Heading for thehills

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Asia » Burma
December 31st 2016
Published: January 2nd 2017
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The action packed days, late nights and early starts are starting to take a toll on the kids - they are looking pretty tired but still behaving like champions. Deaks said he feels like a sponge trying to take it all in. A ninja sponge that is. But, we have only have one morning left in Bagan and it's New Years Eve. What does that spell? SUNRISE! Up you get, the taxi will be here at 6.

Today we head for the eastern side of Bagan. Aiming to get bewtween the sun and the majority of the temples and the balloons. We climb (or should I say catch an elevator to the 11th floor) a purpose built tower and have the sun at our backs. We are closer to the airport at Nyaung U than Old Bagan, but the 360 veiw is again spectacular. You don't feel as immersed in the temples around you, like yesterday, but to get an aerial veiw of this vast spread of temples is mindblowing.

The darkness initially hides the ridiculous number of temples. The larger pagodas (Shwesandaw, Ananda, Gawdawpalin) are silhouttes on the horizon. It's only in the light of the sun that the hundreds and hundreds of smaller pagodas in the immediate foreground are revealed. The morning sun reveals the reds and oranges of the rustic bricks that are exposed to the elements on the majority of the pagodas. As it gets higher in the sky, the recently scrubbed Ananda Paya stands out in the distance. Once again, despite our efforts, the multitude of photos don't do this veiw justice. Truly spectacular!

Next to our breakfast restaurant is a partially collapsed pagoda. It's labelled as a 12th century pagoda. Not bad...but it's not quite 1st century is it? Despite it's younge age, the lack of repairs reveals the structure. The walls are over a metre thick and resting on arches made only of incrementally tiered bricks. The structure is impressive and a little hard to comprehend how the hell these were built a thousand years ago (give or take) and how many people would have built them over how long.

The Burmese appear to have a more the merrier employment policy. No job is too small for group of locals to approach with relish. You're checked in at the airport by 7 people. The supermarket has at least one full time attendant in each aisle - facing up the stock whenever a box of cereal or a jar of pickled what-the-hell-is-that is added to a trolley. The women's cosmetics aisle has close to a dozen ladies standing around champing at the bit to help. The streets are peppered with teams of street sweepers and when you slow to park the car (and you have to reverse in) there will be at least two men to guide you in. There seems to be a lot of standing around in general. Depsite the hectic appearance of life on the streets, when you adjust to the confronting traffic, the Burmese have a relaxed way about them. Even in the traffic, everyone is calm and we are yet to see a single accident - despite numerous what we would call "close- calls", they all work and move together with no aggro. I like to think of it as harmonious chaos.

From the delta of Yangon to the plains of Bagan, we now head 50 kms south to the mountains around Mt Popa. All 9 of us in the one "maxi-taxi" we drive for an hour playing eye-spy and animal, fruit or vegetable. We pass horses and carts, trucks laden with thatch for roofs and crushed rocks for road repairs and covered utes loaded with people and goods. We pass childern on the roadside, waving and calling out "hello" as we fly passed. The houses are a mix corrugated iron with mudbrick and bamboo with thatch - some no bigger than a garden shed. If you imagine you're driving from Brisbane to Charleville and you're closer to Charleville than Brisbane, you take a side-road and than another - this is that road.

The flora changes as we ascend the winding road. The traffic increases as we approach Popa Tuang Kalat. This is a Nat temple atop the scone shaped volcanic plug jutting out of the plain. Busloads of mainly local pilgrims march up the 770 steps with us. The lower staircases are inhabited by feral monkeys and the upper stairs have cleaners every 20 metres. They keep these stairs pristine and free of monkey poo and betel nut spittle and as you pass by they ask "donation for cleaning?". The wads of notes in their hands look significant, but when you consider each note is worth about 10 cents, it's probably only a few dollars.

The kids do well to climb these sometimes steep stairwells and it's the adults complaining of the calf burn and sucking in the big breaths. The temple at the top is covered in gold, but this isn't so apparent from within and is better veiwed from the adjacent Mt Popa - we'll go there soon in search of the perfect travel pic. The Nat shrines are more flamboyant than the buddhist temples and while they clashed in centuries past - they apparently co-exist side-by-side in Myanmar.

