14 May 2008

and then there was cyclone nargis..

friday, 2:30 pm: on the way to the hotel, mr. sun, in a very calm manner, told us that our flight back to yangon was cancelled because of a storm. not to worry, though. the agency had prepared a van and assigned a driver to take us there by land. we were going on a road trip. a 14-hour road trip. by the agency's calculations, we would be in yangon by 7 am the next day, with just enough time for breakfast at hotel and catch our 10am flight back to singapore.

coming from a country that gets frequently visited by typhoons, we treated this road trip as a minor inconvenience, nothing really serious. so we headed back to the hotel, quickly packed up and waited for the van and our new driver who was going to take us to yangon. we waited for an hour. apparently, we were not going to pass by any gasoline station, so our driver had to stock up gas by the gallons in the van.

3:30 pm: saying our goodbyes to mr. sun, we loaded up in the van and prepared ourselves for the very, very long ride. there were jokes, talks about how everything was so inspiring, and still more picture-taking. we stopped by a little town to buy some food.

what did we talk about in the van?

8:00 PM: we made a brief stop in another town (i'd forgotten the name) for dinner. that would be our last meal (apart from the cookies and chips we bought earlier), until we got to the hotel in yangon the next day.

and after that, we were back on the road again. after running out of stories to tell and songs to sing, we all fell asleep.

saturday, 3am: our driver stopped the van to change the car's batteries and load up on oil. i'm hazy on the details, but i was told by my friends we stopped in the middle of nowhere, and it was a tense moment for them.

6am-12PM: i had a good sleep, considering the bumpy road we took. remember what i said about us coming from the philippines and we were used to storms? we were used to it, alright. when storms come in manila, we were all safe inside our houses, waiting for it to pass.

we were not inside a rented van, whose sunroof was starting to leak and pouring water on chilli n's head. we were not outside, on the streets while fallen trees and electric posts blocked our way. no, this is definitely not the typical storm we were used to. we woke up to see this:
(pics courtesy of chilli a)

but this time we were. we were right in the middle of what we later learned, was the worst cyclone in myanmar in 50 years. i could believe that now, with the experience we had. we had to stop several times to wait for brave locals to chop down trees that were blocking the road. and every time the van stopped, we were all in silence, because the heavy winds seemed determined to knock us down.

we passed by buses, cars and trucks on the road, some were lying on their sides, either from a collision with another vehicle, or maybe just plain carried by the wind. when our van waded through floodwater i prayed that our van will not suddenly stop.

the crazy thing about all this was, we did not even think of going some place safe. all we were thinking about was catching our flight back to singapore. when clearly, it didn't look like we were going anywhere.

*clip1 from the van*
*clip2 from the van*

and then, the unthinkable happened. our van got stuck in mud. we all had to go down (with the exception of chilli f, who was assigned to the driver's seat), to help push it out. it would have been a funny sight, of two guys and four girls who were pushing up a van, digging through mud. but at that time, it was definitely not funny. not when you're soaking wet, with really hard winds and rain that, when it fell on your skin, was actually quite painful. we were all shaking from the cold.

thankfully, there were several passersby (yes, there were still people walking around) who stopped to help us push the van. we were about half an hour into the unsuccessful pushing when a pair of kind middle-aged men helped us. and surprise, surprise, they were from singapore! my friends and i agreed, at that moment, our perception of singaporeans totally changed.

after we got the van out of the mud, the singaporeans told us that the airport was definitely closed, all flights were suspended. best to get ourselves some place safe. they were going to their embassy. they told us to go to a hotel. and so, we went to the hotel where we were previously booked.

1PM: it was the same hotel we stayed in on our first night in myanmar. only this time, the hotel was damaged by the storm. the doormen were actually tying a rope to hold the front door together. pails were strewn all over the lobby to catch water from the leaks, and one elevator was not working. the hotel was running on generator, they said. and worst of all, all phone lines were down. not just the international ones, but the local ones as well.

our first goal was to contact our travel agent, so we can ask him about rescheduling our flights. the second was to get ourselves a room. we failed on the first one, obviously. we did get a suite, where all six of us stayed for the night. since there were a lot of other tourists stuck in the city, we were thankful we got at least one room.

after we've cleaned up, we had some lunch. and we bugged the front desk of the hotel every so often for any updates on contacting our travel agent.

6pm: our tour guide from the first day came to the hotel to check on us. he told us that one of their managers were checking on the airline availability. we told him that we would like to go to the airport very early the next day. we were sure there would be some flights available by then. he agreed and told us they will pick us up the next morning at 7 in the morning.

we didn't even bother with dinner, because we wanted to make sure our money would be enough for a longer stay, just in case. our credit cards were useless here. they all dealt in cash.

back at the room, we were thinking of back up plans. and amused ourselves with fortune-telling, and talking (i don't know why we never ran out of topics, seriously), and thinking of what we were supposed to be doing at that moment (there was supposed to have been dinner for chilli a in singapore with some other friends). and we looked back at that day's experience. we all agreed, by this time, that this was one of our most unforgettable trips.

the next morning was another hurdle before getting home.


  1. So adventerous.... too have the experience of a luxury trip at Wynn Las Vegas during my last business trip.

  2. Now, i can read and remember these events with a smile...goodness, ays you were so composed back then! i really thought you were enjoying making kalaykay the poootek hehheheeheh and the rains pelting on your face :)

    pero salamat na lang talaga kayo kasama ko :D

  3. ps.masarap yung tapioca chips mweheheheh

  4. hindi na ko nagfreak out, para hindi kayo mafreak out. haha. gusto ko lang talagang halukayin yung mud, para hindi ako manginig sa lamig. haha


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