September, 2007

Many greetings!

We are now in a very wet monsoon season, an it seems strange to think of it being fall in the USA. Summer finishing up, Indian summer around the corner…………..and then those beautiful fall colors……………..In two weeks we will haul Nepenthe out and paint her bottom again………….have not yet found a way to make this an every other year event instead of every year. There is stuff that grows here in nanoseconds. Warm water and hot sun………..

We are one week post Burma (MYNAMAR)………..and starting to settle down after that experience. As you most likely know, this poor country is ruled still by the junta………….a regime that this world should not be proud to have tolerated. Aung San Suu Kyi remains in house arrest now for almost 25 years in spite of her party reaching an 80% victory in the elections at that time. The military just never let go of the power. You do not see much military presence there thanks to the public relations firm from New York that helped them clean up their image. You feel it though. The people are suppressed………..they lack spontaneity………….they have perfected how to blend into their surroundings. NO one stands out as different. The poverty is so widespread. We saw no mobile phones, no watches…………no sunglasses. When you did see them, they came with western pants and leather shoes, and it was “those in power”. We did some real soul searching to justify our trip there. We did manage to avoid almost all government sites, and anything else that would put our tourist dollars in to their coffers. We found clever ways to get around all that and support the locals. We used their modes of transportation. Walking, biking, local bus, trishaw, tuktuks , local express bus and trains. I think the only transport we did not get to do was to ride a water buffalo! Here is one of our local bus adventures……………..25 people in this small pickup bus. They said ….”yes, yes, room for you!”

We were able to sneak a peak at where Aung San Suu Kyi lives. Both taxi drivers would not stop for us and would not even slow down for fear of reprisals. We went to one comedy show in Mandalay and were told to have the driver let us off at the corner so he would not get in trouble for taking us there. Freedom from Fear…………they do not have. This is Aung San Suu Kyi’s platform. If you can find her writing on this, it is impressive. They call her “ our lady”.

We spent most of our time up in the north area, out in the cities! We rode on the old cobblestone Burma Road………………….took a local train over the Gorteik viaduct. This was built in 1900s, and was the highest bridge in it’s time. It spans this deep beautiful gorge. Scenery was spectacular. This was a real adventure. We went to get the tickets and found we could not even understand the signs to know which of the 20 lines to queue in. We finally found someone to sell us a ticket, but no 1st class one. Just ordinary train they said. We bought it and decided to get on at 0445 the next am and just upgrade then, seemed easier. It was only a 10 hour train ride, no problem. Except………… the am, on the train………………there is really no conductor, and NO 1st class couch on this train. We had a straight hard seat for two and facing us was a similar bench, but they had 5 in there, of course spilling out over the small center portion. We had to take a deep breath and laugh.

A highlight for us was our 2 day, 1 night on the local ferry boat that took us down the famous Ayeyarwaddy River. We did splurge and get a cabin with two narrow beds and a table and 2 chairs. We brought the chairs out to the foredeck and watched this grand river roll by. Beautiful.

The locals mostly bought a piece of the deck and had their mats that they lived on. We figured out how to jerry rig a “pee bottle” for me at night, as the squatter toilets fouled after a few hours, and visiting them at night was a bit of a horror. Masses of humanity all crowed together and it was so pleasant and peaceful. They adapt and adjust in ways that we could all learn from. The ladies wear this Thanaka paste on their faces, in beautiful designs. It protects them from the sun, and is a beauty statement. Many wear it. I was “beautified” by a lady on the boat next to us at one of our stops. What fun.


The 13th century temples and stuppas and Wats of the famous Bagan area were impressivel They are in superb shape. This is like the Angkor Wat of Burma. Mile after mile of these grand monuments of the past. What a culture that spawned this beauty. Here is one of many…….the architecture enthralled us. Some had painted murals inside. We spent one day riding bikes around here, and the next day in a horse drawn carriage. Sunset was viewed from the top level of one of these the last evening.

The only struggle we really had was currency. You could use their kyats, which NO other country recognizes, or US dollars. These US dollars had to be new, crisp and with NOT ONE mark or small wrinkle or tear anywhere. They would just not accept them. We bought their khats as does everyone on the black market, the rates change each day.

Jim had great fun looking at the gems stones……………sapphires and rubies were his specialty. Poking around the authentic gem market in Mandalay was in experience for sure. There are no certificates of authenticity, so it was hard to decide what to buy.

The people here captured out hearts………….you could easily catch them unawares with a smile and hello ( min gala ba) and they would break into a wave and smile in spite of themselves. Once they got to know you a bit they would open up and were so special. The scenery is beautiful, rice patties and mountains, lush green foliage. It took so long to get between places as the roads seem not to have been repaired since WWII. Cobblestone, potholes, dirt. The few main roads between major cities were decent.

We saw several of their old crafts in progress: lacquered ware that was exquisite, lotus weaving…………….as well as silk and cotton. Everything is done by hand……………..even road building.. There was a place on Inle Lake where we saw the best example of hill tribe culture with the “long neck” people. The ladies wear 25 heavy rings around their neck……………it was to protect them from tiger attacks in the old days. These rings are on permanently, they also wear them on there arms and legs. It is thankfully being avoided in the youth of today, but we got to talk with them while they were weaving. The money they make by putting themselves on display feeds the family back home, so we tried to spend a bit at their weaving and silver store.

Three weeks was not enough to see it all, we feel we touched the main parts and came away with a sincere sense of gratitude for the freedom we so take for granted…………….and an admiration for their survival and continued sense of hope that some ay they will also be free.

The countries that trade the most with them of course do not vote for sanctions or censure…….China being a strong support and economic “partner” as is Thailand………. and really all of the ASEAN countries. Disappointing and appalling.

And experience for us…………..not just a land travel vacation. We were enriched.

Our next country is Thailand……………expect to be there the end of October and will stay there for the duration of our 3 month visa.

Look at the fall colors for us, and pick a few Maple leaves in our memory!

Love you all,

Carole and Jim