Still waters seldom run deep on the Chindwin River in Myanmar, but the stories do.
Unpredictable with perennial fits of monsoon rage, sudden dehydration and spastic currents, the mysterious Chindwin flows into the famed Irrawaddy River after a 1,207-kilometer stint as an independent and often stubborn tributary.
She can swallow earth-moving equipment carving the shoreline as if out of spite and overturn boats with one muddy belch. Catch her in a good mood, and you can glide across her glossy skirt for hours.
You need a shallow boat and bottomless patience to ply waters that serve as both life and death source for the Burmese, Shan, Kachin, Kayin, and Naga people who live here.
With a boat crew of seven, I joined seven photographers in December 2013 on an eight-day river journey of 632-kilometers, part of my 20-day travel in Myanmar/Burma. Our 100-foot barge, the Zinyaw “Seagull,” abandoned its transport duties and transformed into a makeshift floating hotel with tiny sleeping stalls, a true outdoor kitchen and a rainwater shower, well, river water shower.
It didn’t take long for strangers to become friends as we shared this rare gift to travel unannounced and unexpected into villages where travelers seldom, if ever, tread.
Every day dawned on a different shore where stories swirled among misty rice fields and simple stilt houses made of ancient teak.
Every twilight glimmered with a thousand scattered memories whispered at candlelit dinners.
Someone lost a shoe while crossing a creek. Someone found a family panning for gold. Someone taught children a song filled with happiness.
And now it’s time to tell those stories and sort through thousands of photographs that capture but a moment of a journey that ran so deep. To be continued …