It was time for Romeo and Juliet.
Ms Judith Jones, my 9th grade English teacher, with orthodox shoes, a slightly wobbly but energetic steps, declares to a class of skeptics, “I believe in love at first sight! I fell in love with my first husband just like that!”
Love at first sight. What a quaint concept in these deeply cynical #tinder times we live in. Who needs love when you have two thumbs and the Internet?
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is not a story about love. This is a story about instincts, and how quickly you just …know.
We didn’t really know each other before we made plans to rendezvous in Myanmar. The only measure of “you are not an ax-murder” is the overlap of a few Facebook friends, a couple of hours in person, and sharing the same adventure resume highlights of The Mongol Rally and The Rickshaw Run. That was all I had to go on before I committed to spending 10 days with him in a not well-traveled country that is a semi-military dictatorship disguised as a democracy in transition.
Putao, the most northern town in a seldom-visited state of Kachin is the spot on the map that drew our eye. It is as far north as we could go. It had an outbreak of civil war as recent as 2011. Very few foreigners visit Kachin or Putao. Let’s go somewhere far from the beaten track. Let’s honor the explorer within.
Do we need permits? There’s little information to be found online and everything contradicts one another. There are only two hotels in town and it never even occurred to us that they might be closed for the season. Or maybe we are just well-traveled / hubris enough to think that we will talk someone into housing us. What is there to do once we get there? We don’t have enough time to trek plus the season is over. Well…we would explore of course.
A tiny airstrip with a shabby building serves as the airport in Putao. The airport is so tiny; the ground crew gives the pilot a thumb up to signal clear for take off. You have to exit the airport gates then find a wooden shack just beyond for immigration and airline counters. The man at immigration asks us if we have permission to be there, we mumble something that kind of sound like a YES and he sends a guy off with our passports to make 9 copies each. Yes, 9 copies are needed.
We hop on the back of a motorbike-pick-up-truck hybrid and head for the only hotel we could find online. What do you know; they are closed for the season. A little bit of fast talking and a lot of sweet smiles, his not mine, we manage to convince the owner to re-hang the mosquito nets, lay the mattress down and let us stay.
Every one wants to know if we have permits to be in this part of Kachin and everyone tells us something different. Some say we need permits to be in Putao, some say we only need permits if we leave Putao for a different township, others say we could just go to the immigration office and apply for a permit. The story changes every hour with every person.
So…we did what good explorers do….we ignored all the rules. We rented a motorbike; each day we would pick a direction and ride until we ran out of roads. We were the only foreigners in town and we saw a part of Myanmar that very few travelers have seen. We had no agenda and the only expectation is to taste the psychosphere of this place.
This could have been a terrible idea.
Spending days traveling with someone I hardly know in remote parts of Myanmar . Except, neither of us had doubts, about each other or our lack of itinerary. We did not possess an encyclopedic knowledge of each other (maybe all the better) —- just instincts —- and that was enough. Maybe Ms Jones is right, Romeo and Juliet is not so improbable after all. Sometimes…you just know.
Let’s be explorers together. Let’s go until we run out of roads!