Kaladan River Journey

Wow, a long overdue entry. I didn’t expect it would take this long but internet access in Myanmar was next to non-existant outside Yangon. To fill you in on a little of my adventures over the last month, here’s an excerpt from my diary as I motored up the Kaladan River from Sittwe on the West coast towards Mrauk U, about 65 clicks inland………’on old wooden boat, about 30′, with two Krauts and three crew, heading to Mrauk U. Will take about 5 hours.

Despite the fairly rudimentary design of the boat and the numerous holes in the deck and tarpaulin roof, it still feels like we’re getting the royal treatment – lounging here in wooden deckchairs watching the world go by under the blazing sun. Rice fields, water buffalo, perfect domed haystacks, small thin wooden fishing punts with one or two people rowing and a sail made from a multi-coloured collection of rice sacks stitched together like a patchwork quilt.Not many trees. Mountains in the distance to the East. The grey-brown river is very wide here, mudflats and a few mangroves either side, occasionally a collection of thatched bamboo huts on stilts, semi permanent fishing nets (anchored in place with two large bamboo poles) are dotted across the river. Now and then I spot a wiry figure knee deep in the mudflats searching for something, but what?

…3 hours later…

The evening light is fading fast. Villagers on the bank continually wave at us: some casually; others madly jumping up and down waving their arms; some calling out; and yet others simply continuing with their work as we chug by. It appears that these people are living in very rudimentary shelters – 3 sided, about 9 square metres maybe and sometimes I can see about ten people in there. No cooking fires visible on the land yet but the sun was a rich golden orb as it sank towards the horizon and one of the crew has a small fire going to cook some rice.

…4 hours later…
The last three hours we have motored under a full moon and stars (the moon a mesmerisng deep and dusty red as it began its journey skyward) and an increasingly cool temperature. One of the crew sits astride the bow with torch in hand, barking commands and madly waving his arm this way and that as he spots potential obstacles in our path. I never see anything but imagine us entrapped in one of the semi-permanent fishing nets rigged up on the river or colliding with a local out working the river under moonlight. Fortunately we meet with nothing other than the river parting before us. An elegant golden stupa has come into view ahead.Coloured lights are draped in lines from the apex to the ground and words in a foreign tongue, like commands, can be heard barked from a loudspeaker somewhere.
The boat’s motor slows to almost an idle as we angle in towards myriad voices nearby. Slowly, a jetty and human figures appear out of the darkness. In a style reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, we have arrived at Mrauk U.

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