I was in the shower at 7:40 a.m. on the 5th floor of The Hotel Mandalay when the largest tremor struck. The bathroom was all marble tile, which ends up being slippery when wet; there was nothing to grab in order to step out of the shower once my brain realized an earthquake was in progress. Oh wait; the hot water heater was strategically placed as the only thing to hold onto between the shower and the toilet, how convenient! Stepping out of a shaking bathtub into a shaking slippery floor holding onto a 3rd world water heater was a bit like dancing with a pit bull.
I must have stood there frozen for over a minute watching my toiletries shake to the floor standing in a puddle of my own making. The dilemma? Run wet and naked down five flights of stairs OR rinse out the shampoo, dry off, get dressed, collect my valuables and then run like hell. Visions of news footage in a 3rd world crumbling building searching for survivors is a strong image to weigh against standing naked in a parking lot. I didn’t dry off or wash the shampoo out but I did put clothes on and grab my computer and video camera before bolting down the ‘employee-only’ stairwell five stories on shaking as I ran.
Merry Jo and Dave, my very cool travel partners, joined me out there as well. It was so thoughtful of MJ to remember to bring the iron and ironing board with her during the evacuation and to close my hotel room door as they walked past my room.
The second quake occurred during my afternoon nap, I was fully dressed and in the parking lot in 4 minutes. MJ was half-way done with curling her hair and she looked ‘half fluffy headed’ but it was good to see they evacuated.
The third quake occurred while brushing my teeth at 9:30 p.m. All the bags were packed and at the entrance of my hotel room door this time; I was outside in 3 minutes. The Indian man across the hall and I were getting to know each other via panicked looks on our faces and running down the hall steps simultaneously in silence as tiny shampoo bottles tumbled at our feet. This time there were only 3 of us in the parking lot as the Chinese group sleeping in the lobby didn’t bother going outside.
I was fully dressed in bed when the 4th one happened at 1 a.m. I was outside in 2 minutes and stood alone in the parking lot with giggling security guards looking up at the hotel watching room lights turn on and scantily clad people peering into the darkness. I resigned myself, like the others, to sleeping restlessly through the night in a hotel that lived through four quakes > 6.8.
Other than those events and the car breaking down two times and a rat carrying my $10 Michel Cluizel 80% cacao Sao Taome chocolate bar from my backpack pocket into his rat hole in the middle of the night it was a good trip. Myanmar was an overload for the senses and like traveling back in time about 100 years.
Twenty percent of the young boys and girls in Myanmar are living in monasteries studying Buddhism, the red robes of the monks and nuns were as pervasive as the oxen and water buffalo plowing the fields.
There were gold plated pagodas everywhere, basically you cannot stand anywhere in Myanmar and not see a pagoda. The pagodas and temples in Bagan were red brick and sandstone. They were our favorites still standing from the 11th century filled with Buddha statues and paintings. It was like discovering the first pyramids in Egypt as there were over 3,000 pagodas in our village of Bagan alone with only a handful of German and French tourists scattered randomly around the country.