Friday, July 23, 2010

How to stuff a Jeep

We spent the third night of the hike in Namhsan, a cute and chilly little mountain town.

The guide booked us seats on a Jeep headed down the mountain to Hsipaw the next day. Chad and I were surprised when the little vehicle pulled up in front of our guesthouse.  It clearly had space for only five passengers – one on the bucket seat up front and four on the benches that faced each other in the back. There were already four people aboard, so where were we supposed to sit?

It all became clear after the driver lashed our bags to the roof and gestured for us to get in. I got the remaining bench seat, with Chad on the floor at my feet and our tour guide on the tailgate. And that’s how it remained … until we stopped to take on more people. And more. And more.

In all, we crammed fourteen passengers and a driver into the tiny vehicle: four on the benches, three on the floor, four sitting or standing on the tailgate, two in the bucket seat and one lucky dude sitting sidesaddle on the hood – I kid you not – while clinging to the side-view mirror.

The dirt road down the mountain was swimming in mud. Work crews with hoes and shovels didn’t seem to be making a dent in the mess. The driver did a heroic job getting us to town without getting stuck, or, worse, sliding off the road.

It was a very long five-hour ride: Chad's feet went numb and I felt like I’d been spanked with a two-by-four. But our one-time bad experience is a routine occurrence in Myanmar, where public buses and vans are almost always overflowing with people.

As we stretched our legs at a rest stop halfway down the mountain, I wondered how many of our fellow travelers made this trip monthly or even weekly. Did they dread being crammed willy-nilly into the vehicle, or do you get used to it after the100th time?

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