Posts Tagged ‘sketchy transportation’

Kilometre 0 à kilometre 1778: de Moscou à Yekaterinburg.

Petite note. En relisant mon carnet de voyage, je suis particulièrement frappé par les détails que j’ai décidé de noter. Premièrement, je note que j’ai perdu mon stylo bleu, une tragédie digne d’être immortalisée dans quelque chose que j’espère un jour passer à mes enfants. Ensuite, j’ai noté des détails de mon sommeil, disposition de mon oreiller, rêves, etc. C’est drôle les choses auxquelles on accorde de l’importance.

Après m’être réveillé, je repère une pomme et une orange de mon sac de provisions et je passe à la cabine voisine pour déjeuner avec un couple finnois de mon âge. On se parle et l’on apprend à se connaitre. Une chose nous devient apparente, le temps est en abondance et n’a plus sa valeur habituelle. Après mes fruits, je flâne dans le couloir du wagon à parler aux gens. On se parle et l’on apprend à se connaitre. L’est de la Russie défile devant nous. Les paysages me font penser à l’est du Canada. Les nuages me semblent énormes. Je me perds dans mes pensées pour un moment.

Au bout du wagon se trouve une bouilloire au charbon qui ressemble à quelque chose qui ne devrait pas être dans un compartiment enfermé avec des gens. J’étais censé m’amener une tasse pour boire mon thé et mes soupes, mais j’ai mal planifié mon affaire et je n’ai pas pu m’en trouver une à temps, donc je me suis improvisé une petite bouteille de fèves en verre comme tasse. Je la remplis d’eau bouillante et j’attends que ça refroidisse. Avec chaque kilomètre qui passe, le temps perd son emprise. Je me perds dans mes pensées en regardant la vapeur s’enfuir de ma tasse improvisée.


La bouilloire. L’eau sort du petit robinet rouge. À noter que la petite porte était habituellement fermée.

Les gens passent leur temps à lire ou dormir. Je me trouve un endroit solitaire entre deux wagons où je peux lire. Je ne me sens pas super confortable dans ma cabine puisque je la partage avec trois membres d’une famille. Je chéris mon petit sanctuaire entre les wagons. Je lis. Le temps passe. En après-midi, la famille croise mon sanctuaire pour aller au wagon-restaurant, situé à l’arrière du train. Je m’empare de ce moment pour profiter de la cabine seul.


Mon sanctuaire entre les wagons.

Je note dans mon carnet de voyage que j’ai retrouvé mon stylo bleu. Il était sous mon lit. Un autre moment de voyage important à éterniser.

Détail particulier, certains passagers ont accès à l’internet. Ils partagent le progrès du train sur Facebook et parlent à leurs parents par vidéo. Je trouve ça un peu triste. On dirait que ça élimine l’isolation du voyage. Mais bon, le voyage est une expérience différente pour chacun.

En fin de journée, je visite le wagon-restaurant avec le couple finnois pour une bière à 7$. Le restaurant est un monde en soi. La matrone, Irena, est une petite dame russe bien en chaire avec un tablier qui est constamment en mouvement, même si l’on ne sait jamais ni où elle va, ni d’où elle vient. En autres mots, elle est exactement comme on se l’imaginerait. Après notre bière, on se dit qu’on doit revenir pour un repas bientôt.

Dans ce microcosme où l’on ne fait pas grand-chose, on accord de l’importance à tous les petits moments. Après ma première journée, je constate que je peux très bien vivre 4 autres jours comme celui-ci. En me fermant les yeux, bercé par le train, je me sens heureux.



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Well, at least that was an interesting experience… Let me tell you about the lead up to the cave (and the aftermath).

First, we got to Pa-an after two transfers, using 2 buses and a pick-up truck. It took us about 4 to 5 hours and cost about 6$US (I love the cheap transportation here). As an added bonus, I got a good wind/sun burn from riding on top of the pick-up. When we got there, we checked into Lonely Planet’s recommendation, allegedly home to a great guide, nice rooms and an informative staff. While I don’t like to the throw the term “coffin” around loosely, this how I’d describe one of the rooms we were shown. The door didn’t even open because the bed was in the way. We picked a room with a fan and a wooden box with foam on top masquerading as a bed. At least the door opened. Oh, and the staff were probably super helpful if you spoke Myanmar, which, we don’t. When we tried to turn on the fan, we discovered that Lonely Planet’s little paragraph about Pa-an having 24/7 power because of a cement factory was probably made up. Remember kids, 24/7 power in Myanmar is too good to be true.

After getting “settled in”, we managed to meet up a couple from Texas we first met at the Golden Rock. They too were in Pa-an mainly for Saddar cave. After talking it over, we decided that we might as well go see that cave as soon as possible and leave Pa-an the next morning. Pa-an is incredibly hot and noisy in the afternoon. Not the kind of place that makes you want to stay for an extended period of time. After some negotiating, we found a motorbike trishaw willing to take us to the cave at around 4pm for 20$ (a whole day of sights is 25$, I was outraged!). So we set off in this little box welded to a motorbike, four of us sitting there, holding on to the frame (there’s no back to this safe method of transportation. There’s an actual chance of you falling off). After about 30 minutes (I had no idea a mile felt so long!), we turned on this dirt road. Now we really started holding on. After what seemed like an hour, we got to the cave. We really didn’t think it through because the sun was about to set as we got there. Oops, we can worry about that on the way home. Oh, I should mention that the road we took to get there had this bridge that would have broken had Buddha not been watching over us because I took that pilgrimage to the Golden Rock. Really. The guy stopped in the middle of the bridge, looked down to the road ahead of his one wheel (or lack there of)and gave us a “why did I accept to drive you idiots?” laugh.

