“You may want to pack your toothbrush in case we get thrown in jail.” Ross adds as I finish off the toast at breakfast. What a way to start off a day.
I met Ross at Motherland Inn 2, our backpackers in Yangon. Traveling alone, friendly, and helpful, I soon realized he would make a great travel companion in Burma. Sharing taxis and boats in Inle lake led us to the same guest house in Bagan and as soon as I informed him of the gas explosion that occured 3 days earlier, he was keen on going to investigate.
I arrived in Bagan on October 24. That evening across the Ayeyarwaddy River a gas pipe exploded killing and injuring many people. At least thats what I was told. When I asked any of the locals about the incident, no one would give a direct answer. Avoiding the question or blowing off the incident, making it sound like no big deal.
Knowing there was more to this story, Ross and I set out by horse and cart- yes that is correct, through the ancient roads of Bagan to the river. After about 15 minutes of negotiating a price for the boat trip and debating back and forth whether the trip was worth the money, the excitement of what we could find took over and we jumped on an ancient boat to cross the Ayeyarwaddy River.
When we reached the other side we were happily greeted by local children playing on the shore. “Money! Money!” they repeated as they skipped behind as we followed our boat man up the path to the village. Smiles of local people and curious stares met us at every turn as we made our way to the taxi stand.
After another 10 minutes of negotiation on price we climbed on the back of two motorbikes and made our way through villages, mountains, and barbed wire fences until a road block appeared in the distance : Myanmar Police.
The officer stopped our motorbikes and immediately asked for our passports. Snickering to ourselves we took a seat and waited. A few minutes later, back up arrived. 5 cops for an old Aussie and me. Real necessary.
The Police read through our passports, wrote down all our information and checked our visas. A mixup with the dates on my Myanmar Visa raised the eyebrows of the officers, but playing dumb and innocent got me out of further investigation.
As the Police wrote down every possible detail on both Ross and myself, I decided to bust out the camera and take some photos on the sly. One *cough cough* *snap snap* and I had myself a decent photo of our investigation.
Moments later I hear the jeep door slam and the sleeping officer awakes just in time to tattle. As quickly as I rejoiced my sneaky picture, did they take our cameras and delete, delete, delete.
Upon searching through Ross’ entire camera (thinking it was mine) they handed back our cameras after receiving radio confirmation that we weren’t journalists or something dangerous to their coverup.
As if we were a huge threat, they questioned our drivers, and wrote down the motorbike registration before telling us we could not go any further (duh!) and that we were free to go.
Although we could not communicate with the people we met , you could see the appreciation they had for our attempt. Their faces however, lacked a sort of empathy you would think would come with such a tragedy.
We rode back home on the boat in silence, although we didn’t make it to the village, the attempt was well noted.
I left Myanmar not knowing the facts on the gas explosion. On my bus back to Yangon I was told it made the Myanmar news but the internet ALSO went down that day, making it impossible to check the world news.
I flew out of Myanmar on October 29th and received an email on November 2 from Ross stating the facts he had heard about the fire.
From Ross’ reporting, the explosion happened in Saling Village- just over the Ayeyarwaddy River from Bagan, Myanmar. Ross’ source claims 145 people died, 3 are in the hospital and 45 are missing. Back at home in the United States, the San Bruno fire killed 6 and burned many homes. This was a major news story. Did anyone hear of the Myanmar village fire? Interesting what little actually makes headlining news…