Waking up at Inle Lake a month ago, I admired the view as I made my way to Shane and Arielle for breakfast. With a nod I said, “Good morning,” and we start chatting about the previous evening as a hostess sets a cup of coffee in front of me. In Myanmar sugar doesn’t help mask the luke warm cup of dirt water, nor does the room temperature milk help. I take a sip of coffee and my brain does a double take. What? It’s been so long, I let out an, “Awww my goodness,” and Arielle, anticipating this moment, clearly not having taken her eyes off my face exclaims, “Yes! It’s real coffee right! I was waiting for you to take your first sip!” We’re both seriously happy. But wait, there’s more!
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. But wait, there’s more!
Beautiful didn’t cut it for me. I needed a new word to describe what I was seeing and nothing that I could come up with was working. We were staying in a hut on stilts in the middle of Inle Lake. Every time a boat went by the whole hut swayed, ever so slightly. While we were in the middle of the lake on a map, it didn’t feel that way as there were islands and floating gardens all around us. But wait, there’s more!
After a bumpy six hour bus ride on dirt roads and the occasional pot holed paved road, through river beds and streams (that’s right, through), past dusty villages, past people walking seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and across what looked like high desert, we arrived in Mandalay. We step off the bus to a dozen or so animated and desperate looking taxi drivers and baggage handlers. They jokey for position around the door of the bus looking each departing passenger in the eyes with hands in the air yelling, “taxi,” and other unintelligible words. Our feet stomp onto the dirt road below where a dust cloud from previous foot falls and commotion is already head high. Disoriented from the dozens of buses parked at odd angles, while waving away the dust cloud and fumes, we begin to acknowledge the heat when suddenly, rain begins to fall lightly. We quickly arrange a taxi with no haggling because of the Belgian couple who offered to split it with us. A small blue Lego looking 1960s Mazda pickup truck pulls up and the four of us cram into the covered truck bed when the rain stops. Welcome to Mandalay. But wait, there’s more!
Everywhere you look there is a picture. Really, everywhere. I want a camera in my eyes so that each time I blink I can snap a photo. You wish you could capture what you see but can’t – what you see also has feeling, inspiration, and yearning. You don’t keep snapping away, because even if you had all the gear, the lens you wish you had, the tripod, it wouldn’t be anywhere near the same. But wait, there’s more!