Up & Down

We were treated to a special sunrise atop Kyaiktio, the sky showing off its best.


The hills main attraction is the golden balancing rock, which is a very popular pilgrimage destination. It is a tourist destination as well. 

For these reasons there is a large tourism industry atop the hill. Shops selling tourist nicknacks and food were abundant. There are hotels and restaurants too. To support this industry, a town has grown from the side of the hill. It was fun to explore and meet the people who lived on Kyaiktio. There was even a school!


By 6am the town was in full “hustle bustle” mode. An interesting part of this was the monk’s procession. The maroon colour of their robes was striking. With some friends I wandered around, taking it all in.

monks procession from an earlier day

You can’t drive your car up Kyaiktio. You can’t drive your motorbike or truck or bicycle or scooter either! To get up and down you must use their transportation. The day before as we were going up, Kenneth our guide turned to me and said “get ready for fast and furious 9”. I did not take him seriously, but holy cow he wasn’t joking! From the getgo the driver was on at breakneck pace, hardly slowing for corners. We whipped through the jungle, around hairpin turns and past a cool waterfall. Halfway up we stopped to wait, because the road ahead was suitable for just one truck at a time. During this stop someone from our group informed us that these trucks occasionally roll over. This took the smiles off our faces briefly, but soon as we were going again I was grinning ear to ear. I couldn’t help it. The ride down was just as fun.


During one of the stops vendors came to us. David couldn’t help but to buy a pair.


A two hour drive brought us to Bago, and the Bagostar hotel. (Which quickly got the name Bago Onestar hotel). I really didn’t think it was that bad! Ernie braved the cloudy swimming pool and some others of us explored the neighbourhood, a rural area.

Dinner was great and the table conversation was even better. 

You would think with 21 hours of flying and 8 hours of airport waiting time I could have accomplished more than this one post… so as always I’ll say:

More to come!

Thanks for reading,
Andrew

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Chai Tea Yo

Chai-tea-yo is the name of the hill upon which I reside tonight. It’s actually spelled Kyaiktiyo, and it is a place where a pagoda is perched upon a giant rock on top of a hill.

The day began a few hundred kilometres away. After a filling breakfast and couple hours on the bus brought us to the beginning of the day’s ride.
km 0-10: followed a back road bordered by rubber trees. People on motorcycles wave as we pass them, climbing a gentle hill. 

km 10-20: Peter wipes out. We learned the hard way that keeping space between bikes is important.

km 20-30: The road is getting very busy, but trucks give us enough room. It’s really hot outside but that’s okay because when you’re moving, there is plenty of breeze. Lots of people get back in the bus after km 30. A few people eat some local munchies and decide to do “maybe 5 or 10 more km!” Dad and I are really enjoying ourselves so we decide to keep going.

km 30-35: good pace, still warm but the munchies give us lots of energy to keep going. We decide to do “maybe 5 or 10 more km!”

km 35-45: construction zone! Thank goodness we’re going downhill because we can hold our breaths from the gross black smoke. I see road building going on. They are building the road with their hands, one rock at a time, impressive.

km 45-50: pretty tired and hot by now! Dad hops in the bus and a few of us make it to the end, greeted by friendly applause! Feels good.

And now I’m sitting watching a man catch flying grape sized grasshopper-beetles and shoving them in a plastic bottle. 10 points to whoever can tell me why.

Thanks for reading! 

Andrew

Bands and biking

Yesterday, many of us quit cycling before the end of the route because of the noon day sun. Today’s much better plan was to get the riding hours in early and rest during the hottest noon. A filling breakfast of eggs, pancakes and sweet purple rice goop filled my legs with get-up-and-go.

White with sunscreen, behind dark sunglasses, spandex sticking tightly and eyes wide open for traffic, we set off in a procession of 20 individuals. Passing through smoke from garbage fires and the various other smells of the city (Mawlamyine) waking up, the pedalling was easy as the sun came up!

