Sunday, November 20, 2016

Silversea Expedition Cruises - Exotic Journeys Focus on "The Journey" - Silver Discoverer Indonesia/Myanmar Expedition: Part VIII (Myanmar - Developing Tourism & Finding Nemo Again)

Our journey on the Silversea Expedition's Silver Discoverer cruise through the Mergui Archipeligo continues with arrival off the coast of Pu Nala Island and Bo Cho Village (also referred to as Bo Cho Island and Ma Kyone Galet) where the Myanmar and Thai governments coordinated the “resettlement” of the Mokan (Sea Gypsy) people. 

Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

We are some of the first tourists to visit this resettlement; most certainly an exciting and interesting opportunity and experience.  

Bo Cho Village Resettlement of Mokan (Sea Gypsies)
That said…

 
Mokan houses usually on stilts
A display of dried squid
The rationale apparently is that the Mokans wander between the two countries and also have a number of societal issues (poverty, drug use, etc.), but there is no way to control or assist them.  So the Myanmar government created a new village for them, with their houses being essentially in their traditional form, but with an Italian NGO assisting in providing each home with fresh water and sanitary systems, a school and a community medical center (which consists really of two midwives and not much more…yet.) The story does not end there, however!  


A display of partially built squid traps
The Mokan aren’t the only people living in Bo Cho, but rather there are five different ethnic groups, with the Mokan living on the beach (as they have traditionally) and the others living more upland and are the ones who run the school and shops while the Mokan continue to fish for squid (as do some of the other ethic groups). The story does not end there either! 

Being developed presently is a tourism plan, where people can come to see the Mokans.  A visitor center is coming soon.  I thought this a bit strange.  Are we coming to engage the Mokans or see them on display?  We shall see.


We were met by some very polite and enthusiastic young adults from the community who are learning to be guides.   They are working hard to learn English and to explain the various interesting area of the village such as the Mokan shrines, the Buddhist temple complex, the library and the (show) planation that has one or two of various varieties of local plants/trees.

My guide, Cherry, is the 19 year old librarian for the village.
With one month of English study she did extremely well.
By showing interest, taking it slow and asking questions
it made her more engaged.  By the end of our time she told
her friend to tease me that she wanted me to be her father.
(I, obviously, got special attention!)
There was also a very tightly orchestrated and intense singing of the national anthem at the school (with very few, if any, of the school-aged children actually interacting with us) 



followed by a more lighthearted application of the sandalwood makeup many of the locals use.  (It was originally used as sun protection, but now is more for beauty; used mostly by women, but some men as well.)
The traditional sandalwood makeup was offered to all of us 
The village is interesting.  The people are charming.  I am very glad that I went.  BUT…and it is a BIG BUT…I cannot help but think of the place more like an internment camp where the Mokan are being rounded up because “It will be better for you there” while their culture is essentially destroyed and they are put on show.  This is not so dissimilar to what happened to the Native Americans in the United States. 


I might think differently…at least a little…if the Mokan people had their input into the process and, believe it or not, some time was spent discussing the Moken people and their culture, rather than just showing us displays of some of their items, which was literally (not even virtually) absent.

This Mokan woman is supposedly 100 years old.
I am not sure how they know, but I also had no idea
what she was saying to me (good or bad)!
But this is what travel is about.  It is supposed to make you think and expose you to different things; some things that are not so comfortable.  If I had not been here I would not have known of the Mokan, other than I knew Sea Gypsies existed, or really anything about their way of life.  I would not have observed efforts to develop tourism…or the two sides (good and bad) of doing so.

Betel nut is quite popular with the older Mokan.
When kept in your mouth it gives you a bit of a high..and orange teeth
I did have one personal, selfish, disappointment:  I was going to have some of the local mohinga soup, but was told I had to wait until after the tour of the village.  Well, by the time the tour was over the day’s supply of mohinga was sold.  Soooo disappointed.  But as I was walking back to the zodiac, I saw a woman preparing something.  It was fried banana and fried yams.  She started cooking them and, as I waited with anticipation, one of the expedition team came over and said the last zodiac was waiting for me.  Soooo disappointed.  

Chili drying on a rooftop

Juxtaposed to visiting Bo Cho, our Silver Discoverer cruise shifted dramatically:  From this point on we are in a purely Silversea Expedition beach, snorkel and diving cruise.  We arrived at Frost Island; another beautiful beach with decent snorkeling and beautiful weather.



Then next morning was Shark Island (no there were no sharks) and was the best snorkeling of the cruise as far as variety of fish and the size of the reef.



The afternoon was, for me, the only disappointment as the Fork Island beach was actually part of a local resort of sorts with no snorkeling and cloudy skies.  I did hear that diving was excellent.  I would have preferred a pool party or something of that sort, but others were happy to get off the boat and spend time with sand between their toes. 

Case in point as to why one needs to be flexible when on an Expedition cruise:  I’m thinking stay on the ship, others are thinking toes in the sand and then there was the third group:  A number of people had never seen hermit crabs…and there were dozens of them…or seen a squirrel, some Australians declaring their sighting as one of excited importance.  I said that squirrels to me were the equivalent of flying foxes (huge fruit bats) to them.  After exchanging a few stories, we agreed.

On last day we stopped at Kyet Mauk, or Cock’s Comb, Island for a 7:00 a.m. swim through an archway into a protected cove.  It sounded a bit touristic (yes, even in Myanmar) and seeing a rope hanging to guide one through it at higher tides didn’t help.   But I figured it was the last stop on our Silversea Expedition Silver Discoverer journey so I should do it.  I am so very glad I did.  This little spot had the best variety of coral, probably the best variety of small fish, a massive school of a blue fish (I need to identify) and, although I did not see them, a small school of barracuda.

Kyet Mauk Island - Swim under the arch
into a protected underwater wonderland


The point is, especially when in a remote part of the world, sometimes you need to push yourself.  Rather than sleeping in, having your last spa appointment or starting to pack, take advantage of every opportunity.  I would have been sorely disappointed if I hadn’t looked past my pre-conceived idea.


As we now sail for Phuket, Thailand stopping back in Kawthaung, Myanmar to clear immigration, it is time to reflect on my time on the Silversea Expeditions Silver Discoverer.  Check back for my Reflections article!

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