After a three-hour drive we were back in Mandalay, the holy and magical city with its many temples, monasteries and myriad of people, cars and motorbikes. We had a couple of hours before our flight left and used the time to walk along the canal which surrounds the old palace and to climb Mandalay hill and admire the stunning view over the city, the Irrawaddy River plain and the Shan hills to the east.
Climbing is actually not the correct description for our ascent to Mandalay hill, because people are transported up by a steep and long flight of mobile stairs, and then down again by an elevator. Real stairs still exist, however, and instead of using the elevator, we walked down the stairs and passed another myriad of temples, Buddha statues, small shops, restaurants and small houses on our way down.
Walking down the many steps of Mandalay hill, another worry started to pop up: will we really be able to pass customs with all our stuff, i.e. eleven pieces of heavy luggage? Will they accept all the official documents? What will happen if we cannot check-in our samples with us and with the rest of our luggage?
Step number one at the customs went smooth. The letters were accepted, and our eleven luggage pieces passed through without problems.
Step number two was more difficult. We had a total of 160 kg allowed luggage weight, but altogether we reached 215 kg! “Ok, no problem, I will pay for the overweight”, I said. “How much is it?” “880 USD”, the nice lady at the check-in said. This was very much above what I had estimated, but I tried not to show my concern. “You will need to pay in cash, because we do not accept credit cards”, she continued. “This could be a problem” I told her, “because I do not carry so much cash with me. Maybe I can get cash at the money machine?” “I am sorry but we do not have a money machine here at the airport”, she replied. “This sounds a bit problematic” I told her. “I have all these samples, which I need to carry with me, I have to pay overweight, I do not have the cash to pay and I cannot get money from an ATM. How shall we solve this?” She understood my concerns very well, and finally she said that she could accept my credit card, and phone to Yangon to the office to make a debit on the card. Uff! Problem solved! But 880 USD was a lot of money, so I took a chance and asked her if we could not lower the price to 700 USD, since 880 USD were really a lot of money. The friendly woman understood this concern too, and after a few telephone calls, the price for the overweight kilos was 700 USD, my credit card had been charged and all our eleven pieces could be checked in without further problems.
I thanked the lady very much for all her help and told her where we were from, what we had been doing in Myanmar and how friendly and helpful everyone had been. We ended up having a great chat and had the plane not left 10 minutes later, we would have gone on chatting!
The import of our samples into Thailand went without problems, the transport by DHL from Bangkok to Stockholm went smooth, and now everything is already safely stored in the cold room at the Department of Geological Sciences, waiting for us to start sampling!
This was a great fieldwork experience! Maybe the next trip will lead us to the eastern part of Myanmar and to lakes in Shan State. Keep fingers crossed!