The arrival to Mrauk U was messy: we knew our hotel was close but we couldn’t find it and although a local tried to help, he misled us. Bu once we did we could not wait to go around and see what was expecting us. There it was, a small village with just a very few tourists and a rural atmosphere. That was exactly all I wanted and I had it, right there, just by following a hunch.
The village didn’t disappoint me and after a stroll, we were invited by a bunch of locals to join them. They were in a kind of bar under an umbrella that covered them from the sun. Giampy and I followed their indication to join them and found them having a strange drink. They poured a glass for each and I could taste something similar to coconut beer. That wasn’t even impressive. The thing that shocked me the most was the snack they were having with the drinks and the smokes. They consisted on some kind of tiny dried fish, some chilli “salad” and fried cockroaches in sweet chilli sauce. We were urged to try them, of course and…So we did. I have to say I had my reservations, especially after finding a caterpillar in my shoe (the second I found that day). Was that a signal? Bugs were disgusting! But, on the other hand, I had been waiting for this chance of having the real taste of a bug, not in a touristy location as Khao San Road (Bangkok) or anything of the like, but the real thing that locals eat. So, after a lot of thinking, I grew some balls and took one. The first decision to make was: do I put the whole thing in my mouth or I want to have only half of it? Wait a minute, am I going to bite it??!! No, not really, so I put it on my mouth and got to eat the whole thing, even though I had a napkin prepared to spit it. And the result was not as disgusting as I was expecting. Not tasty, but the taste wasn’t bad. It wasn’t as crunchy as I could expect either. But no, I didn’t like it or enjoyed it. I think nobody was really expecting me to do it. But I did it!
After that, the only thing left to do was to catch the sunset from the top of a hill. Beautiful as always, the not-to-be-missed thing in Myanmar. After that, we came across a guide to do a visit to the Chin Villages which was exactly what I had in my mind to do while visiting Mrauk U. We exchanged contacts to arrange something for next day or the following one. Giampy seemed decided to do it as well, but after getting to our place he seemed to change his mind and was not that sure. He needed a break and I ended up arranging the tour for the next along with another 4 people I didn’t know. I was quite excited and didn’t mind at all to go alone, I was in the last stage of my travelling around Myanmar and the last thing I needed was to take a break and feel I was wasting one day, I needed to make the most of it.
So, next morning I woke up super early and skipped breakfast in the hostel to do this tour and met my new friends for the rest of the day: a German couple and two French old ladies I got to admire. Our guide, John, was also super. I had my reservations about this tour and the reason for this is because I didn’t want to have the feeling of being visiting a zoo, as it can happen with the long neck tribes in Thailand for example. In the first village we visited you could notice how it was a bit forced. The women with tattooed faces were in the main road of the village organising the scarves that they would be selling during the day to the visitors of the village. You could see we were the first ones. The feeling wasn’t great and the ladies were posing and expecting to sell some stuff. I think I understood why we went to this place firstly and before anybody else: to make a point and show the contrast with the later village we would visit. The two villages after were wonderful and we were giving away candy. I had a great time with the kids around and the women with tattooed face were just doing their stuff in the village, not posing anymore. Still, it felt weird to be taking pictures or getting too intrusive and it was obvious that nobody in the group knew how to act or behave. We had been told that some of the women were expecting a donation at times and that we were free to do as we wanted. In the last village, our guide organised some lunch and after that we had a coffee with some of the women with the tattooed face.
Nobody knew what to say and I had to break the ice and ask a few questions. The first thing I asked was their age. I think everybody laughed at that question, as nobody likes to be asked the age, I guess. Then, I enquired about the comber in their hair, because I found it funny and because I didn’t feel about asking about the face or anything without a bit of conversation that would make everything natural. Our guide was translating everything for us, and then I got to ask if they were happy that this practise of tattooing the face of the women had stopped. The answer surprised me: they were not happy about it. It was their tradition and they wanted it to keep going for their daughters and granddaughters.
After that, we took a group picture and made a donation along with some belongings we brought, such us combers, soap, tooth brushes from the hotel… Whoever knows me will know that I am not comfortable doing donations without a really good reason behind it, and although it seems there is no reason here as the tour was paid separately, it did felt great. The reason is because they told and showed us all the good stuff the tourism is bringing to their village. The donations of foreigners had built a well for the rainy season, a school and more stuff. These villages were in the poorest area of Myanmar and the exchange between the tourists, who were attracted by these women, and the village was more than positive.