The cave was pretty good. Since we got there at sunset, the bat were moving around and their wings made it sound like thunder. That was pretty awesome. And I even got to see a plant growing in the middle of darkness far in the depths of the cave. I was blown away by nature’s tenacity. But the cave’s really not the point of this story.

On our way out, our ride wouldn’t start-up. Here we were, miles from a “main” road and with a broken ride. Luckily, there’s a monastery by the cave and those boys gave us a hand. They roped the bike to their car and pulled it until the engine picked up. I’ll say now that the monks here (everywhere in this country) are usually just hanging out. I’ve seen them smoke, drive their jeeps with some other monk buddies, drink beer, play chess in a tea shop and have a meal with a girl at a restaurant. Apparently they’re also good at getting you back on the road, like the Myanmar version of CAA. I’ve been fairly critical of the monks and their constant state of hanging during the whole trip, but I’ll admit I’m quite thankful for their help (and that they weren’t doing anything else like, I don’t know, meditating or something, when we needed help).

The monks showed us the proper way back to the main road (the dirt path we took there was in much rougher condition than the road we took to get back), waved us goodbye and we were on our way back to Pa-an only to make our way to Yangon for one last time the next morning.

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This is an email Elise wrote to describe the ride from Hsi-Paw to Mandalay. I hope you like it.

I’m still in Burma and had maybe the craziest car ride of my life, which is saying a lot because I have been in plenty of cars in China.  Let me try to explain to you the mayhem that is Burma and the day I thought I was going to die (or be seriously injured).

The day started out just as any other.  Had breakfast and then went to the train station to buy a ticket from this little village north of Mandalay called Hsipaw back to Mandalay.

Bought the ticket without a hitch and got on the train just fine.  Got an upper class ticket for $6 which is about 500 times what locals pay, but whatever, it’s $6.  The train car was probably an old used train from China or Singapore from the 70’s.  It had dusty fans on the ceiling which had thick layers of cobwebs on it.  My seat was broken so I was in a VERY fully reclined position the whole way.  Also, Burma is maybe the dustiest place I have ever been in my life so everything was layered in this red, almost clay-like dust.  Of course no air-con.  No matter, as long as it ran and got me to my destination alive.

The train starts moving…no problem, all is fine.  Then we move a little faster and the train starts rocking back and forth, to and fro; so much that I thought we were going to rock right off the track.  Then the bumps came and I thought the train was going to jump the tracks and derail.  All is fine now because we’re in the plains still and it’s relatively flat.  But I there is  a bridge coming up.  One that goes over a gorge and is NARROW!  We slow down, thankfully.  This is really the only way that the train can get across without everyone dying.  (I have pictures but image an old rickety train, going over a narrow, rail-less steel track that is high above this gorge.)  At least 5 minutes later, we’re over and the worst of the train is over.  Oh, not so bad you say?  Wait til you see the pictures.  Day doesn’t seem so death-defying?  Well, the worst has yet to happen.

In Burma, a common mode of transportation is by pick-up.  You just hail a pick up truck which has been fashioned with two benches in the back and a steel cage-like contraption over the back area which covers the benches and also provides more seating/cargo space up top.  This is where the old Toyota pick-up comes in.

Simon and I decided to get a pick-up part way to Mandalay because we were in the highlands and after a town called Pyin U Lin, the train moves very slowly down the mountains.  At the time, it seemed like the worst idea ever, but in hindsight (and without complications) it wasn’t so terrible.  We got an old Toyota pick-up and sprung extra for seats with the driver since we had already been on a train for 7 hours and the back is BUMP-y.  Well, who knew that the front just provides a clearer, more vivid picture of your death.  We start along and the truck is curiously slow.  Okay, no problem, that’ll be easier on the Burmese roads and coming down from the mountains.  [Burmese roads are two lanes of traffic occupying 1 1/2 lanes of road.  So basically, the bigger car has right of way and the smaller car or scooter pulls over til the bigger one passes.  This is also while faster cars behind you are also passing you.  (Sidenote:  the Burmese, despite being a former British colony drive on the right side of the road.  Also curiously, being a former British colony, the driver’s seat is also situated on the right side of the car.  This makes for a fun time when trying to pass on the left and the driver’s view of oncoming traffic is blind.)]

Well, we soon figure out that the car is going slowly – to be more accurate, coasting down the mountain with the engine turned off – because the gears don’t really work and well, neither do the brakes.  So if we go too fast, then we’ll get out of control.  And down windy, mountain roads, it’s not that fun.  By the way, it’s dark now and since the engine’s not on, neither are the headlights.  You recall that there are only 1 1/2 lanes of traffic for both directions right?!  So when a speeding truck is coming up the mountain, you PRAY that the driver sees you.

Well after two hours of this and narrowly missing many a scooter, bicyclist and pedestrian (my driver, a very nice Burmese man) turns to me after trying to jam the truck into 3rd gear and grins.  He grins at me with his rows of crooked, gnarly teeth, stained red from chewing betel nut, points to the truck and says, “No good” and laughs.  Quite reassuring.  Especially since we’re now in Mandalay and there are no traffic lights because there is no power (again, very common to have constant power outages) and chaos everywhere.

I hope I conveyed a tenth of the fear I felt during this ride.  Burma is so many things…many of which I have not yet decided how to describe.  Once I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

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