Free people are everywhere and they judge no one. The place to find them this time was Koh Phangan. Surpisingly writing about what happened would do no justice to your own explorations and experiences. The island is full of love and to navigate it you just let go of comparison, be happy and go partying.
People had talked about Mandalay and I wanted to leave the place behind before I had even arrived. I thought I’d be happier that way. I was sitting on a bus from Bagan to Mandalay. The driver was pushing the throttle a bit too much.
I don’t feel at ease when I walk from an ice cream bar to a shack town. Only questions without answers arise when looking at people using the murky river to wash themselves after a long day. This wide river bank was their toilet, backyard, playground, workplace and home at the same time. I tried but could not find the photo I was searching to do justice for the feeling I was experiencing.
I was passing through on this random search for sunsets and beauty when most of the world was looking to feed their families and stay healthy in conditions where the odds where not in their favor. A stone throw away from a shack town an amusement park was being build. Roller coaster and karaoke bar with neon lights across the street was too strong of a contrast for me to digest.
The teahouse in Pyay was full. Myanmar Idols was starting. I pointed my chair away from the screen and started watching faces while listening to the voices of the future. The proven concept broadcasted it’s gospel from the LED altar. People from all ages were glued to their seats sipping tea while the busy road behind kept spreading the dust and gasoline fumes.
Water of life
Booming city with Indian and Western influence
Guide books will list you plenty of things to do in Myanmar. No doubt ‘Get in, see, do, eat, sleep & get out’ -sections will keep you busy. But what if you just got lost and stopped planning what it is that you want to happen next? Well, that was kind of my approach to exploring Myanmar. Maybe I was too lazy to do my homework or didn’t want to plan too much. Either way for me ‘not knowing’ is the exciting part.
I had arrived to Bagan bus station at 2 a.m. It was 6 km to the town. The taxi drivers were few and they knew the power they had. I could tell the guy talking to me was full of boloney so I decided to walk.
4 a.m I was sitting in hotel reception. No need to sleep tonight. 40 cents for a rent bike and I was of to see the pagodas, ruins and temples. Apparently the sunrises were nice here.
Renting an e-bike would have made things less sweaty but it was nice to move the body a little. The distances are long in Bagan so I ended up doing a loop that made my legs a bit shaky.
The receptionist had recommended an pagoda to see. It ended up being full of people who had woken up too early, skipped their breakfast and coffee to capture something unique for their Instagrams (here is mine).
Amusing part was that I felt like I had surrounded myself with people who had climbed up the stairs of the pagoda to see something life changing. I tried finding eye contact with people around me and greet them but only got suspicious looks.
These people had travelled half way across the world because someone said it would be amazing to sit on top of an old building and watch the sunrise and hot air-balloons.
The view was nice but it was also funny. It was funny because none of us were there alone yet we tried to ignore the fact and definitely not document it. It was funny because the air balloon floating in the distance were full of people paying 350 dollars each for 30 minutes of fresh air above old building before heading back to the airport. It was funny because you, a lovely woman, looked at me like I was crazy when I offer you my tripod so at least few of your photos might be sharp.
I give my respect for the past generations that build these monuments and apologies for the living ones for sneaking down from the side of the pagoda so I wouldn’t have to pay the entrance fee. That saved me enough money to travel one day longer.
The backroad took me further into the plantations filled with smaller payas, pagodas and temples. Don’t ask me about the differences. I know there is one but I doubt anyone really cares anymore.
That night I would sleep in a real bed.
Getting to Myanmar was a bit of a race against time. Border crossings are getting easier each year and acquiring an E-visa is a simple procedure for many nationalities. Nevertheless out-dated information can cause some headache.
I was in Pai, North Thailand and my initial plan was to cross the border from Mae Sai to Tachileik. I had two days of visa left when during breakfast someone told me that from that part of Myanmar you could not travel to other parts of the country. Roads would be closed for foreigners. Internet seemed to agree with him. Later I found out he was wrong.
After finishing my breakfast I thanked him for the info, changed my plan and started hitchhiking over the mountains down south. Same man warned me that two days was not enough with the route I had chosen.
3 pick-ups and one bus later I made it to the border 30 hours to spare in my visa.
6 a.m. It was a short walk across the bordering bridge from Mae Sot to Myawaddy yet in the dark I could already see I was entering a different reality. Mothers with young children were sitting on the bridge. They were not begging with their words so much as with their presence.
5 minutes of friendly custom formalities and I was free to go. 10 minutes from that I was sitting in a family wagon with 4 local men heading to Hpa-An. With no idea if the price was right (it was) or any common language we set out on the 130 km journey that would take about 3 hours.
The driver stopped to fill up the tank from some local man with his own pump system. Right next to us was a newly build gasoline station empty of customers. After filling the tank the man gave the driver a bottle of water. An hour later our driver saw a car on the side of the road with it’s hood open. He slowed down and handed them the water bottle. No words were exchanged.
We stopped few times to say hi to a friend, wash the car and buy fruits. I was dropped in front of the bus that goes to Yangon. 7 hours later the bus reached the outskirts of the city. Taxis and motorbikes kept asking: “Where you go?” but left me alone after telling them “I don’t know”.
On the side of the highway a man told me to take the same minivan with him. It would take us to the centre. An hour later he showed me a good hotel and wished me all the best. Thanks to the help of many people on the way I had arrived to a place where I could take a shower and sleep.
