Sunday, December 4, 2016

Welcome To Myanmar: Do Not Pass Go!

Map picture

Returning to the Silver Discoverer was a wonderful, yet at the same time a strange experience. Yes, we found many of the crew on board whom we not only knew, but whom we consider friends. It was in a way a homecoming. Yet, there was also the darker side to our memories, since when we last left the ship at Palau in June, both Lisa and I were quite sick with what we thought was asthma, but what turned out for both of us to be an e-coli infection in our lungs. Lisa, in addition, had multiple pulmonary emboli in her right lungs – yes, sick indeed. Just to make matters worse, I have not yet mentioned to you that during our stay in Phuket, Lisa suddenly came down with severe asthma, which really brought back the memories. She is still not well, but is on prednisone, and hopefully will recover in a day of two with rest.

Departing Thailand, we cruised north in the Andaman Sea along the coast on our way to the mystical Burma, now called Myanmar. To become “cleared” into the country, we first had to stop at the small city of Kawthoung. We were scheduled to spend perhaps two hours going through the paperwork, but we were warned that in previous visits to Myanmar this season, sometimes the official team had 35 or more people and that could take quite some time. As luck would have it, our “clearance” set the season record – 6 ½ hours. Prior to this trip, each of us had to obtain a Visa in advance, which was a cumbersome process. Once on board, we were presented with yet another stack of papers to be completed, so I guess this country just loves its paperwork and process. In any event, becoming “cleared” took so long that our plans for the afternoon had to be scrubbed, however in a gesture of goodwill, the Officials permitted us to go ashore to explore the small city.

I was so excited by this possibility. I had been standing at the railing looking longingly at the golden temple on the hill opposite our anchorage, and also wondering about a large structure which appeared to be an old fort of some kind nearby. When we learned we could go ashore, I was preparing to put my things together, realizing that Lisa could not go. Then I looked outside at our little scout zodiac making the first run ashore, and suddenly realized that conditions were far from optimal. The winds were very strong, making for a rough, wet, and a long run into shore. Just to add to the mix, the morning drizzle had turned to a steady rain. So, here I was looking at a rough and wet zodiac ride on my first day of this cruise, only to go ashore into a probable mud bath, and not be able to take pictures in the rain to boot. In hindsight the answer seems clear; I am 72 years old and prone to a bad back and getting sick – to do this on the first day was dumb. Well, I am not very smart, because I really wanted to go, but finally I talked some sense into my brain and stayed on the ship. If there is any good news in this, it is that I made the right decision, and second, people who did make the trip said that it really was not worth the effort.

This morning was to be a new dawn, or so I hoped. We got up at 4am to get me prepared for a pre-dawn scenic zodiac cruise of the Lampi Channel, a small narrow channel of water that splits Snake Island into two parts. This area is designated as a National Protected Area, and so we should have the dawn to ourselves. When I opened our curtains to see if it was raining, I was taken back by the kaleidoscope of colorful spots of light literally covering the waters before me. “What in the world?” I asked myself. The good news was that it was not raining, but bad news was that it was heavily overcast, and we were certainly not going to be alone. The “spots” of light running the gamut of colors from red to green to neon to blue and to white were all from small fishing boats which used the bright lights to attract squid to the surface where they then could be harvested. BUT, WAIT A MINUTE, isn’t this supposed to be a protected area? Well, tell that to the native fisherman, as well as the large population of fisherman gypsies, who know no borders.

Excited to be exploring at last, I set out in our small zodiac in the early morning darkness. With the overcast skies, there was no sunrise, just a lighting of the darkness. What had looked to be relatively calm waters, turned into waters churned by a strong wind, which covered our little boat with spray. In particular, the poor guy sitting third back from the front on the windward side got covered in water from head to foot in the first 10 minutes from the ship – yes, that guy was me! Just to add to my mounting pleasure, it started to rain in a steady drizzle making using the camera difficult. I tried, but in the end only managed to short out my camera rendering it useless and me quite frustrated. Grrrr! The small river did hold some surprises for us. Not long in length, it did, however, offer the local fisherman a safe and convenient little harbor, since soon we were surrounded by the boats as they came to shore after a nights work. Also, about halfway along the channel a small village had been constructed. Nothing fancy, just some small homes built on stilts, but a community none-the-less. After 90 minutes, I returned to the ship soaking wet from head to foot with my useless camera in tow. After a quick shower, Lisa and I headed to breakfast.

It is unusual for the cruise to offer two zodiac rides in one morning, but this morning was an exception. At 10am, we had a 90 minute ride up into the mangroves of Lampi River. Having changed into dry clothes, and somehow having gotten my camera working again, I decided to give it a try. After all, the sun was coming out, and I did come on this trip to see the world! Somehow I ended up sitting in exactly the same position on this zodiac as I had earlier that morning, AND once again the guy sitting in that position was caught with a giant wave and covered from head to foot in water – that guy was of course, ME. So, for the next hour or so I sat in squishy underwear on a very boring cruise that saw nothing. Even if I had, well it started to drizzle again, and I had this whole camera fear going.

Returning to the ship once again wet, thrilled Lisa no end. We never found where to hang all the wet things from my morning outing, much less my new contribution. Dry again, we grabbed lunch while the ship moved to a new location, where they are now in the process of offering snorkeling and diving from a beautiful beach. I am looking outside at the dark skies and constant drizzle, and decided I would instead write to you fine folks.

Stay tuned – surely there is more to follow.


PS Thank you so much to everyone who responded about my new picture program – it seems I have conquered the way for you to connect

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