Burma...WOW. Amazing place! Main attraction for us was the people. We have never met so many warm and freindly people. It truly was amazing, even more so when you consider how poor these people are. Burma is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world as of 1998 and we don't think it has really climbed up in the ranking since then. The average per capita income is somewhere around Can$450/YEAR! when you account for buying power, this is more like Can$1350 as things are drastically cheaper in Burma. That translates into about $0.03 to $0.05 per hour!!! Could you imagine?...The Burmese don't need to imagine as its reality for them!
Some of you may be disenchanted that we "supported such an oppressive government" by travelling to Burma. In fact, tourism is way down this year because people areprotesting the governments brutality and corruption by not travelling to the country. Our argument is as follows:
We agree completely that the government is oppressive, brutal and corrupt and that funding their regime with "hard currency" is the WRONG thing to do. However, it's easy to travel there and NOT support the Gov't.
One just has to spend a bit more time and energy. i.e. Find the family run guest houses and stay there instead of the State owned hotels; Hire private family owned cars and guides instead of State owned taxis and eat at markets instead of cleaner gov't run restaurants.
We did everything we could to keep the government from getting their hands on our money and in doing so found the people to be very appreciative of our efforts and consequently enjoyed our experience even more.
*End of political note
Highlights of BURMA:
-Pushing a pickup truck for about 1km in 35C heat to try to jump-start it and then kindly refusing the UFO (unidentifiable food offered) to us for our help. We were unsuccessful in starting the car. No surprise as we pushed it uphill most of the time.
- Staying in a guest house in Yangon which was an old Mansion and sooo nice with the most wonderful staff for US$15 per day. (Sure beat the dive's of guest houses we have been having to get used to...ick)
-(Mike talking here) Flying in the cockpit of our commuter turbo prop for landing and takeoff to/from a narrow, bumpy airstrip with a very large crosswind...Mike, being a pilot was nervous. Very glad the captain had 20 years of experience in-type, not to mention was an x-air force pilot. Poor Trace wasn't happy at all!
- Meeting Dobja who is around our age who drives a cyclo (a bike with a side cart)for a living. He supports his mother, who can't see, his wife and three kids. Every day he leaves his mud shack home at 6:00 am and rides an hour into town and at approx 9:00 pm he rides an hour to get home! He is saving up to buy his own rickshaw so he can earn more money. For his long day he only makes about 25 cents! We were extremely affected by his misfortune and his incredible attitude from the moment we met him as he has one of those smiles that warms your heart because it glows with warmth and kindness. So as you can imagine, Burma was hard to stay on budget because we just wanted to help everyone we met as much as we could. It is amazing how only a few dollars can change someone’s life in Burma.
- Hiring a private car and driver (Joseph) take us to a mountain top village. For US$20 he drove us for over 6 hours, over two days! The service was beyond anything you would expect and even better was the friendship we formed. We met his grandfather and the rest of his family as Joseph grew up in the mountain top village we visited(May Mew). We saw how his grandfather, the village confectioner, makes the baked goods that he has been selling from his home for his
entire life....very tasty.
- Meeting a family that lived in the middle of nowhere, on a hill top, and playing soccer with a broken, flat soccer ball with the children and friends. Being offered more "UFO's" as well as being invited into their mud shack to smoke Opium. Turned down that offer thank you.
- Snapping some incredible (hopefully) photos of: farmers on their Oxen carts on top of five feet of hay; farmers in their fields picking fresh garlic and onions, oh how good it smelled; visiting Monks in a monastery, which was in the middle of nowhere
amongst the hills.
- Sitting on the slow river ferry from Mandalay to Bagan and being cold for the first time since we arrived in SE Asia. A VERY good feeling as the heat and humidity can be a little overpowering.
- Watching the sun rise and then again set from the top of a thousand year old temple in an expansive valley full of hundreds of other thousand year old temples.
- Local villagers throwing their nets in the heat of the day catching minnows for dinner. Their naked children helping them sort the catch from the mud under the baking sun.
- Children in rags, their 'skin' the color of the local dirt, running out from their "shacks" and frantically waving and calling "Hello, Hello, Hello"! with ear to ear grins as we walk through their village. Giggling triumphantly as we wave back saying "Minglaba" (hello in Burmese).
- Visiting local markets infrequently visited by tourists. Every color of the rainbow for sale in the form of exotic fruits and vegetables, fried INSECTS, animals for eating which we call household pets (say no more)...Animal Rights Activists would freak!
- Women approaching their 80's carrying loads that would have Mike sweating even more than he already does here at 7am. We smile at them and their faces light up revealing their few remaining teeth painted red and black. Red from the beach nut bark they chew for a buzz (similar to tobacco) and black from the rot from so many years of use.
- A little boy keeping his Water-Buffalo (only about 50 times his size) at bay with just a small stick as the Buffalo grazes all day.
Burma is truly amazing. We could go on for pages more but we don't want to lose everyone (we're sure you are probably the only one that has read this far...thanks).