The next boat ride was not quite as luxurious. It started out great, with a nearly empty boat. I had my own bench and could stretch out and fully take in the scenery. Not for long. By the time we reached Bhamo, the boat was stacked full of people and possessions, heading to town for the weekend. The boat only got stuck on sandbars twice though, and it was a relatively quick journey, so it could have been a lot worse, from what I’ve heard.
Bhamo only has two hotels that are licensed for foreigners, but they were on the other end of the scale. Ten dollars a night and we were back to feeling like queens. After a blissfully hot shower, we went to check the town. Succumbing to the pressure and anticipation, I bit the bullet and paid the $5 a minute fee to call home and find out about Dawn. It sure made me appreciate the Internet, when it works. Did I already mention $5 A MINUTE!! And what do you know,,,, no answer. At least I got to leave them a message saying I wouldn’t be back into civilization for a while. This little 5 day trip was turning into a 10 day adventure. The timing couldn’t of been worse, about to become an Auntie, and no sensible way to stay up-to-date on with situation, but probably the best 2 weeks yet.
We found a tea house and were immediately befriended by an 80 something Indian man. He joined us for tea and told us stories, a lot happens in 80 years in Burma, most of which is not supposed to be discussed. He should write a book, I’d buy it. It turns out he’s a private English teacher. We arranged a meeting for the next day, same place, same time, with his students, so they could practice their English.
The afternoon was typical, walking and having tea. We found an excellent restaurant for diner, and then I wanted some quiet time so I headed back to the hotel. Jo went for a walk and stumbled upon a pagoda (Buddhist temple) still in the construction phase, many curious monks and the English speaking director. This chance encounter led to the highlight of our trip.
The following morning was spent perusing the market (one of our favorite pastimes) and buying some stuff to make brunch at the hotel. It was soon time to meet up with the old fella for tea and English lessons. His students turned out to be four 20-25 year old girls, so shy and nervous it was hard to get a word out of them. They all called him “Grandpa” and you could tell they respected him deeply. After about 45 minutes we’d all had enough, and decided to rent a horse cart for the afternoon with the teacher ( I can’t remember his name) as our guide. He told us lots, showed us lots, and looked exhausted by the end of it. He’s got a lot of “go” for his 86ish years. We parted ways and arranged a meeting for the next day.
Once again, diner was excellent, and then we headed off for the pagoda. We were immediately greeted by the same people Jo had met the night before, pulled up some mats on the floor and enjoyed a ginger tea and two different snacks Well, I enjoyed one and Jo enjoyed the other, she said the bean concoction tickled her gag reflex. I thought it was divine, but could barely stomach the other. These items are some of the few things the monks are allowed to consume after 11 am, and found mainly in the temples and monasteries. Delicious (mostly) and incredibly healthy. The monks wake up at 4 am to start their prayers, breakfast at 5 am, lunch at 11 am, and then barely anything for the rest of the day. I’m lucky if I’ve had breakfast by 11. Their discipline is inspiring, but not quite enough to change my slack ass schedule.
They were all very curious, and very happy we were there, asking all sorts of questions, and us doing the same. I asked about meditation, and so the lesson began. We were sitting there in position, getting a feel for it, when all of a sudden he said “go”. There we were, meditating for ten minutes, with a circle of monks around us. Pretty hard to focus in that setting. It was beginning to feel like forever, and I started wondering if it was up to us to know when the ten minutes was up or if he’d tell us, but then he called it quits and immediately started asking for our input and offering more helpful advice.
We must of sat there for 3 hours. It was so inspiring and informative. I got the answers to many questions, and came up with a pile of new ones. They invited us to stay for a festival , during the full moon, to celebrate the new temple. The top of the temple is peppered with little “holes”, during the construction process citizens donate gold, gemstones and other valuables to Buddha, as a demonstration of their devotion. On the full moon, the holes are filled with the offerings and then covered over with concrete, being sealed in forever. It would have been something to see, and they said we could of had all our meals with them until the big day, but 4 days was too long to wait. It was nice of them to offer us food, but, 5 am breakfasts, 11 am lunch, and nothing else? I wonder if they meant it as a joke?
Our last day in Bhamo was filled with appointments. Breakfast and tea with the teacher, lunch with the monks, tea and lessons with the English students, diner, and then back to the pagoda. What a schedule. Who says traveling is all fun and games. LOL. It was the most hectic day I’d had in months. When we got to the monastery for lunch they showed us the kitchen and the monks living quarters. Soon it was time for us to watch the monks eating, and then they all watched us eating. Now I know how they feel.
Before we were ready, we had to meet the students for more tea and uncomfortable conversations. We visited a nearby Hindu temple, took some group photos, and said our good-byes, but not before the teacher asked if we knew of any men for the girls to marry and get them out of the country. They were all very embarrassed by this, but you could tell that any of them would have jumped at the opportunity.
At diner we met a Danish guy, Theo. He’d been to Burma a few times before, and it as interesting to hear how things had changed over the years. He was also on his way to Katha in the morning, so we bided him adieu, figuring we’d see him again, and made our way back to the pagoda, for the best evening ever. We spent the first hour or two sitting around, sippin on tea and nibbling on snacks, and chatting, as usual. I was feeling incredibly content, and just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, it did.
Jo asked if she could donate some prayer beads to the temple and it was eagerly accepted. It was a simple, invaluable gift, but they said it had great worth because it came from a foreigner. I decided to donate a bracelet I’d bought in Thailand when I was at the orphanage. Again it had no value, but it was special to me. They called the head monk over and we made it official. Then he did something I hadn’t expected. He placed them in the cabinet full of diamonds, gold and gemstones, and added our names to the list of donators! On Feb 21st. our keepsakes will be entombed in the pagoda forever, and we thought we were grinning before. What an experience. It sounds so simple, but I can’t explain the way I was feeling that night.