17N 96E Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
Line Hunting Date: February 6, 2014
Lani – the first-time hunter’s note
My boss Ray has been telling me (and everyone he meets) about "line hunting" since I started working for him two and a half years ago. His face lights up with glee when he talks about the points he's gotten to, and the adventures he's had in the process.
Most of the public health work that we do is policy change-related where we set a goal and map out a strategy, and Ray loves it. But it's long term work, and we hardly ever immediately see the results in terms of lives saved or improved. Ray says that line hunting gives him an opportunity to set a goal, map out a strategy, and more often than not, experience success that very day. Ray's wife describes his line hunting as an addiction, and Ray himself says he gets a small high.
So I was very excited when he invited me along on a hunt when we have a half day free doing project work in Yangon.
Ray knew about the nearest point from downtown Yangon and had consider going there by hiring a boat. When I suggested we eat lunch before heading out, Ray said: "Nope, not until we get to the point. We'll celebrate with food and beer then." Intense.
We drove out of the city toward the point, picking our way around traffic jams, which are new to the city but getting worse every day, according to locals we talked to. Since opening up about two years ago, they said that the number of cars on the road has at least tripled.
Ray monitored his GPS closely, and we headed toward a small town. Eventually, we turned onto a side road, which narrowed quickly into a footpath. We hopped out of the car, excited for the real adventure to begin.
We headed down the path, nodding and greeting locals with one of the few words in Burmese that we knew. The fields were planted with corn and rice, and local houses were few and far between for the first bit.
Even as we got out of the fields and into a tree-covered area with houses on either side of the path, no one stopped us to ask what we were doing. We did get a couple of wide-eyed stares and shy smiles, but no one asked if we were lost, or if we wanted to buy anything, and no kids followed us -- everyone was quite content to let us go on our way.
We continued, crossing a couple of wide ditches or moats on bridges that were merely two bamboo poles slashed together, and making judgment calls at a few forks in the path.
At one point, we came across a few men smoothing cement onto a portion of the dirt path. Who is paying for this road, we wondered, and why cement just this chunk? Then ahead of us we saw flashes of gold: the local stupa, and an adjoining temple.
But just like lunch, cultural exploration would have to wait -- we were on a mission and could smell success.
We pressed on and the GPS pointed us into some fields. We dodged banana trees and other foliage as we made our way along a field path in the right direction, until it came to a T and we couldn't go any further because a moat stood in our way. Ray went down the left side of the T and I the right, looking for a way to cross so that we could continue the remaining way. I waved to a local farmer in the field, motioning a question on how to make it across. He pointed that we should head further away from our intended spot and go around, and we squelched through some mud.
At that point, two young men called out to us from the path, motioning for us to return. I figured we were on their land and should probably listen to them. For a moment I wondered if were going to get into trouble, and thought about how we would charm and explain our way out of this one. I called out to Ray, but he kept going until he realized the path he was on was a dead end.
We motioned to the young men that we would like to cross the moat, and they looked at each other as if to say "Strange request, but let's go with it," and indicated we should follow them. One dragged a fallen banana tree, and made a makeshift bridge that floated across the moat, which was waist deep at one point. We took our shoes off and they helped us scamper across.
Shoes off, we powered through the brush until we were THIS CLOSE to our point, at which time Ray announced his favorite part: zeroing in. His arm outstretched, Ray followed the numbers with complete disregard for his surroundings. At one point, he started to descend into a moat before being pulled back by our friends, who indicated that the water was chest deep.
When we saw the 0000000s on the GPS, the glee on Ray's face made him look like a ten year old boy. Sweaty, muddy, and bug-bitten, we triumphantly showed the GPS to our new friends, who nodded and smiled along.
AHHHHH, the high. What a great feeling. The GPS read was like a trophy and we held the gadget out, snapping several pictures. We expressed our gratitude to the young men and then just enjoyed the moment.
On the way back, our friends ushered us into the temple, where a monk sat and offered us tea and bananas. We thanked them and complimented the bananas, and managed to learn the name of the town and maybe the number of people in the area.
Satisfied we had accomplished our goal, we could now take time to reflect on our journey and our surroundings. The houses that we passed were on stilts, presumably so that the rainy season's flooding would not rot their matted floors. Some houses had a couple of animals, one a cow and a pig, another a few goats. One house was blasting some loud music, strange since we were pretty sure there was no electricity here. We watched a woman draw water in a bucket out of the murky moat on the side of the dirt path, wondering how she would sterilize it. We saw more little boys than girls playing outside.
We drove through the nearby town, a two-street affair where the shops were selling everyday-use type of goods like buckets and hats, and we heard there was a small clinic with one general practitioner (but we didn't find it). We also heard there had been another confluence point hunter here recently!
We have so much more to learn about this place, and Myanmar more broadly. But line hunting got us this glimpse, and I will definitely do it again.
When Ray and I parted, he left me with this: "Congratulations, you are no longer pointless!"
Ray – the old-time hunter’s note
Indeed, line hunting is additive. It combines all the things I like: spending time under the sun, adventure by going to places I will never go otherwise and often meeting interesting people, maps, GPS, and taking pictures. Best of all, a sense of accomplishment when reaching the point.
My previous and only point visited is the next point east – 19N 95E in the Delta area over 5 years ago. It was an epic journey because the area was post a severe hurricane and required a special permit to enter the area. This is one is what I regard as the “low hanging fruit point” near capital city.
We drove until the road ended with 1.8 km GPS distance left to go. It was a very pleasant walk through the fields and small villages until we reached a monastery with less than 200 meters to go.
In a way, this was a great first point for Lani. It was not too easy and not too hard. The pleasant 3-km hike exposed us to the local community and culture. The last 100 meters dealing with water obstacle and we benefited from the assistance of couple local guys provided an extra bit of adventure. All in all, it was a fun point for me, and I am sure now Lani got the essence of this game – far better than all the talking I have done. Learning by doing is the only way.
Happy to learn that master line-hunter Rainer and my occasional biking partner was here a month earlier and visited with the same monks in the monstrosity. I sure wish I can have half the time he has to hunt and to bike.
Rating of this hunt:
Degree of Challenge: 2 – finding a way to wade through the water in the last 50 meters made it a bit of a challenge. (1=very easy - drive to the point; to 5=a death march – glad it is over)
Scenery: 3 – Pleasant country side and rural villages (Scale: 1=not interesting at all; 5=take your breath away)
Culture-social factors: 3 – Got a good glimpse of the life of local people during our 3-km hike (Scale: 1=dull; 5=most stimulating)