How not to miss sunrise in Bagan for scaredy-cats

The red dust swirls up around our ankles as we step on the deserted street. It’s still dark and we’re yawning like you only can when it’s 4 am and you’re not still up, but already.

As we walk towards the rental place, I feel my heart beating uneasily in my chest.

A little girl greets us with a smirk as we approach. My stomach rumbles audibly as she asks “You want two?”, pointing at the motorcycles.

Of course we want to explore the plains of Bagan each on our own bike. We’ve been in Myanmar for ten days now and Bagan is the place we’ve been dreaming of the most. The mystical land, thousands of temples emerging from the morning fog, narrow dirt roads, lush green fields, the golden tips of the pagodas glistening in the sun.

Of course we want to discover all that on the back of motorcycles – only that I’m dead scared.

While we’re shooting prices back and forth and the girl’s rascal grin slowly turns in a big wide smile over our little game, I try my best to breath normally and think of what a great day it will be – if only I get myself to ride a scooter.

But here’s the thing: I’m always the first one to put on a life jacket. I’m the one who thinks about car crashes and being mugged. I’m the overthinker.

I watch the girl in her pink Pokemon shirt fix up two bikes for us and pat the seats in the universal language of “Here you go”. This is the point where I might be on the verge of tears at home. Where I might retreat to my safe harbor of not doing anything instead of taking a risk.

But this isn’t home. This is travel. And that’s what I need and love it for. It allows me to not be me. I take a deep breath and get on. My face squinches as I turn the key. The joyous beep-beep-boop of the electric motor sounds like it’s mocking me and I know I deserve it. I’m a grown-up, for god’s sake, I should be able to do this! I reluctantly push the gas and the bike jumps forward. I wobble about uncontrollably, panicking that I will fall, I will fall, I will fall. But I don’t.

Instead, I giggle nervously as I roll down the dusty street. By the time we pass the first pagoda in all it’s radiating beauty and impressive history I let out a triumphant howl: I’m riding a bike in Bagan and I’m going to explore temples all day long, get all dirty, sweaty and tired, and yes – I might even fall. But I am so free right now, right here, in this valley of kings that it doesn’t matter. Without thinking, I hit the horns and speed off into the dawn of a day that has just begun.

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Who needs focus when you’ve got cojones? – a.k.a. the scooter and me, now besties for life.

This is a little something I put together for the application of the World Nomad Travel Writer Scholarship 2017. Reading the winners’ amazing stories, I don’t mind not having won – and luckily, I still like my story. Try again next year? For sure. 

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