Cool things we passed in the morning: 

  • A procession of monks in red robes. They walk the streets every morning with empty bowls, asking for donations of food. The youngest monk (age 8 or 9) at the back, and the oldest (???) at the head
  • Across a suspension bridge, over fishermen in long skinny boats
  • Farmers harvesting rice by hand

Though traffic passes close at times, we agree that we all feel very safe because all drivers are very aware. The support team maintains our bikes and keeps us on track.

How is an elastic band made?

This is a question to which I did not know the answer to before today. In Myanmar, elastic bands are made from the sap of the rubber tree. The sap is boiled, dyed, moulded into tubes, sliced and then rinsed clean. All of this is accomplished by shockingly primitive methods, like sun drying and boiling over an open fire.

Also on the morning’s industry tour we visited a blackboard factory and a town which makes walnut (smoking) pipes.

Other highlights of the ride:

  • Passing schools; buildings where songs of children float out open windows.
  • WAVING back and sharing a smile with all those who initiate the gesture
  • Watching the unusual scenery of cliffs, marshes, rivers and fields
  • Enjoying the breeze created by moving quickly (not much breeze here otherwise!

Evening activities were a busy tour of the busy busy busy Mawlamyine downtown and a tastebud tour buffet dinner. The restaurant is a cooperative owned by local women who make food and offer culinary classes.

Tomorrow I hear we will see a boulder “hanging off the cliff”. Wish I could be sharing some of these sites with you! Fingers crossed tomorrow’s wifi will be friendlier.

Thanks for reading!
Andrew

The adventure begins only when something goes wrong.

EDIT: in Now including pictures!

I spent yesterday’s daily  blog – writing time puking and asleep early. My stomach does not like something I put in it. 

So, this will cover two days worth. 

Getting to the top

Today’s “trekking day” turned out to be more than some of us expected! Picture us each, naively setting off with a small water bottle, on what turned out to be a 2000+ foot climb in 35C heat! Two hours later, 3 other hiking partners and I were at the peak. After snapping a few pictures we turned around, figuring some of the older members wouldn’t be making it to the top. Shortly after though, we met another group, and then another and another, all who had pushed through and made it to the top! This “quick morning activity” had become more than bargained for, as it was 1pm by this point.  The descent (lots of stairs) was hard on our knees, and everyone was thoroughly exhausted upon reaching the bottom after 2pm.

Not sure if it was lunch or dinner that didn’t sit well, but my stomach and digestion system was forvery displeased. It sucks, but thanks to retroperistalsis for keeping me safe.

—   —   —

Today was a big day. The plan was to visit a village where MEDA’s Improving Market Opportunities for Women project is being implemented.
Our welcome to the village was extravagant, beginning with a 25 minute dance show.

We were then led to a tent where we introduced ourselves, to enthusiastic applause and positive response. They were evidently very appreciative of our presence, and this became more evident as food came and came! Bread, tea, buiscuits, goat, chicken,frog and many vegetable curries were brought out! Later we received cold water, fresh coconut milk and Gatorade type beverages.


I also received a “rockstar treatment”, being jostled around, seemingly everyone wanting a picture? Not sure if it’s the white skin, hair colour or my Canadian citizenship- but they thought I was Justin Bieber. 

While sipping from fresh coconuts we met with a women’s savings group – a structure set up by MEDA. This is a group of 15 women who loan money to one another and use the profits to benefit their farms and their community.


They showed us their rice mill, instrumental to their business.  I asked if they as a savings group have any objectives. One of their goals is to improve their rice mill thus improving the quality of rice put out.

This savings group is 1 of 120 groups in Myanmar. 

MEDA is 2 years of 5 into the “Improving Market Opportunities for Women” (IMOW) project. So far, 5000 women farmers are involved. The goal is to involve 25000 women by the time the project is done.

These are the women your money is helping. I wish to pass on the deep gratitude which I felt.

—   —   —

Here it is Monday night, day 3 without a blog. I was sick last night but all better today! Here’s one picture hinting to what happened today. More tomorrow! Thanks for checking in.

Six hours on a bus, a million tiny Buddhas and I’m [two] tired to be writing this now.

