Thursday, January 28, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 14 - Chaungthar to Pantaya

U Thant
After three glorious days relaxing on the beach and Chaungthar, the vacation was winding down and it was time for me to head back towards Yangon. If I'd made the 250 km journey home in one leg, it probably would've taken me about 8 hours driving on what I anticipated would be pretty good roads. After all I'd done the last two weeks, another long leg wouldn't have been prohibitively taxing.

But why bother? I was ahead of schedule, even after adding an additional stop, and so I decided to break this leg into two. If you remember from my initial itinerary, I had originally planned that my final destination was going to be Naypyitaw, and that was definitely going to take two days. Instead, I had found a co-worker who has family just on the outskirts of Yangon (where motorcycles are forbidden), and I'd arranged a place to park outside of town. In any case, since it was going to take me two days to get to NOT, why not make it two to Yangon?

I scanned my Google maps for an appropriate halfway point. There had to be a town somewhere along the way that was big enough to have a guesthouse or two. I decided on Pantanaw. In researching the place, I found out something interesting. Pantanaw is the home town of perhaps the second-most-famous Burmese person in history! After Aung San Suu Kyi, when it comes to Myanmar, there's no one more well known that U Thant (I would call him Mr U Thant, but as "U" means "mister" in Burmese, that'd be kinda redundant). As you may know, U Thant was the Secretary General of the United Nations for most of the 1960's; he was a statesman for the world. Ironically, he wasn't well liked by the ruling military junta here at the time, but since he was SecGen and not just an ambassador, he couldn't be recalled. Secretary Thant's grandson, Thant Myint U, is now a bit of a celebrity himself. He's written some great books about Myanmar is a leading advocate for change here. Maybe, when I got to Pantanaw, I could look for signs of U Thant like I looked for signs of Pascal Htoo Thwe in Pekon.

By the river in Pathein
First though, I traveled through Pathein, formerly known as Prome. As you'll hear in the video, Pathein is the capital and largest city in Myanmar's Ayerwaddy region. I lingered long enough to check out the river Pathein and a pretty impressive Pagoda in town.

On the road to Pantanaw, I had another problem with the motorbike. Actually, it was the same problem I'd had a week ago or so in Pyay: the horn stopped working. As I said then, there's perhaps no more important piece of equipment while driving a motorcycle in Asia than the horn. It's used constantly.

I went looking for a motorbike mechanic in Pantanaw. Found one. The cost the repair? $1.50 for a new horn. 40 cents in labor for the guy to install it.

What I didn't find was a statue of U Thant. I didn't find anything that indicated "U Thant House this way". Or maybe I did. THing is, this far off the beaten path in Myanmar, none of the signs have any English.  Heck, even my guesthouse, which I I had gotten a picture of on Facebook before leaving) didn't even say "Guesthouse" in English.  I tell you Pantanaw, being halfway between Yangon and the coast, has potential as a tourist attraction. They just gotta develop.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 13 - Chaungthar

In case you haven't noticed, the new
camera is waterproof.
The vacation was winding down and I had pretty much run out of road. My next destination was to go home to Yangon, but before I did, I had three wonderful days at the beach resort town of Chaungthar.

I seem to be missing a bunch of video from my exploration of the town of Chaungthar itself. That's all right. The town was interesting, but crowded and dirty, especially since I was there during the first weekend of 2016 and the place was packed with local tourists from Yangon.

I'd been told not to miss the beaches north of town, so on my second day, I took the bike up the road to see where it would lead. I drove all the way to Shwetaungyan where the road ended at a river and a rickety looking boat ferried people across.

Yes, the beaches north of Chaungthar are not to be missed. Not only are they beautiful with soft white sands and warm clear water, but they're also empty. You get them all to yourself. That's nice, but at the same time, I for one like a beach chair. Maybe a beachfront restaurant with cold beverages. The beaches near Shwetaungyan have got that too!  Well, at least a couple of them do.

Enjoy the video!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 12 - Gwa to Chaungthar

From the beach at Gwa
I'd spent $130 for one nigh of lodging in Ngapali the day before. 24 hours later, on the same coast, on as spectacular of a beach, I spent $6 for a night at the only guesthouse I could find in the town of Gwa. You might think, at that price, I might want to linger in Gwa. As you saw in the last video, there's a white sand tropical beach there, something I'd be driving towards and longing to spend some time at since I left the mountains of eastern Myanmar.

