Mt Popa to Pakokku 77km
Pakokku to Monywa 119km
A little girl, perhaps five years old, ran across a dusty field, in bare feet, carrying her baby brother, trying to reach the road before I passed. When she was there to give me a high five, her face shone in a huge grin. She put her baby brother down, and they walked back over the dusty field, looking for fuel for their cooking fire.
My host at the hotel, charging me double the going rate, told me that "I had no choice about where I stayed, as there was nowhere else locally, I was allowed to stay", had a big grin on his face as he pocketed the dollars. He then jumped into his brand spanking, shiny and new BMW and headed down to the local bar for a whiskey with his cronies.
He and his cronies were probably discussing where, when and how they were going to be able to continue to line their pockets with dollars. They're already doing pretty well out of the Japanese and Korean foundations sponsoring the reforestation of the region.
She and her family, were lining their grass hut with palm fronds in anticipation of the coming wet season. They collect branches from the reforestation area to cook their daily meal on.
He and his cronies turn a blind eye to the litter, the plastic bags everywhere, the waterways, and the quality of the air we are all breathing here. It has nothing to do with profits, so it is irrelevant.
She and her family have no understanding of the damage being done, and anyway, it is irrelevant. They need to focus on getting enough food for the family to survive another day.
A television documentary I saw the other day suggested that 800,000 Burmese are living in Thailand illegally. Most of those fleed Myanmar because they couldn't get work here. Many swam the 1km river, at night, to escape. Some, (over 500 in Mae Sot alone), live with their families on Thai rubbish dumps. If the whole family works hard, they maybe able to find enough recyclables to make the $3 a day it takes to feed the family.
I decided to divert around Bagan, even though Brie (like the cheese) told me it was a must see in Myanmar. The reason I diverted was that I was stopped at a road block, and told I had to pay $US20 to enter the region. Just a Tourist tax. Nope not for me. I'm not lining some fatcats pocket with $20. I'm damn sure my little five year girl and her family won't see any of it. Instead, I went to another town, and they got my hotel booking, and they got paid for my four meals, and groceries.
And then, today I had second breakfast in a small village, surrounded by ancient brick walls and hundreds of very very old pagodas, and there were no other tourists. Sorry Fatcats, I got the goods, and you missed out.
Travellers is an amazing eye opener. I've rubbed shoulders with those with money, education, and knowledge, who don't care, and with those with no education, no knowledge and no money, who care about keeping their families alive. Now that my eyes have been opened, I need to think about what my next step will be. I think the least I could possibly do involves two stages. When I return home, 1) I need to do my best to ensure that my little part of the world is not adding to this major environmental disaster. 2) I need to help educate my grandchildren to understand what the problem is, so as they can learn to cope and survive, and even perhaps help resolve the huge problem we are passing on to them. It's too big for my generation to resolve in my lifetime.
Today's clay pots were being fired in a big pit, covered in sand.