On the move on the road, oh the places you’ll go! Today’s road brought the group from Yangon to Hpe-An (say “pay ann”, the h is silient like honor, explains our guide). 
This demonstrated a great overview of the countryside, for example vendors selling bananas, popcorn and chicken from little food-mobiles. The landscape is dotted with gold pagodas (Buddhist relic-containing structures) which seem to show up in places considered beautiful. Most vehicles here are right hand drive, but which side of the road used seems up to the drivers preference.

I spent the six hour drive looking out the windows and conversing with some cool people. In just the back area of the bus, I talked with experts in real estate, 4 individuals who have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and another individual who has witnessed the delivery of  3000 babies in his career. A wealth of experience to be gained! 

Upon arrival in Hpe-An we visited our second sacred Buddhist site in as many days. All the little dots in the rock wall are carved Buddhas. Some were careved by monks hanging by vines from the cliff side. A million might be overshooting it.


Dinner was accompanied with a healthy dose of stimulating conversation. It’s 8:00 pm now – apparently. 


We were told to wear hiking shoes tomorrow. Sweet! Check back to see how that turns out.

This was supposed to include more pictures, but at the new hotel, “www.” seems to stand for “wait, wait wait…” so the pictures have to wait.

An abundance of friends

Today was a rich day – the kind of day after which your body strongly requests to be in a horizontal position. I’ve heard that you absorb something like ten percent of what you hear in a day. I hope that was not the case on a day like today. 

Today, we met an abundance of friends: the twenty individuals registered for Myanmar on the Move cycling tour. Highlights included: 

Learning about architectural styles, shrines and shops of downtown Yangon.


We also learned about a hanging bag used to transport items in a building with no elevator. 


Learning about Buddhism through shrines, stupas, statues and a huge temple. Eight of ten people in Mynamar are of the Buddhist religion.


Receiving the WARMEST welcome at the MEDA office. Greeted by their staff of nearly fifteen, I was struck by their remarkable enthusiasm for work and their passion for the Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW) project.


We left laden with gifts and with full stomachs.

Departure tomorrow for Hpe-An is 8:30 AM. Now, time for bed.
Thanks for reading!

Traintastic

Good morning from Yangon! Dad and I did our best to combat the unfortunate effects of jet lag, but even so we found ourselves watching an episode of “ice road truckers” at 4:00am. We both made it back to sleep though and woke up ready for an awesome day.

The team is arriving from all corners of the galaxy (or at least North America), so the planned tour does not begin until tomorrow, November 9. This left us with a day to see the city.

After enjoying the complimentary breakfast buffet we found ourselves at Yangon’s train station. This was a good choice for us frugal Mennonites as the three hour loop cost just 200Kyats, or 19 cents per passenger! The experience was worth every penny and more, for it gave us a fascinating image into urban life in Yangon. 

I’ll let this become more photojournalistic for now:

The train was a slow rolling billboard. In 39 stops over 60 kilometres we circled the city of Yangon.At one stop, dozens of farmers came on along with their produce. Many of them cut, bundled and bagged their items as we went along.We were on train “R” travelling right, or clockwise around the city. Here we encounter train “L”.Appartments in YangonWandering, content.The exotic birds of the region (kidding, these are pigeons)

Very concerned about the lack of windows and doors.This guy alternated between SPEED energy drink and his mother’s breast. I guess mom’s juice doesn’t give him the same rush!

Wanted to take a second to say a huge THANK YOU to the Leamington MEDA chapter for sponsoring dad & me, and for giving generously to the Myanmar project. We were informed that the $100,000 chapter goal was surpassed by $9,732 (at last count). Your generosity is incredible.

Also, please let me know what you think of these posts! Be curious, ask questions, get in on the learning. More to come.

Adios,

Andy

Ahead to the Future


Today, we travelled time! Departing from Vancouver after the 3 day MEDA convention, it hardly seemed real that so soon we would be arriving in Myanmar.  Twenty hours and 11000 kilometres later, touchdown at RNG, Yangon’s airport. Customs gave us no problem and all our bags showed up.

Outside the airport we were met by a tour guide and driver. The trip to the hotel took 90 minutes because of traffic. 