See, thing is, there is a point at which the seclusion, privacy and virginity of a tropical beach becomes inconvenient. If there was one shop, one place I might get a cold drink or a coconut, a single touristy thing on the whole beach, I might have stayed in Gwa for another day or more. But no. The beach was beautiful, but without amenities. If you want ULTIMATE isolation on a tropical beach, go to Gwa. Me, I wanted a beach chair and some restaurants.

Then, there was the quality, or lack thereof, of the guesthouse. At $6/night (and that was for a room with two beds), I can't expect much. But a 1 inch thick mattress, one electrical outlet, shared bathrooms in the most mold-filled bathroom I've ever experienced (what would it take for them to scrub the damn thing?!?) and no power before 4 PM and none after 11 PM, in my mind, the More Guesthouse and Gwa quickly lost all the attraction that their really cool sounding names initially drew me. I can't
No power? No problem! My motorcycle has its own
USB port for recharging portable devices.
recommend Gwa. Until there's some development there, a neat name is all it has going for it.

Yeah, no power after 11 PM, anywhere in town. It was New Years Eve. I was asleep in my crappy room at the turn of 2016.

And so, in the morning, I left Rakhine State and the ancient kingdom of Arakan. I've studied the peculiar situation of Myanmar and it's ethnic groups since I've been here, and found it weird that one of the longest standing conflicts in the country has been between the Burmese (the Bamar, the dominant ethnic group in the middle part of the country and 60% of the overall population) and the people of Rakhine State. These folks have so much in common. Why is there separatism?  The language, religion, customs, celebrations and foods of the Rakhine are almost identical that of the Bamar, but yet, for in the 60 years of independence from the colonial poweres, there's been continuing resistance by the coastal folks against their cousins on the other side of the hills. I guess it comes down to history. See, for hundred of years, the Arakan Kingdom was entirely separate from the Burmese court at Mandalay. It wasn't until the British came in the 19th century when the British conquered both kingdoms that they were united in any way, forcibly so under colonial rule.

The old Arakan and Burmese
kingdoms, circa 1700
Things are quiet where I was; the resistance now is via a local political party, but a few hundred miles north, and the Arakan Army still fights against the army of Myanmar.

Where to go from Gwa? This was my last planned stop on the journey. I was going to spend a few days there, and then drive my motorbike back to Naypyitaw to leave it where I had it stored before. It was only about 40 miles down the coast, as the crow flies, from Gwa to the twin resort towns of Ngwe Saung and Chaung Thar. If you've been watching my videos from Myanmar these last 2 years, you may remember I'd been to Ngwe Saung with Anthony and Patty back in April of 2014. I really didn't want to go some place I'd been before, so even though Chaung Thar has the reputation of being overcrowded and dirty, onto Chaung Thar I went.

Gotta keep the good karma on the road.
Plus, the smiles are really cute.

40 miles as the crow flies was 150 miles on the roads. I had to cross back over the coastal range, travel south into the Irrawaddy Delta, and then back over the Rakhine Hills to Chaung Thar. It was a lot longer drive than I thought, and I had my first mechanical problems with my bike along the way.

Just north of Chaung Thar. One of the most beautiful places I've been in Myanmar.

Enjoy the Video.

Road Report:
Distance: 220 km
Travel time: 6 hours
Conditions: Good 70%; Fair 25%; Bad 5%

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Myanmar Motorcyce Journey 11 - Ngapali to Gwa

Tired traveler looking for a
beach to rest.
It was New Years Eve Day, the last day of 2015. I was being forced out of Ngapali, Myanmar's most exclusive beach resort.  There were no rooms available; I hadn't made reservations. It was perhaps, a good thing as the room rates at Ngapali were ridiculously expensive in the high season.

So I was on the road again! My goal was Kanthayar
Beach, not that far from Ngapali as the crow flies, but the roads were fair at best. I had read online that there were several places to stay in Kanthayar, but I didn't have any specific places in mind.

As you'll see in the video, as I headed south, things sorta went south.

I found Kanthayar (eventually), but there was a surprise waiting for me there.

