As our October 777 Cathy Pacific flight began to shake, rattle, and roll, our pilot came on the speaker to say we might not land as expected. With Hong Kong almost in sight it seems that we were about to enter the outer edge of a TROPICAL TYPHOON that had its center near Shanghai China. The center is no problem but the edge is rather violent. How did I get into this situation?
Ten months before we were in the grip of winter 2015 and the cold never seemed to want to stop. As I pulled into my subdivision there was water all over the street and steam rising in the bitter cold. I thought, “I bet some poor bastard had his pipes burst from these record temps.” Then I pulled into my driveway and realized the water was coming from my place.
After the emergency plumber left around midnight I could not sleep and went online and found a wonderful picture of a balloon floating over a valley of temples in Burma as the warm sun just began its climb into the sky for the day. Mist rolled around objects on the ground as it does before early morning heat burns it off. I wanted to be the man in that balloon and over the next months made plans to do just that. What I had not planned on were all the wonders of nature along the way.
The roller coaster movement of the craft started to smooth out and vibrations began to go through my seat as the ground spoilers, ailerons, and wing flaps started doing their jobs. A short time later we were on the ground at Hong Kong International and happy to be there to begin a 5 hour wait for my next flight out to Bali, Indonesia.
Bali has had recent problems in that some distance away the ground has exploded rock, ash, and fire into the air to a height of a few thousand feet. This VOLCANO is a danger to aircraft and no one knows when it will go off again. Thus I built in an extra day or two for travel there. However this day it was quiet and soon I was meeting my guide and travel friend, Boni, at Denpasar International airport.
I allowed a few days rest in Kuta before we took off for the smoky city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. FOREST FIRES from the large island of Sumatra, Indonesia were out of control and smoke was covering a large area of South Asia. As well 11,000 people have been taken to hospital and some had died. We never left the air conditioned airport and, after a while, we were again taking off on Air Asia for Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok is exactly the kind of place I wanted to avoid. It is hot, polluted and chaotic and filled with tourists the locals are probably tired of seeing. On the other hand Burma (Myanmar) has been closed to tourists for most of the last 30 years and views them in a fresh light.
Soon we took off for Mandalay, Burma which is almost in the middle of the country, the second largest city and the last royal capital of old Burma. After a free bus ride into the city, we checked into our three star hotel and began walking the streets. The first thing that I noticed were large industrial size generators outside most stores. We assumed that the power must go out a lot — and it does but only for a moment. The second thing that I noticed were the very high street curbs. In Canada we often make them about 6 inches high but these were ten inches and up to a foot high in places.
Hunger set in and we found a type of restaurant that locals were using. This was a good chance to try new food. We took a long time to relax and eat and in that time a MONSOON had hit the streets of Mandalay and to our shock, as we left, there was a river of water where the paved street had been. Water even came over the curbs onto the sidewalks. Thus we jumped from high spot to high spot on the street all the way back to the hotel without getting very wet. I woke at 5a.m. unable to sleep and came back down to the pavement which was starting to dry and all water was gone. By coming in mid-October it was my theory that we would avoid any monsoons but I was happy to experience at least one in my lifetime.
Early the next day we set off to the west for the Bagan valley where the 2,200 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries still stand. At one time there were 10,000 constructed on the Bagan plains. This was the valley of my dreams where a balloon was supposed to lift me to a dream adventure in two days if the weather was perfect. However, Monsoon clouds still circled overhead.
After 48 hours there I got up at 5a.m. and walked outside on my booked flight day. I looked up at darkness and was hit in the face by mist. The monsoon had been pushed out by the tail end of a monster CYCLONE that had just hit India and decided to join us on balloon day in Burma. Soon two men arrived in a van to tell us in person that all flights were off. The real shocker was the man who arrived at 5:30 as he asked to see me in the lobby. We sat down at a table and he pushed a packet towards me and said, “Count it.” He was from the balloon company and was giving me an $800 American cash package. I knew from the weight it was all there. I could not believe my money was back in only 30 minutes since cancellation. In Canada, it would take a month or they would offer me WalMart coupons or something. I wanted to deal with people like this and asked them to find me a spot if they can take off later in the week.
Friday was our day to leave but I went out at 5a.m. and looked up and saw stars. Mr. Cyclone had gone. Two women had cancelled and we took their places. My cold winter dream was about to take flight in the hot air of Bagan.
Our lady pilot said she had never seen the air so clear and one could see the Irrawaddy River and the mountains beyond. All the temples were almost relieved of mist and in sharp detail. Thank you, Mr. Cyclone.
Boni and I had no problems on our flights back to Bali and we left extra days in case there were any. However when it was time for me to leave there was a problem that developed on one of the runways. A flight had to make an emergency landing as inside 2,186 sheep were inside farting and the gas build up could cause it to explode. My insurance policy says nothing about coverage for EXPLODING SHEEP and I could just imagine being hit by flying hooves or sheep heads as I try to board (see article on Google).
At last I started my 15 hour flight from HK back to Toronto. However as we approached Toronto we heard about major flooding of streets and there was no visibility until we saw the rooftops of homes. Toronto was in the tail end of a HURRICANE and we were about to land in it.
The point of all this is to allow for extra days for the adventure flights and that way you will be 99% sure of getting where you want. Thanks to Wendy in Barrie at Tripcentral for helping me with this dream.
– Bob Brewer, Cookstown, Ontario