Moving on from Mawlamyine I took a bus to the village of Kinpun on the Kyaiktiyo mountain. This was my first bus ride in Myanmar and what a ride it was. Luckily when I boarded the bus there were still some seats left but a few stops in the bus was bursting at the seems with people and luggage everywhere. It didn’t take long for the majority of the children to turn green and start vomiting. A guy sat across from me was cupping his hands for his daughter to vomit in then throwing it out the window. Eventually some plastic bags made there way from the front of the bus and were distributed to all in need. It would seem that on Burmese buses the in house entertainment comes in the form of a TV and very load sound system pumping out karaoke videos at full volume. All the karaoke videos seemed to be about two girls who are best friends who fancy the same guy and end up fighting over him. After one of the girls finally bags the hunky guy they are no longer friends anymore. It then turns out he is a right horrible bastard and cheats on the girl with her once best friend who he then proceeds to also treat like shit. Eventually the girls realise whats happening and they become best friends again!
I quickly got bored of the incredibly bad karaoke videos and became fixated on the incredible views through the window. There was huge expanse of farmland with buffalo carts running alongside the road. In Myanmar the buffalo carts are so common that either side of the paved road are dirt tracks that these buffalo carts use, forming deep gullies where the cartwheels cut into the dirt. There were easily more buffalo carts making their way along this road than any motorised vehicles. When the bus eventually made its way into the mountain the scenery became jungle with small remote villages where the houses were all made from wood and on stilts with their livestock underneath. Every time we stopped at one of these villages women would come to the windows selling fried crickets and secadas which were the favourite snack of everybody on the bus. I was offered to try these several times but could not bring myself to eat one. So on we went making our way to Kinpun with a view through the window straight out of Apocalypse Now and a soundtrack of awful karaoke with the distant sounds retching children.
Kinpun is famous for the the golden rock boulder that is perched perilously close to the edge of a cliff seeming to defy gravity itself. However one or two powerful earthquakes are likely to bring this rock tumbling down the mountain and since there was a 6.3 earthquake recently this could happen sooner rather than later. When I arrived in Kinpun instead of rushing up the mountain to see this marvel I spent the day having a wander around the village, as most tourists rush up to see the rock take a few snaps of it and rush back down again in time to catch the bus to Yangon. The villages were just like the ones I saw on the way up the mountain, with all the buildings made from wood with a big space underneath to keep livestock and shelter from the sun with some kind of breeze. The people of the village were very friendly and intrigued by me but I could only ‘say mingu la ba’ (hello) smile and wave as my Burmese was shite to be frankly honest. I met a group of guys playing a game like hacky sack and volley ball. They were pretty damned skilled at it doing jumps and flips in the air to kick the ball over the net and hopefully score a point by the guys on the other side not managing to send the ball hurtling back over the net.
On the day I went up to the golden rock I had the option of walking the 6 hour ascent in a 42º C heat or taking a ride to the top in a flatbed truck that had planks of wood spanning the width of it with very little leg room between them. I decided to take the 40 minutes of discomfort over the 6 hours of self inflicted pain. The truck left at 6 am and was packed we were squashed in like sardines in a can and once it was physically impossible to fit anyone else in the truck sped off up the mountain at a very un nerving speed. The journey up the mountain felt like a roller coaster ride with the truck breaking heavily throwing everyone forward and then roaring off agin throwing everyone backwards and taking bends at breakneck speeds. It was like no journey I have ever taken before. When we arrived I was amazed that no vomit had been spilled.
Once at the summit we jumped off and made the pilgrimage to the famous rock only to find it completely hidden by cloud. It was impossible to get any photographs of it. Trying to remain positive I waited and waited and waited. Once I got bored of waiting I had a look around the small temples that were scattered around the summit and made my way back towards the rock. At the rock there was a crowd of men applying sheets of gold leaf to the rock as this is what the majority of the pilgrims do. Unfortunately woman are forbidden from getting close to the rock so they have to look on from a distance. Suddenly there was a massive downpour of rain that bounced off the floor and sent everyone looking for shelter. I joined a group of people under one of the temple doorways and as quickly as the rain started it stopped leaving a break in the clouds that let the suns rays shine onto the gold covered rock. I quickly made my way over to the rock and managed to get an amazing shot of the now gleaming rock with only one guy applying a sheet of gold leaf. Feeling like I had got what I came here for I made my way to the truck station.
It was 10am by now and by the look of it everybody else had decided to go down the mountain too. Every time a truck arrived before the current passengers could get off everybody was fighting like wild animals to get on the thing. Queuing was clearly not an option. I really could not believe how manic it was I have never seen anything like it. It really was every man for himself, how people were not injured in the stampedes I don’t know. After epically failing to get on the next 3 trucks I had to try a different tactic. If I did not get on the next one I would not make it down the mountain in time to get my bus out of town that I had already bought the ticket for. So instead of waiting by the steps up to the side of the truck I stood in the road and when the truck arrived with a superhuman effort I jumped up the side of the truck grabbed onto the side rail and through my self over and in before it had even pulled into station. Much to the annoyance of the waiting mob.
On the way down the mountain the ride was even more extreme. The trucks took a slightly different route that was much steeper with the truck wining in first gear but the incline so steep the driver still had to jab at his breaks making the truck lurch violently forwards and backwards and yes there was vomit lots of vomit, vomit everywhere. It was like a scene from the exorcist with green faces projectile vomiting onto the backs of everyone sat 12 inches in front of them. It is a memory that will stay with me forever!
Once back in the village I had just enough time to change out of my vomit splattered clothes take a quick shower and get my bags packed. I was late checking out but the guest house owner was pretty relaxed about it. Hauling my ridiculously heavy luggage on to my shoulders I made my way to the bus stop 10 minutes down the road hoping I would not be late. I arrived completely dripping in sweat only to find it was delayed by 2 hours. Spotting a beer house just opposite I left my bag with the huge pile of locals luggage and drank a few ice cold beers until the bus to Bago finally arrived hoping all the beer I drank didn’t make me need a piss before the scheduled toilet break!