I can deal with traveling hungover. Been there, done that, and if you’ve ever had a Changover in Thailand, you can handle any of those brain-pounding aftermaths. But flying hungover? That’s a different kind of monster.
After losing my passport a day before my flight (more on that to come), airport debacles and delays, and 14 hours of flights and layovers, you might think I’d be a pretty big grump right about now. I’ve just arrived in Yangon Myanmar from Melbourne Australia and staying in a hole-in-the-wall hostel on 20th street among the crowded buildings sandwiched together — and I’m loving it.
But getting to Myanmar was hell. This is how you should not fly to Myanmar. Or anywhere.
Not that leading up to the trip wasn’t hell in itself, because the 48 hours prior was the most stressful travel experience I’ve ever had. One thing I’ll note as a warning to all travelers is to NEVER LOSE YOUR PASSPORT. I’ve never felt so naked in my life, besides that time skinny dipping in New Zealand of course, but it made everything about getting to Myanmar difficult.
After an entire day spent at the US Consulate and running all over town spending nearly $100 on Uber rides, I was back in my share house packing my bags. It felt a bit sad to leave a place I spent so many months in, but invigorating getting back on the road and in my true element. I hadn’t even had time to sell my bed and furniture yet, but time was not on my side and I had to leave it all behind.
It was time to hit the road again. Time for a new adventure.
That was what I felt my life missed all the time I spent in Melbourne, the exhilarating tumble through an unexpected and unfolding unknown. Not scheduled, not routine. I was back in it now. I slung my backpack over my shoulders, tech bag on front, camera bag in hand, and did the nomad waddle out to the street and into my cab. I didn’t look back at the room once, it was too much burden to bear, too much possession.
That comfortable bed held mostly restless nights, and the walls held mostly depressed moments which I wrestled with disappointment of waiting tables and not accomplishing my true calling. I had so many plans to decorate my four walled temporary home, but all I did was wallow in them. My true enjoyments of Melbourne all happened outside of that space, with friends and good times and camping and exploring — those moments were my real home in Melbourne. Time to move on.
Before getting to the airport, I made an amateur move as a traveler.
Take note for another lesson: NEVER GET WASTED BEFORE A FLIGHT!
It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t set out to get drunk enough to leave me hung over for the following day. It just happened. When you leave a place you’ve been a long time, you want to have a farewell with friends. Though I had better and more subtle plans, the passport issue left me busy all day and into the night, so instead I took my bags and went to my old work to say goodbye. There, the night gradually progressed from a couple goodbye beers at a bar to finishing off multiple bottles of wine until 3:00am, and after dropped off at the airport. Worst part was, since I hadn’t expected to get drunk, I hadn’t eaten much that day. I was running on empty which made the approaching hangover worse.
I don’t even remember getting to the airport.
In my drunkenness, I was semi-responsible and set an alarm, which startled me awake at 6:30am completely bewildered. I began running around looking for the Air Asia counter all frantic and wobbly. My flight was at 9:30am, so I had plenty of time, and somehow I had passed out directly in front of the check-in counter which I realized after 10 minutes. My head was pounding as I shuffled forth to the counter. I gave woman at the counter my passport and old passport photo while I attempted not to sway or breath too heavy because of my wine breath.
That’s where the first of numerous troubles began.
It took 30 minutes and calls to management to deal with my new passport number not matching my ticket, which I had changed before online, but it hadn’t appeared in their system. Then, they asked if I had an onward flight, and after trying to make excuses about taking overland buses out of Myanmar later, they forced me to book one out of Myanmar to Thailand. Poof, $65 gone.
Next was the check bag issue.
When I checked in online, throughout all the nonsense of that afternoon, I forgot to check a bag. I had to at the counter, and pricing leapt up from $50 online, to $100 at the counter. Great. Budget airlines aren’t very budget friendly.
All of these delays led me to passing through security with just enough time to run to my flight gate, but no time for food. Dehydrated and hungry and hung over, I boarded the flight knowing Air Asia doesn’t even serve free water. I boarded, plopped into my window seat, and was eager to get on the way so I could have a meal during my layover. That wouldn’t happen, because I should have known there would be delays.
For an unknown reason, the plane sat on the tarmac for 1 hour not moving.
