap on if that was any consolation.
My knuckles may have been glowing white by now. But what I couldn’t help find amazing were the locals. Casually sitting across the back seat of their bikes. As if they were sitting in a chair at home knitting. Except of course they’re chatting away on an iphone…. if not also the driver. Add in a few kids perched in between mum and dad, and you’ve got your typical Burmese family on the move.
I did eventually get to meet the rest of the group. And we did arrive in one piece. I’m sure it was because of all the Buddhist temples I had visited over the last several weeks that must have released some good karma that we made it safely. Plus I was able to salvage my phone’s earpiece cord that got entangled in the wheel axle! It was yet another enriching Myanmar experience. Two days trekking through the villages and mountains with a group of travelers from different nations, together experiencing more of the beauty and the culture that Myanmar offers. Experiencing an overnight stay with the monks in an ancient Buddhist monastery.
But it’s the genuine friendly warm nature about the Burmese people that captures you. They may be less governed by rules and regulations. They maybe a poorer country. But they make do with what they have. To the point where a line of women cart the gravel by basket to make the roads and the cement to pave the paths. You may not always understand what’s going on. And just like that trek, it all happens in the end.
Leaving this delightful country, there’s one thing you cant help but take with you. It’s the Burmese smile. Smile and a glowing radiant beam of human spirit smiles back at you. Life doesn’t get much simpler than that.
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