I expected to see the famed dolphins, but they failed to show up in the murky and silted waters of Irrawaddy. The water level was high and instead of frolicking dolphins, uprooted shrubs, trees and other debris floated in the strong current of the river.
This was my first time to go boating in the Irrawaddy River. Nope, it was not the thousand-dollar 7-night trip up north to Mandalay in a luxury ship. It was down south in a village in the heart of the Ayeyarwaddy Region. Joining a team of community organizers from Yangon Karuna (Catholic Charity), we travelled from Yangon to the township of Nyaung Done.
The township was just an hour away from Yangon, but the terrible traffic in downtown took us two hours to reach the main highway in Hlaing Tharyar making the trip a total of three hours. There was a small jetty in the bank of the Irrawaddy River where the water taxis were parked. We just hopped in on the nearest boat and off we go. The boat goes with the flow of the river and the driver, or was it called the boatman, positioned the boat at the center of the river. The boat was small and nimble, swaying as we encounter the small waves made by boats from the opposite direction.
There was a small jetty in the bank of the Irrawaddy River where the water taxis were parked. We just hopped in on the nearest boat and off we go. The boat goes with the flow of the river and the driver, or was it called the boatman, positioned the boat at the center of the river. The boat was small and nimble, swaying as we encounter the small waves made by boats from the opposite direction.
It took us thirty minutes to reach the village of Tar Wa. From the bank of the river, we walked several meters on the dike protecting the communities along it. The dike stands at more than three meters high, reinforced with sands bags. It seemed low and my suspicion was confirmed when a team member informed me that the water goes beyond the height of the dike after several days of continuous rain.
We went directly to the village pagoda where the people were already waiting for the team. We arrived in the village and the meeting started at 11:45AM, quite late and we ended at 2PM. A small packet of biscuits were distributed as the meeting progressed and I was surprised everyone survived! Everyone in the team was happy, four savings groups were formed as a result of our visit.
After lunch, the water taxi was called so we waited for another thirty minutes. At around 3:30PM we were on our way back to the township jetty. Now we were cruising against the flow of the river, so the boatman positioned the boat close to the riverbank. This time I appreciated the scenery.
The green stretches of the bank you see from the middle of the river were actually trees of varying sizes, dominated by big acacia trees overhanging its branches to the river. The overhang provides shade and protect the passengers of small boats from the glaring sun during sunny days.
Patches of vegetable gardens and banana trees with overgrowths punctuated the riverbank. One of the rustic views I appreciated much was the traditional house with a long line of betel nut trees in front of it. It reminds me of our house when I was a child growing up in rural Philippines.
A long line of colourful longyi being air-dried was a sight akin to the flags flying in the mast of ocean-going ships. Small fish baits and pens also dotted the banks.
On the ‘ugly’ side, eroding banks and falling trees and shrubs add to the siltation of the river. And worse, plastic and other trash were either embedded in the sandy bank or floated in the waters.
The Eugenia leaves at the prow of the boat swayed against the wind as we reached the jetty. Maybe next time, after the monsoon season when the water is clear, I will see the dolphins.