Initial Myanmar impressions:

Looks lush, because of the humid climate


Smells a bit nasty in places, like any place with lots of cars. Open sewers outside can’t help either!
Feels swollen. My and dad’s bodies both are getting used to the new climate

Tastes sweet, which was the prominent flavour in the curry dishes we enjoyed for supper.


Sounds peaceful.


This being said, were very comfortable here in the Chatruium hotel. There’s even a pool! 

Stoked to explore more of the city tomorrow. Adios!

Bonus: learn to say hi in Burmese: min-ga-la-ba

Seriously, say it out loud, It’s fun to say.

Etymology is the coolest.

Hey Andrew, what are you up to lately?

Life in Nemaska is good. Last weekend was full. My friends Etienne, Xavier and I went cranberry picking in a nearby marsh. The berries were plentiful but very small.  They taste delicious. 

Later that day, we were invited to see the butchering of a bear. The bear was trapped by Charles, an expert in Cree culture. It was intriguing to watch him disassemble the animal, with first the skin and paws, and ending with the fat and meat. We hung each cut of meat and fat in his shed where it would be dried, smoked and eventually cooked. 

Etienne with the thousand pound bear
Notice the meat and fat hanging
Skinning the bear
Done! With Charles the hunter and Bret my coworker

Also that weekend, I spent a night at friend Bill’s hunting cabin. Without hesitation he let us use it – what a generous guy!  . Again I was with my friend Xavier. An hour away from Nemaska and far out of cell service, this was a fun experience. We kept warm sleeping near the wood stove, it was easily the cosiest sleep I’ve had in a long time. The northern lights didn’t visit that night, but being so far away from a city, the stars were breathtaking.
Inside Bill’s cozy cabin
 

Some other pictures from around & about.

A more subtle display of aurora, seen from our house
A typical scene: short scrawny trees. Notice the hydro pole too.
And now, the trip begins. This is posted from the Montreal airport, where I’ve made a brief stopover. The MEDA convention begins tomorrow in Vancouver.

Along with finding a word in a dictionary I always research it’s etymology. Etymology is cool because it gives us new details about regular words. The word convention is a neat one; it means to agree and unite. This is exactly what the coming week is all about: uniting people who agree that business solutions to poverty are realistic and effective. I’m excited to attend and learn from many wise people.

Thanks for reading, and keep watching for updates!

Andrew

Question and Andrew

A quick Q&Andrew

Hey Andrew, where are you living?

Being a student in a co-op program means I move around a lot. This placement I’m living in Nemaska Quebec (say nem-iss-ka), a First Nations community of 800 people.


Hold on, what’s co-op?

Being in a cooperative education program means that I take work placements in the areas I might like to work. I It’s the “try before you buy” version of career hunting. Placements are typically 4 months long which means I end work here in December. So far, co-op has been awesome.

And what do you do at work?

My job is to model and encourage a healthy active lifestyle among the children and teenagers here. This translates to playing soccer, floor hockey and jumprope with kids; teaching fundamental physical literacy.

What’s it like living far away?

Less challenging than expected. We have a comfortable house and decent kitchen, and even the use of a vehicle to get around (but it’s easiest to walk around town). A truck comes every Wednesday with fresh (fresh?) vegetables, fruit and meat, which cost 30 to 50% more than we’re used to. It has been fun getting to know the locals. I’ve been brought moose hunting a couple times, but no luck shooting (or spotting) one yet.

img_0121.jpg
Moose meat made it onto the thanksgiving plate including but not limited to moose “head”, tongue and nostril?? (circled) I was grateful for the generosity.

If you’re working so far away, how can you still go to Myanmar?

“Say yes to opportunity” is a good phrase. So when the chance came to cycle and travel with my DAD, I just made it work. There are a few weekly flights to Montreal, where I’ll connect through to Yangon!

This can become an extended Q&A; if you have any questions throw them in the comments below, or just email me andrewdyck95@gmail.com

As always, thanks for reading.

IMG_0120.JPG
last night the sky put on a bigger show! The lights were above and around us, I didn’t know where to point the camera. WOW!