A few weeks back when we left Yangon for Bagan, the taxi driver who took us to the airport in his ancient vehicle had no brakes in his car. He had two pedals – gas and clutch – with a hole in the floor where a brake used to be. He stopped the car only using the clutch and never left second gear. The squeaky, clanking, and violent shaking from the potholed streets felt as though the car would fall apart at any moment. We opted to pay $6 instead of $7 for the nicer car and regretted every single moment. He didn’t speak English, never used a main road, and almost actually killed us when he rolled and stalled in the middle of an intersection.
Our return was pretty much the same, a rattly relic of a car, non-English speaking driver who didn’t take main roads, and mouth full of betel. In fact, during our ride he’d consumed five of the green leafy rolled concoctions. At least he had a break pedal.
A side note….Betel, purchased from any of the thousands of stained little stands littering every street is basically a chewing tobacco. It’s made with lime paste, tobacco, and betel nut (or areca nut) wrapped into a betel leaf. The girl version contains a hint of something sweet. You stash it in the side of your mouth and wait for saliva to do natures work of breaking it down. You spit what looks like blood until all that’s left is the disintegrated fiber webbing of the leaf. A day after we got to Yangon, Erika asked a man at a stand what it was and he offered her one. Through misinterpreted hand gestures, she thought it was something to clean your teeth with and freshen your breath. She bit it in half and grimaced. I walked up to her and requested the second half – I’ll try anything twice. She spit it out, and I ate it not knowing what else to do. Terrible idea. The second time I tried it, I held it in my mouth the way it is supposed to be done. It tasted like bitter menthol with a hint of original Listerine antiseptic. Betel is so widely used you can’t look at any one square foot of pavement without seeing each individuals unique splatter decorating the ground. Many men have rust colored teeth, and don’t be surprised to see your waiter spit a red mouthful as he takes your order.
Our taxi driver, along with spitting every 15 seconds, also managed to get a bit turned around. Which was very unfortunate because we had to drive by a fresh accident not three feet from the badly mangled dead body of a man who lost a head on collision with a fuel tanker. Erika had never seen a dead person before. No seat belt, steering wheel on the right side, and driving on the right, make passing cars in front of you incredibly dangerous. You can’t see what’s in front of you while passing until it’s almost too late, which was how it looked like this fellow had gotten in the accident. A crowd had gathered and people were coming out of their homes, children and all, to see the poor man’s fate.
So it was with immense gratitude and almost glee, when our taxi driver dropped us off at our home for the night. A friend from home had asked his wife’s cousin if we could crash for one day. We pull up to a huge, lovely western style home, have our own room, and a friendly, welcoming family insistant on giving us a final great memory of Yangon before leaving. They spoke great English, took us to tasty restaurants, sights we wouldn’t have seen on our own, and gave us a slice of Myanmar we felt appreciative and lucky to have. They had worked hard, captured niche markets, and by any standards, were comfortable, and living lives anyone would be happy to have in Myanmar.
We share with you our pictures from our first 4 days in Yangon and our last two with our wonderful hosts.