Ultimately, I ended up in Gwa.

You'll notice in several of the next few videos that I frequently stop and donate money
at the numerous roadside collection points. I figured I wanted the good karma.

At the beach

Road Report:
Distance: 200 km (should have been about 160)
Travel time: 6 hours
Conditions: Excellent 1%, Good 15%, Fair 70%, Bad 14%

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 10 - Pyay to Ngapali

The big skies of Rakhine State
I woke up in Pyay feeling good. I'd traveled further on my motorbike in the previous two days than during any two days in my long relationship with the iron horse. A bit sore, but all in all, my fat old body was holding up well.

It was time to cross the mighty Irrawaddy River and head towards Rakhine State and the coast. Two problems cropped up on the ride out of town. First off, finding the bridge entrance was harder than I'd thought. This whole trip would have been impossible without GPS and Google Maps on my phone.

There's the bridge!
The second problem was my mild gephyrophobia, a fear of bridges. Small bridges don't bother me. Walking over a bridge doesn't concern me. I'm not afraid it's going to collapse, and I'm okay with heights in general. Instead, it's driving on a tall, high bridge that scares the crap out of me. I have a bit of a panic attack in these circumstances. I have to stare at the pavement, slow down and focus. My arms and legs get weak. I want to close my eyes, but of course, I can't. As you'll hear in the video, singing helps too.

Just past the river, the Rakhine Hills cropped up right away. Scenic as the previous two ridges I had crossed, the hills presented little challenge as I had become adept at handling my little motorbike on these windy roads. As I've noted in previous blogs, the people I passed on the road were astounded to see a foreigner out in the countryside; few westerners come through here outside the confines of a tour bus or hired car.
The Arakenese, the people of Rakhine State

Passport, please.
I got stopped by the authorities for the first time on the journey. This was the first opportunity I had to test what I'd been told: by having a Myanmar Drivers License, I didn't need any special papers or permissions to travel throughout Myanmar. I was confident, but whenever you're stopped by the police in the developing world, you really can't be sure what's going to happen.

Turns out they were very nice. The served me a cup of coffee while they recorded my paperwork.

I made such good time on the road, I had reached my proposed destination of Toungup by 1:30. Although tired, I was really looking forward to reaching the beach and lounging on the warm, white sands of a tropical beach. Plus, if I got to Ngapali that day, I could spend two nights there and not have to travel at all the next day.  So I pushed on!

It was the night before New Years Eve, and I didn't have a room reservation. I knew there were lots of hotels in Ngapali, so I wasn't too worried. I knew that accommodation was expensive in Ngapali, but I was willing to pay $60-75/night, about twice what I'd been paying per night on the trip thus far, so I wasn't too worried.

Yeah, no worries. I got the beach by sunset, and the only room I could find was twice the price I was hoping to spend.

I made it! Sunset over the Bay of Bengal

Enjoy the video!

Trip Report:
Distance: 250 km
Time: 7 hours
Road conditions: Excellent 2%; Good 30%; Fair 60%; Bad 8%

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 9 - Taungoo to Pyay

A working elephant
One impression I got regarding Myanmar as a whole while I tootled along these rural roads was how sparsely populated it is. So much natural, undeveloped land. Once you're in the valleys, there's plenty of people, but up in the hills I could sit on the side of the road, taking a break, and 10 minutes would go by without anyone passing through.

You may have noticed in previous vids, I did take a lot of breaks. I'd drive 45 or 50 minutes, and then spend 5 or 10 off the bike. Even with that, by the end of the 2000 mile trek, I had saddle sores.

Look at the size of that pig!
This stage of 212 km had me crossing my previous path, sort of a middle point in the big figure-8 I made in the country. Early in the vid, I cross under the New Mandalay Highway, which I had traveled on day 1 on the bus. Then it was up into the Bago Hills, the lowest of the 3 ranges I crossed in 3 days. These scenic hills, were dry and somewhat empty, a lot of it being taken up by a nature reserve.

Eventually, I descended into the river valley of the mighty Irrawaddy River, the lifeblood of the nation of Myanmar. Near Pyay, I made
a detour to see another city. An ancient city. A ruined city. Dug out of the fertile, brown soils by archaeologists some 30 years ago, the 2000-year-old city of Sri Ksetra fascinated me. I think that's most remarkable is that you can look around and see where half the city is still buried, marked by earthen mounds on the otherwise flat plain.

