|Finally made it, and it was worth the trouble. Such a nice change from Sittwe, they make ya feel welcome here, instead of like an intruder. On the boat ride up I’d teamed up with a Canadian couple. and we hired a guide to show us around. He spoke good English and was very interested in the local history, definitely one of the proud Rakhine that you hear about. He was very defensive of the local traditions, and always correcting us on our pronunciation. They speak slightly different in this part of Myanmar, and he is convinced it’s the only way. He is also very vocally opposed to the assholes. He better watch his mouth, or he’s gonna end up in a pile of trouble. I even heard rumors of “secret” meetings in a neighboring town to research and record the past. The assholes do everything they can in attempts to erase the past and keep the civilians as oblivious to the past and present as possible. I guess they figure, the more “ignorant” the citizens, the less likely they are to revolt. This community is so isolated, it’s difficult for them to decipher the truth from the bullshit, and assholes create a lot of shit.
We arrived in town by midday, got checked in, rented some bikes, and set out to see the sites. Our guide had obviously spent more time on a bike than us, he was a speed demon, trying to fit in as many sites as possible. Thankfully the other couple was quite a bit older than me, so the pace was comfortable. The temples around here have a different style than Bagan, and not as well restored. The sites that the assholes have restored, have been made to look how they felt they should look, not historically accurate. You could see the rage in the guides face as he explained it. I don’t even dare mention his name, in fear the ass’ may find this and track him down. I fear for him, I can’t imagine how he feels.
After many temples, sweating out at least 3 gallons, and a smoking sunset, we did the most logical thing. Went for beers, and did they ever taste good. For all you beer haters out there (of which I used to be one), try mixing it with sprite, glorious.
5:30 am found me dragging my ass out of bed, and heading downtown to watch the ladies coming in for market. They walk barefoot, with huge baskets on their heads, for hours in the dark. Every morning. I don’t think many tourists get up to see it either, cause boy did they ever stare. One kid almost walked into a pole he was starring so hard. Another time when I didn’t know who was the bigger spectacle, me or them. While watching / being watched, I grabbed some grub from one of the ladies on the street. Again, they were amazed, and I was the spectacle. By now the guide was busting a gut, and I was starting to understand why they get sick of tourists. That feeling lasted for just a wee while, until we arrived in a village full of tattooed ladies, with ears stretched almost to their shoulders. Out came the camera and off I went, click, click, click, change the memory card, keep going.
A couple of hours up the river is 2 small villages that are like stepping back in time. Almost everything is done in the traditional ways, and the people belong in National Geographic. The older ladies at least. According to tradition, the ladies would have their whole faces, eyelids included, tattooed in a spiderweb like pattern, at the tender age of ten. They said it took 2 days of excruciating pain, and then their faces would be swollen for a week. I can’t imagine the pain of having your eyelids tattooed, especially with the traditional bamboo tapping methods, and then having to heal it in not so hygienic surroundings. Understandably, it’s a dying tradition. It’s sad when old traditions die, but sometimes it’s easy to understand why. It won’t be long before none of these ladies are left though, and I’m glad to of got to see it. It was one of the main reasons I came so far.
The boat tour included 3 villages, 2 with the tattooed ladies and 1 other. Every tour that hits the river goes to the same three villages, and we were starting to feel like sheep, so we decided to change things up a bit. Instead of the usual third village we asked the guide to go to a village that no one ever stops in. The guide looked surprised, but not nearly as surprised as the villagers. They couldn’t quite figure out what we were doing there, but it didn’t take long before we had a group of kids following us, laughing and crowding around for pictures. The village was much bigger than the other two we’d visited, and seemed much wealthier. We toured the local monastery, checked out some houses and traditional boat building, and left. It was a short visit, but a good way to end the tour.
By far the best part of the day was courtesy of Theo. He’d visited those same villages a year ago and taken a pile of pictures, and I had the pleasure of handing them out. The looks of surprise and joy on their faces was priceless. I don’t think any of them had ever seen or held photos of themselves before, and it was absolutely hilarious for everyone involved. The ladies laughed so hard they were crying, and the kids were running around like it was Christmas. It was the highlight for everyone on the tour, and made for some great pictures. As a thanks for all the photos, Theo had donated enough money to replace the roof on the school. Unfortunately, it looked like the money hadn’t quite made it into the right hands. There was a nice shiny new roof on one of the houses, but the school was in a state of disrepair. I think the locals realized why I had asked to see the school, and they started making excuses, but it was a bit late. It kinda put a damper on the whole thing, and made me regret the donation that I’d just made. Obviously it doesn’t go to the appropriate places, and judging by the donation book, somebody is doing very well. My guess is it’s the person with the shiny new roof.
Once back in Mrauk-U, the guide and I spent the afternoon/evening looking at more temples, drinking tea, and trying to find the rest of the people in the photos. It was the perfect way to spend my last evening in town. Amazingly, we found all but 3 people from the photos, and the reactions were always the same, absolute amazement and confusion. They’d never seen me before, how did I have pictures of them? Before Theo and I parted, I took a close-up photo of him and had it printed. As soon as I’d show it to the people they’d figure it out, and then laugh even harder. One girl even brought her whole family over to meet me, and then ran off giggling to show her friends. Both the guide and I finished the day feeling kinda giddy. To deliver that much joy in one day made me feel a bit like Santa Claus. It was incredible.
After much contemplation, I had decided to join the Canadians on their 4 am boat trip to Sittwe, and then to Thandwe, 15 km’s from the most beautiful beach in Myanmar, or so they say. 4 am sucked, but it was better than getting stuck in Sittwe for another night.