Parenting in Bagan
So it perhaps wasn’t my best parenting decision. As a matter a fact, in terms of safety it’s perhaps a major fail. It’s not the decision I’m most proud of over the past year, truly it’s not something that could have even occurred in any country with a definitive legal system but in a developing country it was screaming to happen – and happen it did.
It started off innocently enough. Bagan begs to be discovered by bike. Really. It’s known, talked about, there are shops everywhere – I had read. Now we had seen the smaller version hours earlier, as the sun was setting and our taxi driver was shuttling us on a five minute journey that took three hours from the airport to the hotel. The roads were dirt (or sand in some cases), the mini scooters looked a bit absurd being driven my two adults or even one large man. The “e-bikes” as they were referred to seemed perfect and of course was met with a “mommy, can we, can we??” I gave the expected “we’ll ask, we’ll see, no promises” and then I had a big think.
So, we arrive, ask at the hotel and they let us know the ones they have are too big but certainly in town there are ones for the kids. So, excitement in their eyes, we proceed twenty minutes down the tree lined drive to the three street dirt road town. One main street, three and a half blocks long, restaurants and bike shops catering to the newest tourist industry. It’s refreshingly not flashy or obnoxious, more in line with traveling in many developing countries twenty plus years ago. Yes, it does still exist!
So, our quest for electric bikes led us to the bike shop cum restaurant with what in the western world we would refer to as scooters – both a large size and a smaller, more innocent looking one. The decision was that we would rent two smaller bikes for $7/day, we’d double up and go for it. Bad choice. As it turns out the scooters were quite unwieldy with two children (proven by a slight crash into another restaurant around the corner when cut off by one of the very few vehicles in town). Sand and two bodies on bikes don’t mix very well. We left, on foot, disappointed and now contemplating the following day. Sadly I feared the kids wouldn’t be able to shake the disappointment and enjoy this stunning land.
So, like all new days, it was a new day!! And we awoke not quite ready to throw in the towel. My overnight epiphany led me to think we could handle the bikes – if we all had our own! So, we trudged down the tree covered lane for the third time and rented 4 bikes. We took a few spins around “town” before we were ready to hit the real roads. Now, when I say roads, there is a main one (two actually, the “old” one and the “new” one) and all the rest are just dirt – or sand, depending on the location. We decided the “new” one was the safest and started there.
We spent the next three days playing Indiana Jones, discovering a part of the world we never could have imagined. It felt like we hit every temple, stupa, monastery and pagoda around. We didn’t of course, as there are over 2000 structures but we did manage to get to the oldest, the biggest, the tallest, the most important… Ironically enough, none of those impressed us. Well they did, but not in the same way as the ones we discovered on our own, down a sandy narrow lane, over a hill, next to a brick making village. Or the one with the pajama clad woman who came wandering up to us, three children in tow who eagerly pointed out the similarities in our families or the one where a monk found us as intriguing as we found him as he kindly requested to take a picture with us. All are moments we will never forget.
This adventure, notably mommy’s lack of momentary judgement will go down as one of the most adventurous, daring and exciting things we have done as a family. I can imagine my kids in 40 years, sitting around a Thanksgiving table, telling tales and still shocked that mom let them ride scooters (sans helmets, no less) through this slightly barren land. The tales will be told about nervously stepping into a pitch dark, crumbling temple with not a soul in sight, falling down on our bikes countless times and having to haul up these amazing fun machines that got slower and slower as the day got longer and longer. Then there was the kind gentleman that came to our rescue when our bike broke down, convincing us to carry on with three bikes while he returns the other for us and the story that will really have them rolling, tears streaming down the cheeks…Liam getting chased by a “shelamey”.