A close friend of mine always says no matter how stressed out I get, things always have a tendency to work out for me. Sometimes I think he’s right.
After having spent an incredible few days in Kyaukme, a small Shan town in northern Myanmar, I headed to Mandalay to meet up with some friends. As Myanmar’s second largest city, Mandalay is noisy, dirty and, frankly, one of my least favorite places in Myanmar. It’s real draw, however, are the ancient cities surrounding it, especially Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura, home of U Bein’s Bridge, the world’s longest teak bridge.
My friends James and Tom and I decided to share a taxi for the day and hit all three cities together, ending with a spectacular sunset viewing off the bridge.
We hiked up the endless stairs of Sagaing Hill and viewed the stunning interconnected monasteries below. Then we took a boat and headed to Inwa, my favorite, where we took a horse-drawn carriage past endless sunflower fields to view the town’s ancient temples. Unfortunately, as I stood poised to capture a particularly beautiful temple, I heard my camera beep and watched my lens sink back to the base in exhaustion. I had forgotten to charge my battery the night before.
While I kicked myself for my mistake, James and Tom graciously shared their cameras with me, allowing me to use my memory card so I could take my own pictures. Though it wasn’t a super easy situation, I thought it was a pretty neat trick.
After a busy day climbing steps and walking around villages, our exhausted bodies were ready for a relaxing evening in Amarapura where we could enjoy a peaceful sunset off the bridge.
“Peaceful” ended up being the least accurate word I could use to describe that evening.
Upon arrival in Amarapura, James and Tom headed off to travel the length of the bridge, while I decided to grab a snack before sunset. As I sat down to a steaming plate of deep fried corn (snack options were limited), I met Marcus, a solo traveler from Toronto and struck up a conversation.
When sunset approached, Marcus and I headed for the bridge together, making our way down the 1.2 km bridge to join the hundreds of other tourists who had also come to watch the sunset. I had told Marcus about my camera battery situation, and he generously offered to share his photos with me via email later on.
But as I looked around at the boats, the people, the water and the sinking sun, I didn’t want someone else’s pictures. I wanted my own. So I asked Marcus if he would mind if I borrowed his camera for a few minutes just to take some photos with my own memory card, and he agreed.
Despite the fact we were standing over a wooden bridge amidst a moving crowd, neither one of us thought perhaps exchanging 32mm x 24mm memory cards might be a bad idea. And sure enough, the second I removed the card from the camera a man bumped into me, and it dropped from my fingers.
As I watched the card slip through the wood cracks, I saw every single non-backed up memory of my incredible experiences in Kyaukme and the Shan villages slip away into the green waters below. Unlike all of my other Myanmar adventures, my trip to the north had been solo.
I’m pretty sure my heart stopped for a full minute, which is especially bad when the whole scene appeared to be in slow motion.
In my shock, I turned to Marcus for confirmation that this horrible stupid thing did happen.
“Did you see that? That old man bumped into me. It’s gone now, right? Like, I can’t get it back, right?”
As he stared back at me, equally shocked, my heart sank. My card, though in itself was relatively worthless, contained all the evidence I had of my experience in Kyaukme. And it was a goner.
I stood there, eyes popped in disbelief when suddenly, a beacon of hope: a monk.
“Excuse me, Miss, I help you?”
The monk had seen everything, and though his English was limited, told me the water below was relatively shallow, and I might be able to fish the card out.
I jumped up excitedly, “Yes, yes!”
As I looked around for the best way to get down, I heard the monk speak to a local boatman below about the situation, and he too agreed to help.
I instantly went into super focus mode. By the look of the sun, I had about 15 minutes left until sundown, when all would be lost. Even if the card was retrievable, this was a race against the clock.
I immediately shot off, gaining an incredible second wind that allowed me to dodge people, leap over obstacles and round off back handspring back to land (more or less ;)). Once there, I realized how far along the bridge I had been and began the awkward walk through the dried plants back in the direction I’d come from to find the closest place from which to wade.
When I finally reached the location (luckily Marcus had stayed to mark the place where I had dropped the card), I was relieved to find the boatman was already in the water scooping with his fingers in the muck below.
As much as I’d like to say I jumped right out there and joined him, I must admit, I had a moment of princess, er, I mean panic… That water looked nasty, and I began to wonder about diseases, infection and any unwanted surprises in general. But I couldn’t let a random stranger remedy my bad judgment without me, so I hiked up my pants, dropped off my purse (my protective traveler instinct wondering if my bag was safe on shore) and waded in.
I kept my memory card in focus while I walked through the unnaturally green, toxic-looking lake. As I sunk my hands into the mud below, pulling up mostly shells, I gritted my teeth and prayed these would be the worst of my findings.
But as my friend predicted, just a few minutes later, my luck returned. The boatman had succeeded and stood, holding out my tiny blue card for me to retrieve.
I don’t know if I was more elated to have found the card or shocked that we had actually managed to rescue it. All I know is I began jumping up and down and threw my arms around the boatman in a big, awkward thank you hug, which was quickly rescinded seeing his discomfort (cultural barriers, whoops :/).
When asked what they would save if their house was on fire, people almost always say they’d grab their photo albums. I suppose memory cards, hard drives and CDs are our modern day equivalent, and it’s not until these things are in jeopardy that we realize just how precious they are.
I think now, I’m always going to back up ;).