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Published: January 6th 2007
I had no idea what to expect from Burma. Out of all the travelers I have met along the way, only two had actually been there before. Everyone else had stories of people they knew who knew other people who had dared to risk traveling within Myanmar's untouched territory. I couldn't seem to get 'the bus ride from hell' story out of my head no matter how hard I tried.
A guy I met knew another guy who had taken the bus from Yangon to Inle. It was a long journey and very uncomfortable. After some time the bus began to climb up higher and higher into the hills around windy and precarious pathways. As they curled around a sharp curve, he watched in horror as the bus just ahead went too close to the edge, tipped and then plummeted into the valley below. His own bus screeched to a halt. Passengers filed off the vehicle to stand at the cliff's edge and peer down at the tragedy below. The traveler was frantic.
"We have to help them, somebody has to help all those people!" he cried but nobody around him could understand. He searched along the roadside for a
way down to them but there was none. He finally appealed to the driver.
"Please, can you call for help. Somebody needs to get to the people down there!" he implored.
He was met with a cold and empty stare.
"No," came the reply. The driver pointed towards the wreckage. "All dead."
As soon as we arrived into Yangon, we headed straight for the bus station and were lucky to find the final two remaining seats bound for Inle. We settled into our little space and braced ourselves for the 18 hour journey ahead. Surely it couldn't be that bad.
During the day, temperatures in that bus rose to an all time high. We could barely breathe or move or think. But as night fell we began to climb and weave our way into the hills. The temperature dropped sharply and suddenly we found ourselves shivering and breathing billows of visable breath. I tried to sleep, tried to keep warm, tried to will time to pass quickly. It wasn't long before we were met by a darkness that was so complete it was as though we were reliant on the driver's memory and rather meagre headlights to
navigate through the perilous and winding pathways. The state of the road below caused the bus to tilt and heave, pitching to and fro as if we were caught in a storm at sea. Inside, rows of heads kept lolling this way and that. I peered out of the window and into nothingness. With each left side tilt, I could feel the ground drawing nearer, the cliffs edge almost within reach. It was better not to look. But even with my eyes closed, that wretched scene kept playing over and over in my head: 'all dead... all dead..'
As I woke the sun was just beginning to rise. The world outside was covered in mist which slowly rose to reveal the desolate hills and plains ahead. It looked to me like the land before time. I half expected a dinosaur to step out to greet us. It was eerie and empty and beautiful. In that instant, I knew why I had come. My face was practically pressed up against the glass to take in each moment. With the end of my travels fast approaching, I wanted to savour every perfect scene, every inch of a view I would scarce
behold far, far away in London. The clock I was anxious to push ahead at our departure, I now wanted to freeze, if only for a little while. But all I succeeded in freezing were smiles in photos with stories to tell. And all I have left to savour is the memory of a place which, despite the arduous bus journeys, has made the past 8 months entirely worthwhile.
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