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Tuesday 29 Jan 2013
Mandalay, Myanmar

They met by the light of the silvery moon on the road to ...

We left our hotel early and drove down to the edge of the vast Ayeyarwaddy River to board our transport for the next two days. The barge was moored up on the edge of the riverbank, so we walked down to the narrow gangplank resting on the mud and climbed aboard - the crew held a wooden pole out for us to use as a handrail if we needed it.  Up on deck, there were several rows of deckchairs under a sun cover, so we settled right in and got comfortable - shoes off, feet up, thank you very much!

The river is probably the widest river I have even seen and remained so for the whole journey, though Joseph said this was actually relatively low compared with the rainy season. There were many hidden sand banks under the water which the crew dealt with using the tried and tested method of dipping a stick in the water. The lad at the front dipped the stick to see how many markings were covered when it hit the bottom, calling out the number to the guy next to him. He stood facing the captain (in his cabin at the back of the barge) and used hand signals and calls to indicate the depth and the captain steered accordingly. This seemed to be very effective for us. but we passed another barge which had grounded herself on a sandbank in the middle of the river and was waiting for tug boats to come and release her.

The whole day passed in a happy drift of enforced laziness, doing puzzles and reading books and generally watching the world go by. Every vessel we passed waved cheerfully at us, as did people on the banks, and we waved cheerfully back again. The crew cooked us a delicious meal at lunch and dinner, which we ate around a long table downstairs. Despite initial expectations, it turned out to be some of the best food we had in Myanmar.

As the sun began to set, we dug our beers out of the icebox and settled in to enjoy the show. At first, we thought it was going to be a quick sunset as the sun dipped below the horizon without too much spectacle, but when we had turned our attention elsewhere the sky suddenly lit up with brilliant oranges and turned the underside of the scattered clouds a vivid magenta. It was simply breathtaking.

Dinner in the dark turned into an interesting experiece - the food was amazing, but the moths and flying things aiming for the strip lights above our heads became almost a swarm, landing on the table and on our plates, so we eventually had to eat in almost darkness or give up and accept the extra protein.
After dinner, the crew exchanged the deckchairs for sleeping mats and blankets and we got ourselves ready to bed (adding several layers of clothing in preparation for the cold night ahead).

As if to compliment the stunning sunset, we were then treated to a beautiful moonrise reflecting off the river. We were still cruising in total darkness, using the ship's powerful spotlight to negotiate the channels between the sandbanks as they looked for a particular place to moor up. I dozed off listening to the depth calls from the crew at the front of the boat and the gentle rocking of the river...


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Zobeedoo's Big World Adventure, Part I

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