The only way to get to our next destination, Nyaung Shwe, was an overnight bus – the only departure time is 6 p.m. unless you want to pay substantially more for a private car. There is no such thing as a bus station in Myanmar (I think I’ve said that before). The “bus station” consists of a sectioned-off dirt road where there are 14 stalls all selling tickets on the same bus, the dogs are running rampant, and the kids are trying to shoot birds out of the tree with plastic pellet guns, and everyone is staring at you. And then you are dropped off and it’s like being in a Wild West movie where you are the stranger who walks into town and all conversation ceases, dogs run for cover, and babies start to cry as the dust swirls around your boots.
Maybe it was the afternoon nap, or the anticipation of a new location, or the road that was so windy it felt like the bus was on the verge of rolling down the mountain side, or the Coke Ray drank at 10 p.m., or the Burmese John Denver karaoke that blasted on the big screen TV until well after midnight, or the frigid A/C that never ceased, or the air puffer thing at the front that would randomly shoot out a cloud of noxious fumes (air freshener?) that scorched your nostrils, or the man behind you either coughing or puking for hours on end.… but, for whatever reason, none of us could sleep.
And, in what seemed like just a few minutes, we were being shaken awake and told to get off the bus as we had arrived at our stop. No, not the town of Nyaung Shwe, but a town just outside there. We’d have to find our own ride for the remainder of the trip. It was 4:15 a.m. We had expected to arrive around 6 a.m. in Nyaung Shwe, so Ray questioned the attendant several more times making sure this was, in fact, where we were supposed to get off the bus. (Just as there are no bus stops at the beginning of the trip, there are no bus stops or signs that say this is where to get off the bus at the end of the line either. The bus literally pulls off to the side of the road and the attendant points to the door.) Reassured that this was our stop, we sleepily gathered our things, unloaded our bags, and watched as the bus disappeared into the night. Whether it was the right place or not, we had arrived.
The only problem was that we didn’t have hotel reservations until that night. But, with nowhere else to go, we headed to the guesthouse. We pulled up to find a darkened building with locked security gate, but the driver hopped out and rang a bell and yelled a bit until two sleepy young women appeared to unlock the gate and let us in. They asked if we had reservations, and we replied that we did but not until that night. No worries, they waved us right in.
I was still a little chilled and the lobby floor was near the open doors and cool morning air, so I snuggled in with the boys in the closet – there was room enough for three as long as we all slept on our sides – and Ray cocooned himself on the lobby floor. Never have a closet and floor been so inviting, warm, and comfortable. I think we were asleep before our heads hit the pillows.
I had worried about so many things before we left, about situations just like this… being dropped off on the side of the road in the middle of the night, not knowing where to go or how to get there, not having a place to sleep, not being able to communicate… and in four and a half months of travel that has happened exactly never. There is a system here, even if it is not blatantly obvious to us. Even if the bus ride itself was a nightmare, the people all along the way that helped us get on and off the bus, get us to the guesthouse, and set up beds for us in the middle of the night were a dream.