A few more hours under the guidance of Moe Hitler, the irrepressible tour proprietor we hired in Yangon, and he would have succeeded in mind controlling us to join a cult. Ron - in particular bore the brunt of the emotional torture under the, well - in fairness to Moe, was an unintentional attempt at a dictatorship ruling of our group. When Moe orders you to "Take a picture of that temple" you ask him "how many shots?" "panorama or portrait?". During our whole day of going around Yangon, cute baby Luna wasn't Gaye Emami's daughter. She was, during that day the own flesh and blood of Moe Hitler. But hey, you take the crazy with the good and we cannot deny Moe was such a character himself, an Asian version of the late Dennis Farina. We were all dog-tired upon arriving at Yangon from the long travel and lack of sleep, somehow he made our Yangon trip a more memorable one than expected.
After the Beatles performed in Manila in the 1960's and opted to rest the next day instead of gracing an event at Malacanang Palace, the media went wild with headlines of "Beatles Snubbed Imelda". What happened next was the unthinkable. A crowd gathered at the then Manila International Airport and pelted the super-band with debris. Amidst the chaos, the foursome were able to climb aboard a British Airways plane. As Sir Paul McCartney narrates in a latter documentary "We were all kissing the seats of the (British Airways) plane and saying wohooo we're in London now".
Without the violence and the angry mob, it was like what I felt that time. Bagan, Myanmar is just a few hours away. Separated by a long highway flanked by an almost deserted terrain with pockets of small towns in between. Most of all, away from the hilarious dictatorship of Moe Hitler. It was one of the best feeling I've felt while in the middle of a trip.
In what would turn out to be an eight-hour land trip, we left Yangon at around four o'clock in the afternoon. It was a very unique sight if you were accustomed to passing by long stretches of green rice fields and mountainside here in the Philippines.
The road to Bagan was flanked with rolling twigs and dead golden soil on both sides. Miles and miles and you wouldn't see a living thing. After an hour of almost similar scenery, we passed by a small town and after another hour we found a gasoline station in the middle of nowhere. We made a short pit stop there while the sun was about to set.
That was the last thing I remember as nighttime fell, I was lingering between half awake and a deep slumber. The conversations inside the van died out. I would hear Luna cry out for a few seconds and then go silent again. The dinner-stop in a busy town was a blur to me. I don't even remember what we had.
Finally we reached New Bagan at around midnight and a few minutes later we pulled up in front of Bagan Central Hotel, which Moe Hitler chose for us to stay, without regards to our budget constraints. But hey, it turned out to be a cozy place where we had our much needed rest.
It was after I woke up that I appreciated the place. The rooms were designed with Burmese architecture and is surrounded by tall trees. There was a mini bridge over a man-made small pond near our room. Birds were flying in all direction and the rays of the sun shining through the leaves of the trees creates a forest-like setting. The staff were very friendly and the open space dining area added more charm to the place.
"I'm at Bagan now" I hid my own excitement with my poker face and try to act normal. Inside I was jumping with joy, probably more hideous and madder than what the Beatles felt like when they finally escaped the angry mob in Manila. I always expect Myanmar to be a country where you could easily get locked up and have the keys inserted inside your ass. Reality always beats perception - all the time.
That time, reality was a lovely place where children adorned with thanaka faces comes to you in a sweet manner that is impossible to say no, so you end up buying all the postcards you can use in your lifetime. A few meters from our hotel you can already start seeing some temple ruins. Soon the feeling of modernity, even with pockets filled of gadgets, goes away. The sensation of breathing the air of a timeless place slowly seeps in through your senses.
I am in Bagan now. I told myself again. Moe Hitler - whom we're still fond of inserting in our jokes, was just a part of the over-all representation of how wrongfully I perceived the country of Myanmar. Under many years of rule under a military junta, the country is now ready to embrace the citizens of the world. Moe Hitler in his own way, just want to give us a great time. He did, and together with the other nameless strangers we met, even the young boy with the spiky hair who wouldn't go away until we bought postcards from him. They were all just like us, living under circumstances not far off from us. It was after all "Same same but different". However, experiencing and discovering the difference, is what makes traveling addicting.