2015
06.30

 

About the un-ceremonial departure from Bagan, a quick flight, and the unexpectedly wonderful welcome at my next destination. 

I arrived at 9:20 AM at the airport without a ticket or a reservation for a 9:35 AM departing flight to Inle Lake.  And guess, what: I got on!  Did we ever have those good old days in the prior 9-11 era when getting on an airplane was as easy as getting on a bus?  I don’t think so, but then perhaps I just don’t remember because I did not fly much within the country then?  All I needed was my passport and cash.  The biggest problem seemed to be that one of my $1 bills had a little stain on it.  I had to find a spotless, clean, flat, unfolded and pristine, post 2006 one.  That was the holdup, not by any chance, my expired visa, mind you!

At about 8 AM I had been wondering how to structure the day.  Reserving a seat on an afternoon flight out of Bagan seemed to be a good idea before walking to the market, perhaps and getting some last-minute trinkets.  My guidebook said that all the flights left between noon and 2 PM.  There was plenty of time.  For some reason I did not feel like taking another 10-hour bus.  That had gotten me sick the last time (or not).

The phone at the reception was down and the all-day whiskey drinking overweight owner of the run-down Eden Motel, after hearing my request simply said:  Follow me.  I followed him without question onto an old motorcycle with a broken foot pedal and no helmet.  And yes, come to think of it: most likely he already had had a shot of the brew and on top of that he was still dripping wet and only partially dressed from a shower he had just taken…  I did not know where we were going, but that’s how things happen around here.  The way he looked, we certainly were not heading for a ballroom party.

A few blocks down the road we stopped at a Travel Agent who sat in the dark — no electricity, system down.  But he had some good information: There is only one flight per day in this off-season and it leaves at 9:35 AM.  It was 8:40 AM.  He thought that most likely there would be seats.  I needed 15 minutes to pack and while I was throwing my stuff into the suitcase, the whiskey man was getting a taxi for me.  By now he had put a shirt on.  The driver had already been instructed to not just drop me off, but to wait and see if he needed to take me back.  Everything had been thought of.  Smooth sailing from here.  The flight attendants looked a bit surprised when I arrived at the airport, but it took one confirmation on a walkie-talkie and I and my suitcase were checked in, despite the fact my luggage was by now weighing more than it should.  Even my bottle of water made it onto the plane!

When I sat down somewhere (no seats were assigned) on the little propeller flight, I did not know if we had a stopover, I did not know how long the flight would be nor did I know what I would be doing once I got off.  Time to  get the guidebook out and read the appropriate section: what would a taxi cost to get to town, what looks like a nice guest house to stay at, what was there to do?  I had barely gotten through the first two items when the call for landing came.  Wow, that was fast!  35 minutes at the most.

I approached a young woman traveling by herself asking if she was interested in sharing a taxi.  She was rather standoffish and no, she was not.  She was going to be met by a guide.  Obviously, some people plan ahead a bit more than I do…

All other arriving people were couples or locals.  I got lucky with the next one:  a father-daughter team from Israel.  They were quite happy to share a taxi — win-win for all three of us.  And that’s how I found myself dropped off at the Aquatics Guest House in  Nyaung ShweIt had three descriptions in my guide book that caught my eye: family-owned, lovely garden and budget prices.  Nyaung Shwe is the poor man and woman’s alternative to staying at a fancy resort overlooking Inle Lake.  Yeah, I could splurge, but why?  I would rather buy a few more things…

There was a lovely garden.  It was small, but it had been ingeniously designed to house seating areas, beautiful flowering trees, a small lotus pond, garden chairs and all.  The son of the owner, Mr. Tut, welcomed me.  No reservation, no problem.  He had a room but I would have to wait for it to be cleaned.  And in the meantime, there were refreshments:  watermelon, banana with honey, a few pieces of pineapple.  I met Mr. Ju from South Korea, another new arrival who was also waiting for his room.   Within minutes we  teamed up for the standard boat ride every visitor to Inle Lake does.  Tomorrow morning at 7:30.  It’s a deal.  Smooth sailing, I am telling you.  It is amazing how things fall into place the less you plan (to a point, of course).

And then my room was ready and my jaw dropped: I have my own balcony, a huge room, TV and refrigerator, air conditioner, a fully tiled bath in which everything worked (I have lived without a seat on the toilet and a few other broken things for the last 5 days…).  And I have windows on three sides of the room overlooking the top of the trees in the garden.  I was at a resort after all!  Did Mr. Tut make a mistake?  No.  This was the $25 room.  Oh boy, am I going to have a vacation here!  And the internet worked in the middle of the day.  I have not had this since the Yangon days!  I immediately paid for 4 days (originally, I had said perhaps one or two) and I am going to rest up here.  After this, I will be in transit for a full three days to get back home.

A stroll through town revealed a small, quaint, nondescript place with a disproportionate number of restaurants, hotels, bars, and even antique shops.  During high season, I read in my guide book, this town and every other place in this area, even the $250 per night resort hotels are booked to capacity and beyond.  At times, people without reservation have to sleep on the floors of the nearby monastery…  But this is the low season.  It is good for something.

The clouds are ever present.  I look at them as my friends.  They provide shade and a few little sprinkles here and there and quite rarely a big but quick rain storm.  Inle Lake, like Mandalay and Bagan, are in a valley which is sheltered from the rainy season the way Yangon or Sittwe experience it.  I am not complaining.  I love the clouds and the sprinkles.  I hope this will continue for the next couple of days as the famous boat ride tomorrow will happen in a boat without a roof…  Heat stroke alert!  And perhaps I can even hike a bit or bike a bit if the clouds persist?  We shall see.  I still don’t have much of a plan beyond tomorrow.

For now it’s time to catch up with emails, blog posts, pictures, etc.  Perhaps, I can even open an attachment or two or look into Facebook?  All those prospects.  How exciting!