Enjoy the video!

Road report:
Distance: 212 km
Time: 6 hours
Road conditions: Excellent 2%; good 45%; fair 45%; bad 8% (see the key)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 8 - Loikaw to Taungoo

These tractor-buses putt along at about 5 mph
I was very nervous beginning this next part of my journey. My goal for the next three days was Loikaw-->Taungoo--> Pyay-->Toungup. I was beginning a stretch where I'd be going from the far eastern part of Myanmar all the way to it's west coast. Crossing the entire country, about 500 miles, with three mountain ranges in the way.

It wasn't that long ago (2014) that me even attempting this would have been forbidden by the government. Most of Myanmar was closed off to foreigners, either entirely or requiring special permits to enter. This was ostensibly to protect visitors as there's many armed ethnic insurgent groups throughout the country. There still are, but only a few places have active conflicts. There are still a few places I'd need special permission to enter. In my research to find out where, I came across this outfit, Mandalay Motorcycle Rental and Tours. I wrote them, and they told me that as I hold a Myanmar Drivers License, I could go to all these places without need of permits. Other tourists who are here temporarily do need permits unless they're part of a tour group. So, if anyone reading this wants to try something like what I've done, contact Zach at and join one of his tours.

Be careful coming around corners. You never
know what might be in the road ahead.
They also told me they had recently made the Loikaw-Taungoo trek and that the road was very long and very rough. This warning added to my consternation, but at the same time, eased my mind in that I knew it could be done.  During previous stages, I had taken side trips to see sites along the way. For this stage, I only had time for one, the Seven Stages Lake in Kayah State. Be-yoooo-tiful!

This is a road
The roads coming out of Kayah State weren't actually that bad, but I crossed over into the furthest north part of Kayin State, yeah, parts of "Old Road" were torture. Really, really difficult roads. Bone jarring. Another thing I noticed that was different on the western slopes of the mountains was the forested countryside. If you've watched the previous videos, you may have judged Myanmar to be a pretty dry place. We are in the midst of the dry season, and most of these places haven't had any rain in 6 weeks or more. About halfway through the trip, the forest turned to jungle. It felt like a tropical rain forest, which I suppose is what was!

I was so relieved as the hills flattened out and I found myself again in the Bago Valley. The drive took 8 hours, and I rewarded myself with a hamburger at Taungoo's finest hotel (not where I stayed).

Enjoy the video, once again with all-ukulele background music!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 7 - Pinlaung to Loikaw

Cold. Oh, I was so cold. I thought I had been cold a few days previous, up in Kalaw, but this was a kind of coldness I had not experienced since leaving America.  I should point out that the town I was leaving, Pinlaung, has an elevation of 4800 feet (1460m). The temperature on the thermometer was all of 55F (13C), but I was moving on my motorbike, the air was thick with fog, and the sun had not yet risen over the ridge of the mountains. And I was wearing shorts. I didn't bring pants with me on the journey. Now, Pinlaung to Loikaw was another short stage, only 90km (55 miles); I could have just holed up in a tea house or someplace and waited it out until the air got warmer. No, with the help of some cold weather gear I bought along the way, I kept going.

In the town of Pekon, my breakfast was a bowl of Mohingga, the traditional Myanmar morning soup. My eyes and camera were open, looking for anything I could that I remembered from reading The Land a Green Ghosts, a remarkable and award-winning memoir by Pascal Khoo Thwe about growing up as a hill tribesman and the political upheaval in Myanmar in the late 80's and 90's. Much of the book is set in Pekon, and it was a real thrill for me to be visiting the town that had fascinated me so much in print. Literary tourism is a real thing, but it hasn't come to Pekon as of yet. There were no big signs saying "FORMER HOME OF PASCAL KHOO THWE THIS WAY!", but I did find one building mentioned quite a bit in the book, the town's main Catholic Church; most of the Padaung tribe are Catholic, not Buddhist.

