Warning… :( end…

This is the first image that popped up this morning when I went looking for inspiration. I found the original the other day when I was looking for something, which I seem to do about 12 times a day.

The picture takes me back, all the way to November, 1983. It was still Burma then. (Now Myanmar)

After WWII, tourism really wasn’t encouraged in Burma until 1992 and it was not an easy place to travel around by yourself. I had therefore taken the initiative for once, of booking a tour through a travel company in Bangkok, that I remembered from my childhood.

Unlike many other things from back then, Diethelm’s was still up and running (and remains so, according to Google) and they created a nice little 7-day tour for Tim and myself and two airline colleagues.

Burma would only issue a 7 day visa which did not in any way suffice, but it was another reason for having an organized tour. Messing about was something we didn’t have time for. We were met on arrival by a delightful agent from Tourist Burma displaying a sign that said “Smith Tour”. It made me feel really important, particularly as Tim was normally our leader.

The value of being a small group became obvious when we later bumped into a large tour group who moaned sadly that they seemed to have spent their whole 7 days waiting at airports.

Things were more than usually off-kilter at the time due to a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal. Our own flight from Rangoon (now Yangon) to Heho (now Hehoe) was delayed only a short while and a 25 minute ride saw us meeting our very sweet local guide in Shan State.

No, this wasn’t our transport. We had a van that broke down twice, but in the 80’s that was standard operating procedure as the average vehicle then was about 25 years old.

On the way from Rangoon airport, we had a complete breakdown and transfer, followed the next night by a journey in an ancient vehicle that refused to move until its customary driver was found. (Seriously!)

That night we kept the driver waiting, almost 3 hours while we dined and saw a show, the charge for which was all of $6. Even in those days, that was cheap, and as we strongly supported changing money on the black market, it actually cost us only $3. Burma was an affordable holiday!

Our destination was actually Taunggyi (name unchanged, as far as I can discover), which was where you went in order to visit the aquatic community of Inle Lake, famous for the leg-rower fishermen and the floating gardens.

We travelled the lake in a motor-driven canoe, which was pursued by gulls hoping for bits of our lunch. As I recall we didn’t have anything for them 🙁

The quality of the photographs is only in part due to the incompetence of the photographer. The weather throughout Burma remained overcast and cool, which was a pleasant surprise, due to the stalled cyclone. That and the 37 year age of the prints.

As our little boat sped along, we suddenly heard the joyous sound of music as a canoe-full of festively dressed people approached.

This was a family taking a young boy to a local pagoda where he would start his life as a novitiate.

The monastery which we passed was a wooden structure on stilts which had intricately carved roof decorations. Tourists were fairly rare, so the young monks came to stare as the Smith Group sailed grandly past.

Or not so grandly…Tim was not impressed with having his photograph taken wearing the latest addition to my hat collection.

Note: Hats are not a practical thing to collect

I think he had also caught my evil cold.

The temple in my first picture was one of the places we visited on our lake tour, but for some reason I didn’t make a note of the name and when I went looking in Google I found nothing I could recognize. It is entirely possible that the pagoda in that photograph is one of many that are now in ruins, flooded and falling to bits.

The Lake is suffering all of the woes so common in today’s world, run-off from deforestation, and slash and burn agriculture bringing silt to the lake, which encourages algae and weeds. Over development of the floating gardens, many of which are in fact now dry land. Encroaching non-native water hyacinths.

And of all things, noise pollution, attributable in main to tourism. My Google search around the lake revealed numerous tourist hotels and resorts which were unheard of 40 years ago.

The Burmese we met were warm, cheerful people that could not have been more welcoming and I loved their beautiful, mysterious country. Even then, I know that the Karen people faced difficulties. We met one in Rangoon, where he was awaiting his visa to come to the United States. I remember his beautiful, kind face and I can’t imagine why anyone would be threatened by someone like that.

There are now hundreds of thousands of displaced people around the world, many of them refugees from Myanmar. How is is possible not to be depressed by this?

The thought I have about the unfathomably enormous problems of our planet is always the same. There are too many of us. My belief is that if mankind does not solve this problem for itself, Nature will. Either that or the future will be very grim.

This is surely not what I set out to write. Perhaps I’ll return to the inane world of aviation!

Here’s a picture of some naughty foster cats. That’s Casper and Alice, caught in the act.

And this is shy little Alex. The three were siblings. Alice and Casper stayed together but Alex got a good home too. They were some of the last cats I fostered. I loved them all.

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