Mingalaba from Myanmar! I wrote this post the other day but with a jam packed schedule and restricted internet only just managed to get it online. Very much looking forward to sharing more tales and tips over the next few weeks 🙂
“You need to makes sure you buy enough food to cover dinner, snacks and breakfast. But there is no fridge or facilities on the train so make sure it’s something that won’t go bad. We have a long journey ahead.”
Min’s announcement seemed very straight forward as we made our way into the supermarket. A perfect way to save some dosh on meals plus it might be kind of fun to have a little picnic as we travel. A couple of rounds up and down the aisles and my basket was still empty. Maybe this wasn’t as good an idea as I thought.
Time running out I grabbed whatever I could find on the shelves that looked like it wouldn’t go off and rushed back onto the coach.
Hmm not so sure about this.
The train whistle echoed as our rickety train pulled in, we were lucky enough to have been given ‘upper class’ carriages. Four to a cabin with our very own toilet, serious luxury! I was immediately excited by the fully open large windows and threw myself into a corner. Above me was the top bunk, which I secretly wanted as it looked fun (not quite sure why but it did) and there was a table too, should we wish to use it.
We set off, I was all smiles, I genuinely LOVE train journeys. I love gazing out the window at the passing scenery, day dreaming about all the wonderful things in this world. And for the first time in my life I had the opportunity to be on a train where it was ok to fall asleep.
The scenery on route was definitely something to see. There were parts where the grass had all dried and others where it thrived, dense plains of lush greenery sprawled out to the skyline. Farmers were out working away, making the most of the last bit of sunlight.
I could get used to this.
An hour into the journey and the train speed steadied, the light outside began diminishing and the sun, now a deep red, fell behind the trees just as my head started to fall onto the seat next to me. I still hadn’t fully recovered from traveling over from the U.K. But I knew I had to do what I could to break the cycle and keep awake, at least until after dinner.
What was for dinner again? Oh yes those delightful cheese and crackers. The only thing that looked appealing in the supermarket was now the one thing I really did not want. I nibbled on some crisps and tried to distract myself away from the hunger pangs, consuming fluid to try and trick my body. Obviously didn’t work and meant I was the first one to have to use the loo. The loo which was a direct connection to the speeding ground beneath us. Where the outside breeze could be felt as you sat down and you hoped nothing would fly in.
Not sure if I’m too keen on this.
Toilet drama over it was time to get back to enjoying the rest of the evening. A cool breeze had started to set in, as the sky outside went black. I headed for the little luggage compartment to dig out my scarf and warm jumper, oh and the deet spray just in case. I had seen a couple of mosquitos as I was sat down and thought best to take precautions. Walking back to my window I forgot where we were and SMACK. yup bashed my head on the top bunk. Tried to style it out as I slinked back into my seat. Although I wanted nothing more then to let out a screaming swear. It hurt.
I do not like this.
I wrapped myself up in my giant scarf and extra thick starry hoody, positioned myself right by the window ready to brace the wind. Headphones on I scrolled down to my usual playlist, the same playlist I play every day at home. The songs I listen to on repeat on a daily basis. And just as the music started, a little light caught the corner of my eye…
There it was! That starry sky I met first in Saudi and then later on in life in Africa!! That same starry sky where they were so bright no artificial light was necessary. Bursts of glittery points, clusters of hazy bright mist, it was spectacular. And as the train chugged on, it kept going. It never ended. Everywhere I turned it was still there and as the sounds of Nevada played in the background, each beat pumping in sync with my adrenaline, overwriting any throbbing that had been going on in my head.
I love this.
Time passed and we were all starting to drift. Min preferred the bottom bunk, allowing him easy access to open the window in case he needed a late night cig. Nicky and I headed up to the top bunks. No sooner had we taken the two steps to the top and we both ground to a halt. Oh dear Lord we were about to enter mosquito central. Nicky went straight in, shoe in hand bashing every one out of her way, only to find more and more arriving. I took a deep breath and thought I need a plan. I literally covered every inch of exposed skin with deet, ignoring every precaution on the label I was past caring if I ingested this thing I was definitely covering my face in it. Next, I dug out my spare cardi to use as an extra shield. Grabbed a slipper and headed up to the war zone.
I started following Nicky’s lead and tried smacking the large ones. I did have a moment of contemplation on whether it was the right thing to do or not… I remembered reading something about a man who was going to kill a mouse but decided against it as he realized how barbaric it was to just think we could end any life, regardless of what species. But then I started thinking that one of these bad boys could be carrying malaria or perhaps Japanese encyphalitis and that could kill me so technically this is self defense, no?
