The next few days are starting to “blur” somewhat with daily visits to towns and villages, along the riverbank, including Danubyu, Myanaung, Prome and Thayet Myo.
These excursions provide some much-needed exercise. Only problem with these small ships is there is no “promenade deck” worth speaking of for stretching of legs and strolling around!!
Excursions also gives Pandaw a chance to subject us all to a bone rattling selection of ground transportation including (so far…) trishaws, horse drawn wagons and a variety of muddy banks to clamber up and down. This lark is not for the “mobility impaired” but the crew are fantastic at supporting everyone to and from the ship, and the mooring sites, and various locations etc !! So, it’s a daily combination of Temples, Pagodas, Stupas and needless to say Buddhas.
Had our first experience with a “slithery” person yesterday outside one of the temples. A very young (but still about 80cm long) cobra. Needless to say, I was not alone in taking evasive action. Especially when one of our guides insisted in prodding it into showing its “hood” etc.
Today (Thayet Myo) even a golf club (very George Orwell & Burmese Days !!) claiming to be twinned with, and have a reciprocal arrangement with, Royal Saint Andrew’s in Scotland. I wondered if St Andrews know anything about it and what they would do if a Burmese chap turned up with a bag of golf clubs demanding his rights to a free round of golf !!
All of this accompanied by very friendly (if not somewhat bemused) locals. tourists and “westerners” are a rarity in this part of the world as some of their facial expressions shows!
Mooring is a daily challenge. A couple of days ago we awoke to find ourselves stuck on a sandbank, so much engine revving before we got going again. A common problem on this hugely wide, but quite shallow river, as the sandbanks have a habit of shifting overnight especially during the rainy season and soon thereafter (which is where we are now) when huge amounts of silt and sand comes down from the Himalayas.
Last night we had to struggle with a variety of hazards as the Captain tried to navigate us into a suitable overnight mooring. This included fishing nets, bamboo rafts and a few rocks. The river is very shallow just to add to the challenge. Depth finding is pretty lo-tech and seems to involve, not very long, bamboo poles with red and white stripes. To put it into context, the draft of these ships is around 1.5 meters and we still manage to run aground on the ever shifting sand/silt bars and banks ! Needless to say there are no navigation markers or even accurate charts for the Irrawaddy as it changes shape every year during and after the dramatic level changes during and after the rainy season (May through October) !
Our long-suffering Captain finally found a secure mooring site below a monastery who promptly turned on an all night stream of Buddhist (I guess !?!) rap & disco music, which forced us to move on in search of a more peaceful and sleep inducing location.
The river is vast, with a constant succession of overladen (and barely afloat) gravel barges chugging noisily past. Vast arrays of ancient dredgers come and go. Sucking up the silt and gravel, sieving out the not insignificant amounts of gold that are washed down from the mountains each year during the rainy season. All that gold leaf has to come from somewhere!! At one point yesterday, we sailed through a fleet of hundreds of small dredgers all belching out black diesel fumes that at times almost obscured the riverbank. Like a scene from a Mad Max movie!! Then as soon as this “horror show” appeared it disappeared behind us and we were back into clear waters and fresh air again. Very bizarre, not to mention surreal! But that’s Myanmar for you …… Soon back to sandy shorelines and cliffs smothered in carved Buddhas – large and small. Small communities and fascinated children come down to watch us glide by,,,,,,,,,,
All of these towns have a smattering of colonial buildings left over from the “glory days” of the British Empire, with bustling street markets etc. Various remnants of good old British engineering strewn all over the place.
Keeping track of day and time here is also a tad tricky as they have 8 days a week, including 2 days on Wednesday. Don’t even ask !! As I haven’t quite managed to figure it out yet !! We seem to have managed to make it through to Thursday again so not quite sure what happened yesterday with Wednesday and 2 days in one…
Internet just reappeared so will post this while the going is good. I think that it is Saturday but who knows !!