We get a call from Alex at the base of the climb. Oliver pulled out his muesli bar and was quickly contronted by a dozen hungry monkeys. Tired of the paper funnels of seeds tourists give them, they want that muesli bar and they miss the thrill of the hunt. Alex and the boys escape harm and we descend in the queue. The lack of monkeys at higher levels could be due to the lack of food up there and/or the slingshots at the refreshment stops. Deaks spotted them very quickly and convinces his mum to get one at the cluttered stalls below. Both the kids get a carved wooden Buddha and I may have offended Buddha and risked deportation by bartering too hard. $10 each was too rich for this little black duck and that $2.50 I saved is better in my pocket than the family of that Burmese racketeer! Or maybe not. ?

Waiting to find our driver amongst the dozens of cars and trucks in the tight dirt streets at the bottom of the temple, Deaks points his slingshot at one of the many monkeys loitering with intent. It initially recoils at the sight of the slingshot, before lunging aggressively. A bit frightening, but no harm was done and Jules and kids moved on. Deaks quickly put the slingshot safely away.

I was looking for Dave, who was looking for the driver, who we'd found back at the temple gates. The cars all look the same and dare I say it, so do the people. They no doubt think the same about Dave and I. Tall Australian, big nose, bald head. While Dave explores for somehwere to take a 20 cent pee I explore the markets along the skinny road to the temple. These are corrugated iron shacks, jammed side by side and selling drinks, food and t-shirts. Most of the wares are targetted at Burmese and no doubt this is a place of pilgrimage and is particularly busy on new years holidays. As I walk past, the bolder shopkeepers call out "hello coca cola" in order to get my attention. It almost works, but I'm not thirsty. One of the shacks hides a pool table and there are half a dozen Burmese blokes shooting pool, smoking cigarettes and chewing the nut. I'm tempted to enter, and it's probably fine, but I wouldn't walk into a random pool bar in Brisbane so why the hell would I do it here?

It's a short ride to Mount Popa Resort and we are greeted with a refreshing face towell and a glass of super sweet cordial. During check in the power goes out and we agree to sort it out later. The gardens are lush and thriving in the red volcanic soil. Dave sees it similar to the soil in the gold coast hinterland. The temp feels about 10 degrees cooler thanYangon and the breeze and quiet are foreign to Niamh and Oliver. It's a little to cold for a swim but I've got a photo to get. The sun is setting behind the temple and the light couldn't be less suitable for the shot. The water is too cold and I'm not a good enough photographer to get the shot I want. You haven't won yet, mysterious travel blogger with the perfect Mt Popa photo. I'll be back tomorrow!

We are all really tired from back-to-back sunrises and full-on days. The kids start to fade at about 7.30 and Jules and Alex retire with the kids. Dave and I agree to last at least until Australian midnight and I'm glad we did. The local musician (Happy Harry) played the harp and the xylophone while we ate dinner and this created a wonderful atmosphere overlooking the temple and surrounding valley. But this was just the support act. The main act was possibly the most surreal NYE experience I've ever had. It was a golden dancing elephant and maybe it was the 20 whiskey sours but it was absolutely hilarious. I hope the video uploads as I can't do it justice. Part of the half hour performance involves pinning kyat to the trunk between dances and apparently dancing seductively with the bejewelled elephant is encouraged. One bloke was dancing one-on-one with the elephant like a drunk uncle at your 21st. A couple more songs and he would have possibly ettempted the lombada - the forbidden dance.

It started to get quite cold and our Burmese uniform of t-shirt and shorts was leaving us vulnerable. The waitress offered us 'towel for warm" which turned out to be a welcomed blanket. We didn't make the lucky door prize draw nor the countdown, but sleep in the peace and quiet of the mountains was delightful. No air conditioning required! The whiskey sours might have helped a bit as well. Not all the cocktails were as enjoyable. The Mandalay Slings - Mandalay Rum and Tang - were barely palatable. Barely!


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