Regardless of whether I killed them or not, it would have been impossible for us to get them all anyway so instead I concentrated my efforts into creating a cocoon. I completely mummified myself using my scarf, jumper and cardigan. Luckily my cardigan was slightly see through so used it as a makeshift mosquito net for my neck and face. Not a single part of me was exposed. Then I remembered something pretty important. I needed the toilet again.
I hate this.
Mummification process complete a second time, I tried to forget the mosquito drama and fall asleep. Mo had text to tell me some good news which I read super quick as I didn’t want the light to attract anymore bugs, but it made me feel better. I was comforted just hearing from him. I closed my eyes and settled down to the sounds around me. The shutters had been closed and the rhymthic sounds of us bouncing off the train tracks started to form a pattern. My body swayed from side to side, it felt like I was being rocked, gentle enough to stop me panicking about flying off the side of my bed. I closed my eyes and drifted off. Finally enjoying the thing I enjoy most on trains, sleeping.
I quite like this.
Somewhere around 2am a sharp bump woke me up. It sounded like it woke some of the others too, I could hear the sound of restlessness. I realized then that I was sniffling and struggling to breathe through my nose. It was FREEZING. It wasn’t just a cold breeze we could feel anymore it was a real chill. I was too cold to get up and attempt to find more layers so I peeled off the under sheet and wrapped that around my legs for extra warmth. As I started to fix my mosquito face net I felt an unusual patch of warmth near my forehead. Yup even with the excess deet and all that time spent protecting myself with numerous layers, I had been treated to a gigantic bite smack bang in the middle of my forehead. The train jerking had gotten rougher and there were times where my hips were flying from side to side I had to lodge myself in the corner to make sure I stayed safe.
Ok now I really hate this.
The hours dragged on until finally the sounds of roosters echoed around us, overshadowing the trains mechanical groans. Jenny had had enough of the cold and jumped out of bed and flung open the door. Nicky and I bolted upright as we all finally felt it, heat. Sleep was not on the agenda any longer we leapt into action raising the window shutters and putting the seats back together. Still wrapped up, we each took our place by our respective windows and basked in the glorious sunshine.
We started to stop at smaller towns, women selling all kinds of goods ready to approach the windows as the train stood idol on the platform. Samosas, boiled eggs, quail eggs all laid out grandly in large circular baskets ready to hold up to entice us as they walked along. Gentlemen stood with bottles of toddy wine, a locally distilled drink and plenty of people walked past balancing poles with woven bowls filled with fresh fruit.
We passed children all dressed up on their way to school, younger ones waiting on the edges of farms as their parents started working. All of them waved furiously as we sped past, the biggest smiles spread across their tiny faces.
I witnessed a beautiful moment with a small boy and two dogs, walking across a makeshift plank bridge. No not walking, skipping. All three of them were skipping, in sync together, young man and his best friends. I was so far away but I felt like I had been sucked into their moment, I could feel their joy even if it was for a fleeting minute.
Wow I love being a part of this.
I got up all excited. BANG. head again. BANG. Oh and there goes the thigh too, so stunned from the head bashing I totally forgot about the side of the seat. Stomped over to the toilet and there inside was the new mosquito meeting point.
Eugh. Did I mention how much I dislike this?
The sun was out in full force now and we were treated to an abundance of scenery. Changing scenery too. Farmers tending to their crops, herds of cows, goats. The crops themselves differed quite a bit, chick peas, corn, endless rows of sunflowers were my favourite. Oh and the birds! It was my first encounter with the flying wildlife of Myanmar and I was thoroughly enjoying spotting the different types. My favourite, a blue winged graceful one but there was also a fabulous grey small starling sized bird that zipped around from tree to tree.
I was on my last sweet marmalade filled bread roll and the train had grinded to a stand still outside the quite extravagant looking Bagan train station. The door flung open and porters had leapt in to grab our bags, empty rubbish from the carriage and usher us out as quick as possible. No warning or time to compose ourselves, we grabbed our belongings and stepped off onto the solid ground.
It was strange to be stationery. Strange to look back at the train we had spent an entire night on. Strange to feel… sad?
It’s funny, what felt like a lifetime somehow also kind of felt like it had all happened in a second. After everything I went through that evening, I found myself gazing back at the cabin, wishing I could get back on and do it all over again.