Soon after leaving Pekon, I found myself in Loikaw, the capital of the state of Kayah. I found Loikaw to be a town of two halves. The north part of town had big, wide streets, sidewalks, landscaping, smooth flowing traffic and lots of beautiful buildings and monuments. Cross a one-lane bridge to the south part of town and you're in a crowded, chaotic, dusty Myanmar city.

As you'll see in the video, my activities in Loikaw included finding a hotel, visiting the amazing Taung Kwel Zaydi pagodas and having a dinner I'll never forget. Continuing the theme of my favorite ukulele music in the background, enjoy!

Road Report:
Distance: 89 km
Travel time: 3 hours
Road conditions (see the key): Excellent 2%, Good 83%, Fair 15%

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 6 - Pinlaung

Christmas 2015 was rare in that it landed on a full moon. Well, at least that's what I thought as I stared into the clear skies of the Shan Hills. Sure looked like a fool moon. I imagine it's hard to pinpoint exactly which day the full moon falls. I mean, at the moment, it's one day here, but on the other side of the planet, it's still yesterday. There's probably some council of astronomers somewhere who make this decision.

The term "towel head" is a racial slur, but not against these
Shan women who literally wear towels on their heads.
So, actually, the full moon was on the 26th. As full moons are always holidays in Theraveda Buddhism, and the one for this month particularly so, I saw lots of celebrations and ceremonies on the roads of Myanmar as I made my way from Inle Lake to Pinlaung.

At the end of the video for Part 5 of this series, I ended it by showing a remarkable procession playing haunting, mystical music. What was the procession for? You'll see in the video.
The best reason to visit Pinlaung is to go up to Loi Maung Taung Pagoda. The view from up there, wow, even the locals who go there every day to pray are amazed by the vistas. 
Local kids are just as impressed as anyone

Near the top, the road becomes bad, but it so worth it. 

Another thing I did in Pinlaung is gather information. See, one of the scary parts about going there is that there was absolutely no tourist information about the place online whatsoever. No page in any travel guide. No reviews of any sort. My friend had told me there was a hotel, and as you saw, I found it just fine. One thing I am going to do now, however, is to create a Wikitravel (the travelers version of Wikipedia) page for the place. I found out about buses, trips up to the pagodas, I can review two restaurants there and as you'll see late in the video, I stopped at the other hotel in town to inquire about rates. I think of it as doing my good deed for the internet. 

Enjoy the video (have you noticed a theme in regards to the music?)


Monday, January 4, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 5 - Nyaungshwe to Pinlaung

After two nights on the shores of Inle Lake, I was rested and ready for the next stage of the journey. We were treated nicely (got a free Christmas Dinner) by the folks at the Queen Inn (just across the canal near the bridge), so I said goodbye to them as well as my friend Dean, and I was back on the road.

As I skirted down the east coast of Inle Lake itself, I passed by several luxury resorts. $150-$200 per night type joints which I'm sure are quite lovely, but it got me thinking about how tourism is developing here in general, something I've though about quite a bit over the course of the entire journey.
I've had a lot on my mind, but not like this girl.
Seems to me like they're building way too many high-end accommodations and not enough mid-priced stuff. Why aren't there any affordable hotels on the lake? They're all up in the town of Nyaungshwe (connected to the lake by a canal). Why hasn't anyone opened a motorcycle rental shop in Nyaungshwe? Two sets of tourists asked me where I rented my bike. I understand the government here wants a controlled growth of their tourism industry, but I question the direction it's going.

Another example of this lop-sided development is the town of Nampan, a town almost as big as Nyaungshwe at the very southern end of the lake.  You'll see me make a detour into the town about 1 minute into the video. Before being joined by Dean, my plans included possibly staying a night in Lampan after visiting the ruins of Inn Dein the day before. I couldn't find any information for reasonable accommodations in Lampan, but I had been assured by others that there had to be a guesthouse or two. Look at the place. There's no guesthouses. In fact, it looked rather poverty strciken; an influx of tourist dollars certainly couldn't hurt the place.

Moooooove it!
South of Inle, the roads began to get hilly again, and I saw some remarkable stuff. Almost hit a cow. I do wonder who would get the worse of a cow-motorcycle collision.