By the end of the day I came back to meet Giampy again and I found him quite differently from the day before. He was not okay being there, unhappy about the country, he didn’t like the village and, in general, very negative about the situation he was in. He wanted to go to the beach but now he only wanted to get out of the country. Initially it shocked me, but I suppose it is not a country for everybody and I respected his opinion and decision. I only wanted it not to affect the wonderful vision I was having about the country and the experiences lived.
For the third day in this charming village, I wanted to rent a bicycle and go around temples and pagodas and houses and villagers. But before that, it was my intention to wake up for sunrise. It didn’t happen. I had kind of seen the sunrise the day before from the boat on the way to the Chin Villages and after two days with very little sleep, I couldn’t make it and I missed it. But the ride in the bicycle made up for everything. The Italian guy and me met a Monk in a temple and chatted with him. To be honest, they chatted because it seemed that the monk was ignoring me quite a lot. I am tired of this monk business with the women: do not touch them, do not give them anything directly, do not show anything unrespectful, bla bla bla. It was interesting anyway, to hear the conversation and participate of it a bit and I found hilarious that they exchanged facebooks and emails. Of course not with me, the woman.
Whatever it happened, Giampy got tired by lunch and dropped the bike to get back to the hotel while I continued to venture myself in temples and other rural areas around. I didn’t understand how he got tired so quickly, but I was going to be on my own in the case that I had come alone, so I was more than fine and I enjoyed myself a lot. Going with the bike around, saying mingalaba to everybody and keep smiling to those friendly faces… Only that was worth it. But I also got to some temples I had for my own and to a lake I discovered after a ruined arched gate that I felt curious about, randomly. I went back to the hostel with a great satisfaction feeling of having explored the town and the surroundings, of being soaked of its essence and feeling especially great and really tired after so much biking. It feels great to go to bed with all your muscles in pain after so much done during the day, after so much seen and discovered. There is no way you look back and say oh, I could have done this as well or I could do better… No, because you know you did your best and you got the unique experience you were looking for, the one that gets in your head and becomes part of you forever.
This might be too deep, but I had to actually think of all this as I got asked by my travelling partner what have I got from the day besides getting tired, of course. I found the question a bit weird but I took it as a challenge of going through things and challenging the thoughts and experiences for getting an answer. Whatever the case, the result is more than positive and makes me feel alive. For the last few days I had been bursting energy and feeling particularly active, with more enthusiasm than ever to do and see things. I suppose the limited time in this country, the fact that I was sick for one whole day and the long journeys spent as dead times are the reasons behind but something inside me was also feeling too good.
By contrast, the negative attitude of Giampy was also affecting me somehow, as I was trying to make the most of my experience I could not see how he was not. He changed his mind a few times and now he didn’t want to go to the beach, he didn’t want to be there as he wasn’t comfortable for some reason and he was having difficulties in knowing what he wanted. After all the days we have spent together (probably not that many although it feels like it) and all the time we have spent chatting I tried to advise him the best I could. I am nobody to give advices but I like to think I can listen and push people to fight for what they want and that’s what I like to think I did. We would not be travelling together anymore. That was okay. We would be chasing our own desires. And that’s how I sent him to India, the love of my life, the most unique and special place I have ever been to. Despite of the negative things he will find there I hope he goes over all that and gets to experience the strong experience the country has to offer and finds what he is looking for: getting a yoga teacher certificate. I will demand a private yoga lesson for me whenever that is happening!
The days in Mrauk U were over and we could only go to Yangon, the main place to fly out the country. For me, I had my flight arranged and for him, he would figure things out. And the only way to do this was by a 24 hours bus or the bus of death. I mean, it is a whole day inside of a bus, in a seat all the time. A whole day! The longest journey I would have experience by bus, no doubt. But I was facing it quite positively, as the new challenge it was. I still remember when I was frisking out about “long” train journeys that were delayed and delayed. But I know better know and I know I can face this and get out of the bus without having a break down during the whole way. Can I???