A sad case of 'too much'

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February 16th 2012
Published: April 1st 2012
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The bus ride from Inle lake to Bago was a lengthy fifteen hour stint. Our plan was to escape the tourist trail and venture down south of Burma in hope we might find even more untouched areas of this formidable country. The bus journey itself filled me with dread when I learnt we would be retracing our steps back over the same route we took in to Inle lake, the one where I witnessed a deeply upsetting incident in the mountains. With no other option but to take this route, we clambered on board a spacious bus with reclining seats, water bottles and flannels. So far so good; I was starting to get used to the inside of tin boxes with plastic seats in the aisles and over loaded above clearly defying gravity. We settled in for the lengthy ride.

I watched the colours of the mountainous regions pass me by slowly as we crept down the winding roads, which were still being made. Women and children carried plates of heavy materials on their heads whilst the men churned and boiled the tar in huge barrels. The stench seeped in to the bus filling our nostrils with the throaty smoke creating a sudden explosion of coughing from us riders. Incredible greens, reds, oranges shot past; dilapidated houses, children playing, men drinking at the ‘bar’ and women working filled my sights interspersed with the odd ox cart as we over took them and left them all behind in their little worlds. The beauty of the outside was not mirrored from inside as we gradually found ourselves surrounded by locals vomiting for the entire journey. Full sick bags were thrown out of the bus windows before they commenced filling another.

I knew I was leaving them all behind, what is now would soon be memory as the thought of my travels were coming to a close drifted through my mind and hung on my thoughts in both equal excitement and dread. I had secretly booked my flight home in Malaysia back in January after I was followed in Kuala Lumpur from China Town to Bukit Bintang. My assailants did not give up even when wandering around the Pavilion mall in the hope they might lose me, get bored, give up; that or my taunted mind was playing tricks on me. It was only after I had safely arrived back at the hostel when talking with the guy who owned it over dinner that I learnt there had been some recent issues with western girls and attempted kidnappings.

I have had my ups and I have had my equal share of downs. I have seen things, which have altered my perspective of the world, despise it then fall in love with it all over again. I just didn’t feel I could go on for much longer travelling alone. My confidence was badly shaken in KL, a place I had written about a few months ago on my first visit as a vibrant oasis, an intoxication of colour, wealth, faith and culture. Now tainted, a menacing city for a young western woman with shocking blonde hair, I was abruptly aware of just how vulnerable I was.

Many male travellers and those who congregate in groups will never understand this side of travel; the fear only a woman traveling alone can feel. Sure there are situations that can be intimidating for a man and I daren’t suggest here I know exactly what they are and how it might affect them. Lonely it may be, although I enjoy my own company, the worst part is the fear. The fear something may happen and no one will know about it because you are alone. The fear that I might come to harm; the fear which makes me constantly tuned in to my surroundings and drains the joy out of travelling; the fear greater when entering a country for the first time. If you let it, the fear can take over and I have met many women travelling alone who have been hindered by the fear that has engulfed their every experience.

We all feel fear at some point when travelling, but when you are with others it becomes a collective feeling and therefore diluted. It is less draining, less scary, less inhibitive and less controlling.

The best pats of my travels have been shared experiences. I explored Vietnam with a Zimbabwean, a Kiwi and a Danish girl. I cherish the times I spent with them, here the fear mitigated and therefore I was less conscious of it. Sapa was a mighty conquest braved with Pippa and John. We shared the toughness of our guide and wept at her story before uniting as a force to change the prospects of this one little lady and her three children. In Singapore, Borneo, Siem Reap, and parts of Malaysia my partner accompanied me, again the fear subsided as we shouldered the troubles together. As I travel through Burma with Kalina, again we share those wonderful and terrifying experiences as a team and already have faced sickness, shocking spectacles and traumatic incidents. But as I ride this bus with her next to me I feel safer in the knowledge I’m not doing this country alone. We both agree Burma is too hard to do alone.

Burma is incredible, maybe it is just me, I am tired, worn and strained after the bus accident. I deeply love this country but it has ground me down with it’s oppressive bus journeys, illness, the lack of hotel rooms, the unexpected increase in cost of accommodation, the worry of not having enough money, the dust clogging up my lungs, the constant coughing, and sleepless nights. The lack of contact to the outside world also terrifies me and I have found myself battling with it every day. I have been forced to comprehend my dependence upon technology and struggle with its loss. I miss the daily text from Carl, the emails, updating facebook; all of which make me feel safer. It is all in the mind, I know this, yet I miss it and tell myself I need it. I need that contact to those I know and love. I need to let them know I am OK. I need to tell them the things I have seen. I need to let them know where I am going next just so I can be safe. Safe.

Memories, so recent yet have become like a distant chasm within my mind filter through one by one. I spend the bus journey thinking about the things I have done, the people I have met, experiences and how they have altered me. I look to the future and open my heart allowing myself to feel the anxieties, which I have buried deeply within me. I contemplate how the last seven months will adjust the next chapter of my life. In those early sleepless hours I make promises to myself.

As we step out of the bus, the air still warm at four in the morning we find ourselves surrounded by men keen for our custom. Two men guide us to a hotel and absent-mindedly we follow. We are tired. They try to sell us a room in this ghastly place for $20. In no mood for it I decline and we leave with our bags in tow. Across the street is a little café still open with a few men up and chatting; I cant decide if they have just woken up or if their heads have not yet touched a pillow, but the owner is pleasant and we feel comforted by his good English. We see through two hours sat in the same place drinking coffee like the locals. We are serious, and we are worn from the harshness of Burma, which is also its beauty. Suddenly I feel like I just don’t want to go one anymore. I don’t have enough money to see me through until my flight leaves; the idea of taking more buses leaves me with a vomitus taste in my mouth; and I have no desire left for seeing anymore poverty. It takes its toll on you. It is hard to accept this is their life when ours in contrast so different. I have faced it, I accept it but don’t want to share anymore of it. Kalina feels the same.

It is six am and the two hours have passed slowly as we have deliberated our choices, plans, and options before coming to a decision to leave Burma instead of continuing south. We walk to the bus station, though the bus picks us up en-route and we sit in the last tin can that will take us to the airport. There we will see if we can get flights back to our destinations, mine Bangkok, hers KL. If we can’t then we will spend more time in Yangon.

The bus ride is slow; literally the bus creeps along at such a sluggish speed in the hope it might pick up custom on the way I feel like we may never get there. It does collect customers, but no one sits next to me on the empty seat. I don’t mind. The sunset occupies my attention for the whole two hours as I watch the oranges and reds stain the sky as the sun sneaks over the hills in the distance. When the sun decides it is time to reveal her whole self she is magnificent, dominating the sky with her sheer size alone. The streets glisten as her rays gracefully dance upon them, the monks collecting alms shine in their maroon robes, the sky lights up the shadows, along with the bad feelings from the night before which vanish. I close my eyes and feel the sun soak me with its heat. In that moment I know I am leaving today, but one day I will be back.

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8th April 2012

as always
your writing is so emotionally transportative. I am immediately in your shoes and head and can feel all of those misgivings and fears vying with the triumphs. your experiences will shape you in ways you never knew, now and down the road, I am guessing. If nothing else, it gives us all a firm appreciation for the lovely simplicity of home and those we love.
17th August 2013

I think of you time and again, and wonder how you are getting on after witnessing that bus accident. Writing is a great method of expression and I think you have done a great job with this blog. cheers from Canada

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