Myanmar 10/29/2016 - 11/15/2016


We have taken 4 trips with Myths and Mountains so far (Bhutan/India 2007, Vietnam 2013, China 2014, and China 2015) and have loved every minute of it. And as much as we have spoken with its founder Dr. Toni Neubauer on the phone and via e-mail, we had never had the chance to meet her in person. So when she suggested that we might enjoy a trip that she was planning to Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) to explore the recently opened Chindwin River cruise circuit, we couldn't resist.

We normally take private guided trips for several reasons. We have found that we learn more that way, and can make personal connections with guides that last beyond the trip. Since Craig has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, he has special needs when it comes to traveling. He needs a constant supply of drinking water so that he doesn't become dehydrated. He has to try to avoid heat as much as possible, as it can trigger an attack. If he is fatigued or otherwise not feeling well, we like having the flexibility to play things by ear and adjust the itinerary as necessary, without adversely impacting the rest of a group.

That being said, we made an exception for this trip. We trusted Toni implicitly, and the "anecdotal anthropologists" in us couldn't pass up an opportunity to visit areas of Myanmar which were just opening up to outsiders for the first time. The small-group cruise on the R/V Zawgi Pandaw was the only way to experience it.

The zeitgeist of this trip has been very interesting. I read a very good book called The Burma Spring by Rena Pederson to prepare. The country went from military dictatorship to democracy under the stewardship of Aung San Suu Kyi only 6 months ago. I learned a lot about the recent history of Myanmar, and about Aung San Suu Kyi in particular.

When she was a toddler, her father Bogyoke Aung San was assassinated after helping the country to achieve independence from the British and double-cross the Japanese in WWII.

Aung San Suu Kyi (affectionately known by the Burmese people as Daw (Aunt) Suu or simply "The Lady") had married a British scholar named Michael Aris and was living in England. When her mother fell ill in 1988, The Lady returned to Yangon, Myanmar to care for her. When she saw the struggles of her people under the regime of the military junta and their cronies, she vowed to stay and help the fight for democracy. She received much popular support for her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). She was soon seen as a threat to the government, who put her under house arrest for the greater part of 20 years. She only saw her husband and two sons a handful of times during that period.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest in 1991.This helped to bring visibility to her cause.

Her husband Michael contracted terminal cancer, and the government denied him a visa to visit her. If she left the country to be with him in England, she would never be allowed back in to continue the fight for her people. She had vowed that her people had to come first, and was unable to see her husband before he passed away. Despite her personal tragedy, she remains poised. She is incredibly intelligent, and insists on non-violence no matter what, so much so that her enemies even succumbed to her charisma at times.

The generals wrote a clause into their constitution to prevent her from ever becoming president. However, the NLD won the first free election in 2015 by a landslide. She was able to hand-pick the prsident from her party, and she was named a State Counselor and serves as a diplomat. Several weeks before our trip, she visited President Obama at the White House, and he agreed to ease decades-old sanctions on Myanmar. She was also in our home state of Massachusetts during that trip, accepting an honor from Harvard University.

We knew that this would be an exciting point of time during which to visit the country, and that was an understatement. Hope is palpable there and the people are ready to meet the world. Learning a couple of words in their language, smiling, being friendly, and dressing in local garb (Craig wore a skirt and jokes that he may never wear pants again!) really breaks the ice and people are so receptive. Some of the villages that we visited had never had tourists before. They were curious and sweet and generous. It was like stepping into a fairy tale.

I highly recommend the Burma Spring book to anyone looking for a deep understanding of Aung San Suu Kyi's life. Craig and I both watched a biographical film about Aung San Suu Kyi's life called "The Lady". It was wonderful, giving a concise telling of her personal story, with less of a focus on the political history.

Saturday 10/29/2016 - Boston to Doha, Qatar

It was nice to be leaving on a Saturday night, so that we had an entire day for last-minute preparations. We dressed in comfortable clothing for the long haul. We were wearing compression socks for the first time. My feet and ankles swell a lot when I travel. We have always been mildly concerned about deep vein thrombosis, but a friend of mine recently contracted DVT on a long flight. After hearing about what she had to go through, we decided that we should try to be at least a little proactive with prevention.

Steve drove us to the airport at around 7:20 p.m. Though we had just gotten our Global Entry cards after 6 months of waiting, Terminal E at Logan doesn't use TSA figures! But the security line wasn't too long, and we got through quickly. We got some snacks and water at the airport. Our Qatar Airlines flight took off at on time 10:35 p.m.

The flight was very empty, and we had all three seats in the middle row to ourselves. It was a brand new comfortable plane. Dinner was a vert tasty beef stew with mashed potatoes, bread, cheese, couscous, and a Three Musketeers bar. We listened to Jethro Tull to keep us awake, and then changed to some more mellow Jon Anderson when we wanted to doze.

Sunday 10/30/2016 - Doha to Yangon, Myanmar

I slept well, but Craig was only able to rest. They gave us sandwiches, one of which was described as "like ham", but was actually turkey. The other was mozzarella and tomato pesto. The flight attendants were incredibly attentive and polite, though they gave one of us the incorrect food item every time a meal was delivered.

Breakfast was frittata with potatoes, or chicken and rice. Each was served with blueberry yogurt, a roll, cream cheese, fruit, and a Three Musketeers bar. I guess this is a candy bar which works as a breakfast food. I worked on typing up our recent trip to Guatemala and Ecuador.

After 12 hours, we landed in Doha, Qatar. There were whimsical oversized brass statues in the airport which doubled as playground equipment. These were designed by Tom Otterness.

Our flight boarded at 7:10 p.m. We had the two seats on the left of the plane, but the seats were narrow with not much legroom. When it was time for a meal, they were out of tofu noodles, so we settled for hot and sour beef. We opted for Fanta to drink. We listened to Jethro Tull, but were so tired at times that we dozed on and off. The flight attendants came around with snacks: a chicken empanada and a strawberry muffin.

Hamad International Airport, Doha, Qatar
Qatar Airways Boston to Doha

Qatar Airways Boston to Doha

We hope our pilots have the bat signal ready

Flying over Batman, Turkey; We hope our pilots have the bat signal ready

Art / playground at Hamid International Airport, Doha

Tom Otterness Art / playground at Hamid International Airport, Doha

Art / playground at Hamid International Airport, Doha

Tom Otterness Art / playground at Hamid International Airport, Doha

Qatar Airways Doha to Yangon

Qatar Airways Doha to Yangon

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