-This is an excerpt from an untitled story I am writing about an epic train ride I survived last December through Northern Myanmar. Enjoy.
December 2014 … I walked the station platform and immediately noticed another lone Westerner. I made sure he was in the right spot and soon discovered my companion for the long, hellish journey ahead. Franchesco, an Italian physicist, was on holiday for a few weeks in Myanmar, and had planned to take the train to the furthest stop north, Myitkyina. Our two hour discussion waiting for our delayed train assured me how fortunate I was to have met such a stellar gent. We amused ourselves with the possibility of our arrival being delayed over twelve hours as rumored, oblivious to our fates.
The train slowly approached still chugging as passengers raced over one another in a frenzy to toss their luggage through random, open windows. Franc and I were curious how people even knew their seats prior to boarding. Within minutes on the train we knew it would be a rough ride. We faced our fellow passenger as if we were dining at a restaurant, except without the table and the food. Our seats were as fancy as the most primitive park bench, sitting perpendicular. My boney ass ground against my seat majority of the ride, unless I was completely airborne. Ten legs crowded the center of our booth as we configured around a few large parcels. I realized it was no mere coincidence that the only foreigners on the train sat next to one another and were the only passengers with seat numbers as well, which may have been for additional comfort or spying as well. Franc’s guide book tipped us off that spies are sometimes hired to watch foreigner’s activities when entering restricted areas, causing us paranoia later on.
Only three scenarios could have made this ride any worse; rude passengers, diarrhea, or the train derailing. The restroom consisted of a hole in the floor with a toilet seat on it, relieving all waste to the tracks below. When cleared, we could see though the floor boards of the aisles and beneath our feet. The train crept along like a slug, which was acceptable seeing that the cars swayed as if they were boats on a stormy sea. Flashbacks of riding an old, wooden roller coaster flared my adrenaline as passengers endured every ache and pain the train had, frequently launching us from our hard, unpadded seats. I shared a laugh every so often with the woman across from me as we watched random unconscious heads bob up and down to the beat of the tracks. Other times I witnessed passengers momentarily traumatized after being ripped from a dream state, comprehending the transition which had just occurred. I imagine my own past dreams in which I am falling from the sky and the act of my physical body actually doing so from the couch or bed amplified my emotions. It felt so real.
A tour of our three car lower-class quarters had quickly boasted our celebrity status. Smiles, glares, handshakes, and photo-bombing were all acknowledged as we returned to our seats. The lack of Westerners in Myanmar was noticeable, but the northern states rarely saw any foreigners. I was told Hopin, my departure stop, saw about sixty foreigners throughout 2012. Franc and I spoke for many hours, with a conversation or two more personal than others, until he decided to get some sleep. It tends to be easier to open up to a stranger at times because there is nothing to lose. We hardly knew one another and will most likely never meet again. I grew envious of those surrounding, resting peacefully as they were casted throughout the aisles and benches of the decrepit train car. I would get a few hours rest tops, but nothing solid. Many passengers slept through seismic train activity, displaying impressive sleep skills.
I blankly starred as drowsiness began to cloud my consciousness, yet my body remained alert as it was repetitively jerked by the bumpy tracks. My daze was broken by a subtle tap on my shoulder. It was a hesitant man inviting me to join his friends for a drink. We stepped between the scattered body parts that now occupied the aisle toward his booth, confident to not interrupt the dreams that lie before us. My newfound friend and his comrades welcomed me with open arms, assuring me the evening had just begun…