Breaking Burma Day 107: Mount Popa and Myanmar Crack

After lazying about on the e-bike for the past couple days, I decided to give the good ol’ bicycle another go. So onwards I pedaled to the far most sunset temple on the plains and one which is known for being the most crowded of temples at times like this. The temple was in fact crowded but nowhere near as bad as the Chinese bus laden tourist operative at the Pyathada temple from my first sunset. I found myself on the ledge of the upper deck for as prime of a spot as any. I had gotten there earlier than expected but this wait was its while as the sun patiently revealed itself to this part of the world. Since this temple was on the far western side of Bagan, it was set up perfectly to accommodate a panorama of most of the temples scattered amongst the early morning light. The hot air balloons rose once the sun had its most in the spotlight drifting here and there around the largest temples and hovering over the smaller groupings of temples. Even after the sun officially rose, I was content with sitting there to take in the show well past what most deemed the conclusion of the picture. Personally, this was when the lighting was at its best when the glow lit up the temples to their full capacity and the hot air balloons were not mere shadowy images. After checking on a couple other temples including a gigantic reclining Buddha hidden away, I rode back for some breakfast before the share taxi would be taking me to Mt. Popa. I had heard mixed reviews of the place but with time to spare I figured why not. For the most part, the road itself was essentially one lane so whenever two vehicles were driving in opposing directions the situation morphed into a deadly game of chicken in which the two drivers decided who earned the pavement and who got kicked off to the side of the road. Halfway along we stopped at a toddy palm plantation where we could sample their homemade alcohol and jaggery (palm sugar laced sweets). In front of the stand alone shop, an ox revolved in a circle while being goaded along by his owner to grind away at peanuts to extract its oil for cooking. I asked the sort of tour guide what they did with the left over peanut paste. To my dismay, he said it would be later fed to the animals (I was ready to jump all over that opportunity to buy some; jeez I miss some fresh, natural peanut butter too much). He then led me to where I could sample some of their palm sugar which had been mixed with coconut in one sample and sesame seeds in the other. I was hooked from the very bite. The man purposely had me sample these sweets knowing that they were straight crack from the streets. After being shown the age old techniques used to produce the jaggery, we progressed forward to the alcohol tasting which might as well been rocket fuel. Despite the recent exposure to the tasty liqueur, my taste buds still craved the jaggery. Unfortunately I had to buy a larger bag if I wanted any at all but when someone is addicted to the white dust as I was I couldn’t be helped to say no. So there I was buying my first pack of this drug advertised as coconut jaggery. In the remainder of the drive to Mt. Popa on the winding road that led there past more dodgy car encounters, I kept reaching into the bag for what I convinced myself would be my very last hit. Time and time again I went for it once more, selling myself to this cocainenut jaggery. In a bit of delirious wisdom, I told myself that I needed to rid this of my possession but at the same time I couldn’t let it go to waste. Bling, bling, the light bulb lit up. I know, I could give it away to the kids that kept begging for money. In that case, I would truly be breaking Burma by releasing this drug on the streets. All these hallucinations coming from this crack infused sugar. After settling down my twitching and wild aspirations, we arrived at Mt. Popa where I climbed the 777 steps up to the summit of this 2418 ft extinct volcano. The entire mount leading up was covered and made up of large jagged rocks before reaching the apex where the monastery and shrines stood. The view from atop could have been better but what should I expect from the hazing confines of SE Asia. Along the entire staircase up and down monkeys crept from every which corner to the surprise of those less prepared. I had gotten used to these rascals over my time in Thailand so I did not mind them too much. With the time I had to spare before the taxi left, I raced down the steps to get some decent views of Mt. Popa from a distance since that was the worthwhile photo to come for. All in all Mt. Popa was somewhat disappointing but a nice break from the lineup of temples in Bagan. After eating a lunch that couldn’t touch what I had eaten previously at the Moon vegetarian restaurant, I got my bike and took the other road towards Old Bagan. As a quick stop, I checked out the more modern yet still revered temple closest to Nyaung Oo. Of course the hawkers tried to take advantage of me by having me participate in a ritual that involved pouring water over a shrine before dispensing food into a bowl as an offering. They wanted 1,000 kyats or so which I refused to pay. After giving them essentially pennies at 50 kyat, I told them they should tell people before attempting to trick them. Eventually I rode off to the sunset point still very early on. I patiently waited for the sun to set and what a sunset it turned into being. Somehow, someway, the sun managed to reach the ridge of the mountains of the far horizon after glowing its deepest, most miraculous reddish hues. After chatting with a Minnesotan of all people (welcoming the rare Midwestern presence), I fled into the night for a jog past the darkened temples. With my iPod kicking out the tunes, I jogged carefree embracing the moment by playing the air guitar and drums as if no on were around and for the most part that was the case. Back at Nyaung Oo I was now carrying a heavy sweat but regardless I still stopped into a restaurant for a bite to eat. While I waited for my food, I talked to a Brazilian girl and Italian girl while a few Myanmar guys stared at me like the peculiar novelty that I was, probably for the rare sight of a white man sweating out the salty sea. After a shower, not much else was to be done except fall asleep until another sunrise called me forth.

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