I was strolling around the city, looking for a decent place to have a cup of coffee, when suddenly I saw a man waving at me from a nearby restaurant. Firstly, I was surprised as I did not know the guy, but obviously he tried to catch my attention. Since I had nothing else to do I decided to join him.
As it occurred the guy was a solo traveller from US. He was a strange mixture of physical worker, masseur and the artists travelling around Myanmar in search of strange black beans – a plant that he used for artistic installations or whatever other not obvious reason. He enjoyed being alone and meditating however hated eating alone and as such he always looked for an opportunity to eat with someone. Today it was me!
„Yesterday, in the bus, I met the most peculiar person. Sad and full of anger in the same time. He was complaining that everywhere there were too many tourists. I thought it would have been strange if there were not any as he was travelling to one of the most touristic places in the country. I wanted to make him feel a bit better so I proposed we could share a room or grab together a dinner, however he just replied it was too touristic place for him and he was coming back to Mandalay. I am not quite sure if he enjoyed him better over there…”
I doubt this as well. My first thought was that my new companion was a really good person and when I have a bad day I would like him to be around. My second thought was more connected with my experiences from previous week – the journey you take might be the greatest one, but without the proper attitude still you will not enjoy it. Even if something goes wrong you might find a positive sides in every aspect of your travelling. That is actually when the true adventure begins!
Last week, when I arrived in Myanmar almost everything went wrong. Travelling is not always about beautiful landscapes and lovely people. Sometimes it is a real pain. My last week was full of tiny and more major pains and aches. Starting from the incredible, almost unbearable heat, crowds on streets, homelessness and ending on sickness and fever.
Basically, I would just loved the idea to buy a plane ticket to Poland and come back home instantly. The idea almost alike to the one that made my friend’s companion returning to Mandalay. However, I doubt it I would feel better in Warsaw rather than in Hpa-an puking all night round in the small hostel in the outskirts of the city. In such times it is crucial to concentrate on positives. I had luck one more time!
Having landed in Yangon I met Irene. She was struggling with ATM issues and after quick chat we decided to share a taxi. Next to days we spent together – as it occurred Irene was just a perfect companion. Serious talks in well air conditioned mall, sightseeing, taking a millions of pictures on the local bazaar, everything was just perfect. We had almost the same needs and expectations towards travelling and as such it was hard to say goodbye after two days of hanging around together. We promised each other that if possible we will meet up again!
Too be honest Yangon is a bit underappreciated city. Of course it is just huge with gigantic traffic jams (it you leave for bus station at 5am it will take you one hour to get there, at 9 am it will be two hours, and after 3 pm around three! Just crazy!), however it has a slow, easygoing vibe underneath! I enjoyed Yangon with its markets and climatic pagodas!
Once I said goodbye to Irene I headed off to Pathain – a small town in the southern region of Myanmar, famous for bamboo umbrellas’ production. It was the challenge from the same beginning. First thing – getting the taxi in the motorbike option only… Just image: me, the driver, my big backpack, small backpack and the camera. Everything on one tiny myanmar bike! I seriously do not know how I survived this travel, but I did. Surprisingly enough after couple of minutes I just fell in love with motorbikes!
Pathein apart from the hustle and bustle in the port and crazy heat occurred to be also a climatic place to hang around with local people – especially good memories from one of the local umbrella workshop. I headed there out of curiosity. Nobody spoke English, however we quickly establish common polish-myanmar sign language. I had the most lovely, slow morning with the workers and the owner’s daughter chatting and giggling with me all the time.
Only after my visit to Pathain, it was when the troubles begun. In the most unexpected way I found myself in Hpa-an. It was a place when I lost the heart and the force for travelling. I was homeless, sick and really tired. I was visiting places but seriously it did not give me any pleasure at all. In this kind of mental condition I met the English guys. Much older then me, he firstly just irritated me with his ignorance and stupid comments about Polish immigrants in UK and post colonial Myanmar history („they would have been better of if the Brits had a colony here for a longer time… it would be better organized, the local people would have a higher standard of life” etc). However, I soon realized that actually he was just by guardian angel. I owe him not only the place to stay overnight, but also a huge help in sickness and serious life lesson – not to judge people too quickly! I judged him far too rapidly – shame!
That is why I love travelling! That you might be mistaken. Sick. That you can meet people from different backgrounds and with different opinions. You may try new things and you can either love them or hate them as well. And that sometimes you need to be vulnerable and soft and learn how to be grateful for what you are given. Life is full of surprises! I wish you a lot of them during your journeys!
Author: Joanna Zubkow