Upon our 4:45am arrival on the night train from Lao Cai to Hanoi on Wednesday, 10/16/13, we headed immediately for our prearranged day rooms at the Asia Star in the old quarter of the city. We collectively agreed upon a couple hours of rest before breakfast and final preparation of our seed collections for shipment to and inspection by the USDA. Prior to dozing off, I glanced at my email and read a missive from the US Embassy in Myanmar. A series of bombs had exploded across the country, seriously wounding an American tourist at a luxury hotel in the capital. Before taking a much needed early morning nap, I forwarded the message to Scott who would be flying with me that afternoon to Yangon where we would meet up with good friend Shayne Chandler who had secured last minute funding and permission to join us. (Shayne and I have botanized together in Costa Rica, Vietnam as well as many hikes in our local Olympic Mt range in WA State).
By the time we had reconnoitered for breakfast at 8am, Scott had made the agonizingly difficult decision to not go forward as planned. With two young girls waiting for him at home, we collectively decided that it was not worth the risk of harm to him, nor could we justify the expense of possibly having two of us stranded in Yangon.
The remainder of my morning was spent frantically rethinking, packing and repacking, packaging seed and addressing boxes to the USDA, all with the much needed assistance of Andrew, Scott and Ozzie. We said our farewells in front of our hotel at 2pm.
Five hours later, our handler, Aung Din, Shayne and I successfully met up as planned at the Yangon Intl Airport. I was gladdened to learn that we would not be flying north until Friday due to insufficient passengers on our flight previously scheduled for the next morning. This would give Shayne and I the opportunity to sort our gear and leave redundancies behind. Being prudent, I spoke with the U.S. Embassy, who reconfirmed their official position that though they considered our destination- Putao- safe, travel outside the outpost was not recommended. We would simply have to rely on the good sense of our guide and local interpreter to not put us at unreasonable risk during our trek.
The following morning, in a monsoonal downpour, Shayne and I explored a colorful, and spirited market near our accommodations where I was pleased to see for sale bundles of Globba magnica. Related to Hedychium and known colloquially as The Weeping Goldsmith, the highly fragrant flowers of white with pendulous pistils and anthers of brilliant golden yellow possess a significant role of in the countless Buddhist shrines across the country. I had read of this plant in a book of an eponymous title by Dr John Kress of the Smithsonian, through which I had learned much of Myanmar culture while being introduced to Aung Din who would, in turn, facilitate our trip.
The rain diminished by early afternoon while we visited the most resplendent of the Buddhist shrines in all of Myanmar; Shwegon temple. The chortles of curious ravens and and flocks of swifts added a natural kinetic element to the still glint of gold and echoes of bells from those who meditated. Aung Din met us in late afternoon and we finalized our departure plans for the following morning. I awoke at 2 am to the ominous sound of thunderous rain on the roof of our hotel and wondered how it might impact our flights.
As it happened, it did not. We are just now landing in Mithkyina, the outpost from which Frank Kingdon-Ward started his many travels here in the early years of the 20th century. Another 30 minute flight will, with luck, have us safely on the ground at Puta-o, the former British outpost once known as Ft Hertz. We are filled with equal parts of apprehension, excitement, a sense of appreciation for this opportunity and regret that Scott is not with us. Until I reappear with reports of the following 17 days in the mountains beyond, I will sign off with the traditional Burmese greeting and parting; Mingalar Bar! Auspiciousness to you!