There's a much larger lake a bit south of Inle, although this one is man-made, a product of the country's largest hydroelectric dam. I was admiring it's growing width in the valley below me, and eventually (after about 12 miles of looking at it), it occurred to me: The lake is on the wrong side! If I could see it at all, it should be on my left! Oh well. First time getting lost. I blame Google Maps. They showed the road I was on as ending at the point where I needed to turn right up towards Pinlaung. It didn't end.  

The geology got more and more interesting.

I'm always fascinated by Buddhists monks on motorcycles. 

Finally, I got to Pinlaung which I'll write about more in the next blog

And enjoy the video...

Road Report:
Distance traveled: 95 km (was supposed to be 60)
Time: 3.5 hours
Conditions (see the key): Good 35%; fair 60%; bad 5%

Myanmar Road Conditions: The Key

In my blogs about traveling through Myanmar, I try to give a road condition report, as I think this is useful to others who might want to travel the same way I have in the future. Here's a key to the terms I use to describe Myanmar roads:

Excellent - Perfectly smooth, world class, multi-lane highway.

Good - Speed not impeded in any way by road conditions. You can drive as fast as you want. Generally 2-lane, but with plenty of space to allow even the biggest trucks to drive by each other without worry.

Fair - Bumpy. Slows down how fast you could go by a significant amount. Keeps you on your toes as, while driving, you have to swerve around big pot holes in the road, as well as dogs, cows, tractors, water buffalo, toddlers, rocks and ox carts. Be very careful to hug the edge of the road as buses pass from the other direction. Passing a slow truck can be a challenge.  This can also include otherwise smooth and wide paved roads, but which are covered in a layer of fine gravel. The little rocks are better for cars and trucks, but suck for motorcyclists.

Bad - Extremely bumpy. It's as if someone had stripped away a road and just left rocks. Speed tremendously limited. This can also include unpaved roads. You may be forced onto the shoulder (if there is one) when trucks come the other way. Often, the shoulder is in better shape than the road.

ARRRGH! - Travel reduced to walking speed and you're stuck in second gear. Torture on wheels.  ARRRGH! conditions are often created by roadwork itself, improving a bad road. In the interim, the motorist has to drive on a bed of rocks.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Myanmar Motorcycle Journey 4: Inle Lake

Inle Lake is one of the “Big Three” of places to see if you're a tourist in Myanmar, the other two being Bagan and Mandalay. Up until this week, I had been to none of these places. I'd heard good and bad things about Inle, but one thing for sure that I had determined is that I was not going to have a 'typical' tourist experience there.

About a year ago, I read this article on the internet  . Ooo... It described a place near Inle, accessible only by river that even the locals didn't visit. Filled with ancient pagodas slowly being eaten up by the surrounding jungle. How fascinating! So, my goal early on was to visit Inn Dein, the site of these ruins. Eventually, as my plans included my friend Dean who took a bus from Naypyitaw to meet me there, we decided to see the lake on a beeline to Inn Dein.

As you'll see in the video, Inn Dein was anything but what was described in the article. It wasn't some remote, unvisited, forgotten temple complex. It was filled with tourists! So be it. It was still an incredible experience to see these stupas in their state and imagine what it was like 500 years ago when they were new. Inle Lake and its surroundings had been the center of power for the various tribes of the Shan people. I was in Shan State, and the people there are not Burmese, in that the word “Burmese” derives from the word “Bamar”, the dominant ethnic group in the rest of the country. Shan people are actually more connected ethnographically to the Thai than the Bamar.

But I digress. Inle Lake was magical. It kind of reminded me of Lake Tahoe in California in that it was a natural lake high up in the mountains surrounded by hills. Moreover, I heard strange, magical music. Hearing noises that aren't there isn't a great attestation to one's mental health, but I'm admitting it anyways. Over the roar of the boat's engines, I heard a haunting, delicate and subtle melody that kept kept changing unpredictably, as does all Myanmar music. It sounded like it was coming out of some kind of pipe instrument. I only heard when the boat engine was roaring. None of my travel companions heard it. It was probably just some kind of auditory hallucination, but I'll chalk it up to the power of this long revered holy place.

All in all, I really enjoyed this 'rest day' (I didn't drive anywhere) in Inle. The food was amazing, I got to see what I wanted to see and got to experience what makes this place what it is. 



I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...