2016. During the two brightest week of the summer there was enough light to paddle through the nights. I borrowed a friends kayak and packed all the essentials for a kayaking trip around Lake Saimaa. 21 days of paddling through the midsummer nights in Finland was a challenging experience. Quite often the lake was calm and quiet. Other times the winds and waves kept me on constant alert.
Why paddle through days if the nights are cooler, calmer and more quiet?
Few cameras and pens so I can remember the calm and the rush won’t take over.
Summer here is short but it’s not yet Juhannus (mid summer). There is time.
Yesterday I paddled for the first time with a kayak and already today I wanted to start heading north. I guess I should first find a map. Then again, it’s a lake so there are only dead ends. Every shore has an opposite so worries be gone.
Today I could practice falling with a wetsuit and tomorrow some more paddling. By the end of the weekend all preparations should be done. Then only the decision to go remains.
15.6 Morning kayaking and eskimo turns
I woke up earlier than usually noticing the lake was mirror calm. I filled the thermos with strong dose of chaga mushroom tea and did a trip around Mustasaari. I tried not to strain my body too much. From past hobbies I remember not to push it too much at the start of something new.
This evening I practiced falling and getting back up while still sitting inside the kayak. It didn’t really work out. Luckily I had a wetsuit because the water was still cold and after several failed attempts I gave up.
As I was warming up I watched some youtube videos how to do the turn back up. Tomorrow I’ll try again.
16.6. Lists and practice
Writing down a shopping list for the trip felt repulsive. Perhaps a watertight bag for camera was worth the euros. Previous bags had lasted 7 years of traveling.
Strong wind from the east was creating foamy waves on the open lake. As soon as I had finished up cleaning I would test the kayak on stormy conditions. Perfect!
17.6 Seven year cycles
Soon this warm shelter would stay behind. Traveling through nature with a kayak and a hammock would turn killing mosquitos pointless.
22.6.2016 Camping close to Liittokivi
The night had been a new experience. A friend had borrowed his kayak. I had taken it for a cruise with midnight sun to Lake Saimaa. It´s the biggest lake in Finland and full on nature. It´s also filled with summer cottages, saunas, and silence.
Last nights scenery wasn’t anything new, yet. But the combination of birds, colors of the sky and water made it quite exciting.
– hiking shoes
24.6 Camping at Ruunasaari
I had to take a pee break next to a ferry called ’Nestori’.
26.6 North of Savonllina
28.6 Taipale canal, Varkaus
Turns took a lot of concentration and careful timing. Eventually I got to calm bays. I set up my hammock and took a 5 hour siesta.
When I woke the wind had calmed a little. On the campsite I put my shorts to dry on a log which turned out to be a large bee hive. At the end of that day the horse flies and mosquitos were closest to tipping my balance.
30.6 Arriving to Kuopio
3.6 Metsä-Rajo fireplace
7.6 Fireplace at Kolovesi National Park
10.7 Kolovesi to Sulkava
On the 7th of July I made a tour around Kolovesi and walked in the forest trail for 4km before going to sleep in Pitkäsaari. The whole day was bit of an exercise. I did meet an older couple who had kayak their whole lives in the ocean and gave me few new tips and ideas.
12.7 Yövesi, end the the trip
Part 1. Brothas of the storm
Filipino friend invited us to come surfing with him. Why not, so few weeks later we were sitting outside a small bus station somewhere in Manilla. An overnight bus took us next to the ocean. We walked with our bags to the beach. It was flat so all that was left was to wait for the city to wake up and have some breakfast.
This First Part is based on my memories of the time. The next two parts are from sketched notes.
I do remember that right from the start we were welcomed as part of the family. The local guys and girls were sleeping in storage looking place that had a small kitchen, toilet and a smaller room at the back. They had been the first in town to start teaching surfing for local and foreign tourists. For the coming months I was always welcomed to this space and offered a place to sleep and a plate to eat.
At some point the roof started making loud noises and parts of it flying away and falling. I got out of the tent to see what was happening. The storm had gotten very strong. On top our tent was old pieces of plywood attached to the roof. They looked soaked and heavy and ready to fall at any moment. Everyone got out of the tent and we had a shouting meeting over the wind. At the end we decided to bail and seek shelter from solid ground.
The problem now became to get back to land without getting swiped by the rising swell. On low tide you can easily walk to the building with dry feet but now the tide was almost peaking and the taifun made each set of waves wash anything and everything and drag it to the ocean. So we had to wait for the moment when the reef was sucked dry before the next wave. That was the easy part. Next we needed to find shelter from the falling coconuts, trees and power lines.
End of part 1.
Part 2. Road trip to Nomad’s Point
What had happened was not a story with a start and an ending. Describing the people in the van made no sense. They were spirits reaching for freedom with some ever shifting knots inside. The path that felt never-ending kept unfolding in and around us. It was slowly merging into one; the crickets, ocean and the homeless nomads, spartans.
“Never surrender, never retreat, just relocate!”
PART 3. Surf and Nipa Hut building
As the Nipa Hut was getting the finishing touch the place started coming alive again. People came from close and far and a new group was forming. The sketches on the paper had become real. We had made something beautiful with no doors. The pot was full of rice and we were all eating together. People were planning to do a boat trip. I was mentally and physically exhausted. Tropical climate had never been kind to me. I stayed behind while boat filled with rum and laughter took of. They had an adventure with close calls as I enjoyed the DIY electricity connection from the neighbors. The Hut was ready. It had kitchen, 2nd floor, garage style door, space for about 8 people, slack line and a pull-up bar, all in front of a crazy wave.
My friend wrote me from Nepal. I knew I needed the cold air to heal.