I cursed under my breath but relieved once in the air. And in minutes I passed out from sheer exhaustion. I woke a couple of hours after with a pounding headache as they passed out meals people had bought. I nearly caved and bought a $30 meal, but they didn’t accept credit card. I pleaded for some water and they reluctantly gave me a cup of hot water with an ice-cube in it. Warm water was my only blessing so far that day.
Then, more bad news.
The captain crackled over the speaker and told us we’d be arriving at 5pm instead of the original 3:50pm, which left me 10 minutes on my layover to make it through security and on the plane. Which also meant no meal as well. I tried reading the ending of “On the Road” to cheer me up, but I couldn’t focus. I needed water and food. When I asked again, I was given another cup of hot water with the roll of their eyes like it was an expensive freebie, and then I had to sit in anticipation for the life-saving water to cool off.
A rocky landing into the quarry-like carved out airport in Malaysia, and a mad rush off the airplane to security and somehow I was in the main building by 4:50pm. Still time for food I reckoned. After bouncing around from food stall to food stall because people were taking ages to order, I settled for Burger King fries and inhaled them as I walked. Not one, not two, but three security check points later and I was just in time to board my flight to Myanmar.
I was finally in the last stretch to Myanmar.
I had a little food in my belly, no water, a slight headache, and a desperate urge to arrive already. A couple more cups of hot water sufficed, and I finished the ending to “On the Road” and stared aimlessly at the unfolding horizon and sea of cotton-ball like clouds. I was in it again, on the move, glorious roar of the engines into the dying sunset and the unknown.
All worries and woes washed away. I left them in the tail-winds to be turbulence for another. I felt lighter. I felt freer. I felt delusional and delighted. I twirled my lucky coin and felt a pang of sadness for something I left in Melbourne that I won’t speak of here, but also felt happy because anything is possible for the future when you’re flying through the void of earth and space where reality and the horizon disappear in a blended infinite obscurity of opportunity. Normal worries about seeing people again or what to do in Myanmar or how to keep traveling, it all melted away being so close to the Universe. Everything would work out.
It would all work out, just not until a few more problems arose first.
We arrived in Myanmar and touched down as soft as the pink dusk. Bags grabbed, I shuffled over the army-green patterned carpet, Cold War chic, through the hallways that seemed to linger with scent of ghosts of century old cigarette smoke from a bygone era, and into the immigration exit. I knew this part would be difficult. I had to get through Myanmar immigration with a visa that did not match my new passport number, and I didn’t have a print-out of the visa after leaving it at the check-in counter in Melbourne. I expected a headache, maybe some finger shaking and huff-puffs. I hoped not to have to pay $50 more for a new visa.
I didn’t expect Myanmar Immigration to be so damn helpful.
Even when I enter the United States, my Motherland, I expect trouble. They always hassle me. Everything is difficult. I’m always treated with skepticism. In Thailand, when I didn’t have a form printed or filled out, they told me to go away or ignored me.
I went to the visa counter to inquire about my visa mismatch, and immediately a soft-spoken officer with impeccable gel-spiked hair approached me and said, “I help.” I was a bit confused as to what that meant, but he got on the radio and soon enough, 3 more officers showed up.
Within minutes, I had a posse of dudes running about to get it figured out, always running back to get me to unlock my phone and bring up my old passport photo or my e-visa. Not once did they give any attitude. Every time he had to run back to get me to unlock my phone, he laughed softly as if to say, “sorry for the inconvenience” and ran off again. After about 15 minutes a woman who I presumed the head honcho that night, and someone I would be afraid to make eye contact with from appearance of authority, cracked a smile and stamped me in and told me to enter.
Just like that I was in Myanmar and their immigration team made all the prior frustrations and delays disappear. I exchanged money for Kyat at one of five money exchange counters, went to the taxi stand, paid the flat rate for a ride into downtown, and I was cruising on the freeway in George’s cab. I half expected something to go wrong. I waited to be ripped off or approached. George was quiet and friendly. When George dropped me off, I waited for him to up the price because that’s how it had been in India and Thailand. He smiled, thanked me, and drove off.
I had arrived in Myanmar, and already I was loving it. The air was heavy and humid but the kind where you don’t hate it, you wear it. It engulfs you, the weight of Asian haze, and it was like putting on a familiar jacket with a strange sense I hadn’t worn it in years. The smell of the streets. The bustling of markets. I was finally off on an adventure again, and though getting to Myanmar had been hell, arriving was beautiful.