Myanmar: The Beach

As it happens, our three month sojourn is coming to a close. We will be back in Vermont’s snow and mud season in 8 days. I wish there was a way to store house the Myanmar tropical beach warmth so we could cocoon ourselves from the cold and damp of home. Alas.

We’ve said goodbye to Soe at the airport in Heho with hugs and exchange of emails. We fly 40 minutes southwest to Thandwe in Rakhine state and the airport is even more low key than Heho. We walk on the tarmac past beautiful bougainvilleas into a big room and wait by the door as the luggage is hand carted and pushed inside. It feels like a small bus terminal. We gather our belongings: the day packs loaded to bursting with our essentials and valuables, the conical hats, umbrella, sand paintings are in one hand tied up with a krama bowline. I heft a large woven bag over a shoulder, itself a souvenir, making itself useful filled to the brim with baskets, shoes and jackets. Lastly we roll and carry our 3 little suitcases gorged with clothes and souvenirs. We greet the hotel shuttle and bounce and sway past several villages, fancy hotel entrances, acres of stinky fish drying in the sun and turn onto an almost imperceptible road, pass a school and finally enter the Yoma Cherry Resort, Ngapali Beach. It is very hot. We respectfully remove our shoes, drop our stuff and endure another 30 minutes of a lengthy check in (they hold our passports hostage for two days) and eventually are shown our room; a second story suite with a balcony overlooking a garden of palms and green lushness all the way to the sand.We leave our stuff and hit the beach so quickly the sweat flies off our skin.

Nice beach. The Yoma Cherry is the only hotel in this cove and the geography provides safe harbor to fishing boats anchored at the shore. We top off our daiquiris, swim in the warm Andaman Sea, cream on the sunscreen, and mellow in the shade of our palm frond palapa.

I’m not much of a beach lingering in the sun person, so I stroll in the early morning up and down our cove that is rimmed with black rocks that stretch like fingers into the sea being careful to avoid the anchors embedded in the sand. I walk before footprints and tides erase the busy sand life. There are tiny formations of sand jewelry, ephemeral necklaces of sand beads strewn around tiny crab holes with pendants of little shiny silver fish left over from last night’s catch.The fisherman go out around 6 pm and return 12 hours later. We see village men emerge from the jungle carrying their dinner pails and gear slowly walking towards the boats around 5.

There is a lot of waiting, milling around and then somehow the timing is right and they roll up their longyis, wade out, climb up the sides like ants over the gunwales and take their places. Preparations are made, engines are engaged and one by one the boats launch out to sea for the night of fishing. The boats are strung with high intensity lights that draw the small silver fish into the nets, night after night. It looks like a little city spread out along the horizon. It is also a lovely time to swim.We walk barefoot to dinner at Coconut Beach Restaurant about 20 meters from the hotel for freshly caught fish. The first night we have white snapper, the second grouper. We are in heaven. Steve is really expert at separating flesh from bone. The fish is tender, succulent, a gift from the sea. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

We are awakened early by a musical ruckus outside our door. We are astounded and thrilled to see another novitiation , this time in Rakhine at the beach, no less. A wonderful way to start the day. We rent bikes today to travel to Thandwe bus station about 10 km away for me to buy some palm leaf fans. It seems this is the only place that sells them. Off we go, traveling back past the same fancy hotel entrances, the acres of stinky fish, the several villages until we reach the junction for Thandwe which begins the long uphill slog. My bike is stuck in one gear so I am straining and sweating so hard I get dizzy and have to stop to rest. It is midday and really humid. Steve’s hands go numb. I concentrate on the road, trucks come close and I stare ahead noticing the Jackson Pollock like splotches of orange betel nut spit on pavement.

I actually tried the betel nut at Indein market in Inle Lake. The ingredients are sold everywhere at the markets and the vendors make a little cube like package for the customer. It has a sweet menthol like taste as it sits in my cheek becoming saturated with saliva. I’m told to chew it and besides being crunchy, not much is happening other than my mouth is filled with beteljuice and I have to spit. I don’t know why I am shocked by the volume of bright orange juice hitting the ground. Like any bad habit, you’d have to work at it to want to continue.

We hang out and watch beach life. Fishing, sleeping, rolling tires, eating, swimming…

Last night’s catch

Our last morning at the beach arrives, breakfast on the veranda, last swim, I buy my fourth and last conical hat across the way. I see a man hike up a coconut palm, and following some serious leaf shaking and rope rigging, he lowers his coconut booty to the sand. We chat with the hotel manager whose mother, Vera Thompson started the English speaking school next door. We watch the fisherman attempt to move their overladen truck out of the rutted sand using palm fronds to gather some grip. We do pet the dogs against all the rules. And we say goodbye to the beach in Burma.

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