Once at the station, we boarded our bus to Mandalay and it actually was quite luxurious compared to the one we were just on and just about every other bus I would ride for the next month. The main perk you get when you pay more money is one seat per person and the fact that the bus doesn’t stop to pick up every single man, woman, child, dog, chicken and goat standing by the side of the road. Unfortunately, there is one more big perk: air conditioning.
At first this seems like a good idea considering the ridiculous heat in Myanmar during the dry season, but we soon realized that they only offer two options: no AC or full AC. There is no middle ground. What this meant was that nobody on the bus got a single minute of sleep and instead we all spent the night shivering in our seats. In hindsight, perhaps a couple of warm goats to snuggle up with wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.
Our 3am arrival in Mandalay coincided with a thunderstorm that had turned the bus station into a giant mud flat. Naturally, the power was out as well. As soon as the bus pulled in, hundreds of taxi drivers swarmed it, falling all over each other in the muck and trying to get our attention by beating on the windows, leaving behind muddy hand-prints. They actually made it impossible to get off the bus, so we had no choice but to simply fall out the door and onto the mass of drivers. Since they were filthy from scrambling all over each other in the giant mud pit that doubles as a bus station and they tripled up on their scrambling as soon as they had some potential fares in their midst, we were soon covered in mud as well.
After politely turning down every single one of the taxi drivers two or three times and rudely turning them all down a few more times, we finally made it to the edge of the mud pit and fell onto the hard, plastic footstools that serve as chairs in every Burmese tea shop. We decided to wait there until sunrise—and hopefully the end of the downpour—before making our way to a different bus station somewhere across town.
After sitting our asses numb for a few hours and filling up on noodles and tea, we waded through the bus stop to the main street to try and find a reasonably priced ride across town. After a lot of hassle, we managed to secure two motorcycle taxis to take us to the next bus station. Apparently we had a slight case of miscommunication though. I thought we made it perfectly clear what we wanted from them, but apparently they understood “Please scare the shit out of us for a few kilometers, then turn us into hood ornaments on the front of some truck.”
They were flying through the congested streets of Mandalay like they were filming a two-wheeled version of Fast and Furious, weaving in and out of traffic on the wet pavement. And wet is an understatement as it was about a fifty percent mix of water and road. Pavement is also an understatement since there really wasn’t much of it. The roads kept alternating between gravel and pavement and even when it was paved, it had more holes in it than Seal’s face.
After a few kilometers, my friend started yelling for our torturers to stop. Apparently, we were nowhere near the part of town we wanted to be in, but they kept repeating the number of the bus we wanted and assuring us it was ok. I think. They didn’t speak any English, so we didn’t really know what was going on, but I did not get the sense from them that they were trying to screw us over in any way. They seemed to be genuinely trying to help us, so I figured they knew a shortcut or something, even though there was really no way a shortcut would have taken us to the area we were currently in. Nevertheless, we decided to trust them and continue. Before long it became clear what they had been up to.
Directly in front of us was the bus we were looking to catch. Rather than take us to the station, they had decided to take us directly to the bus. I suppose that explains the hurry they were in. My driver pulled up next to the bus and started kicking it while trying to avoid being run over by it. It stopped eventually and after some arguing, we were allowed to get on. Of course everyone on board was annoyed at the privileged foreigners who couldn’t just get on at the bus station like everyone else and I had to agree with them. I know our drivers were trying to help us out, but this particular bus leaves every fifteen or twenty minutes. The whole thing—thirty minutes of continuous near death experiences—had been entirely unnecessary.
This little “nice gesture” of theirs also meant that I didn’t get a chance to use the restroom at the bus station. I had been looking forward to that ever since I left the first station with a bladder swollen up like a bag of chips on an airplane. Then I and my close-to-bursting bladder spent 30 minutes getting bounced around on a hard motorcycle seat while constantly splashing through water.
Now my bladder and I had a three hour bus ride on an unfinished (unfinished may not be accurate—is unstarted a word?) road on a bus with no shocks and a driver whose feet apparently suffered from epilepsy. I mean, how else to explain the constant pumping of the pedals. The only plus was the complete lack of legroom. The pain from having my kneecaps ground to dust on the metal seatback in front of me did a pretty good job of distracting me from my oversized bladder.
Luckily it didn’t even take an hour before our bus broke down. While everyone else slowly meandered their way off the bus, I jumped out the window, dashed to the nearest tree and doubled the annual precipitation for this area of Myanmar.
Series continued in part 3: Welcome to Shwebo Mr. ATM