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Photo : Video : Storytelling

A blog by Paul Bettings

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Rides Through the Jungle

Taken on my iPhone 6s (!?)

The rides on the Ayerewaddy river were stunning, each day I looked forward to watching the scenery go by as I sat in the riverboat. However, our mode of transportation was dependant on the time of year we were visiting Zin. Rainy season meant more boats, dry season meant more motorbikes. The motorbikes were not really motorbikes at all, they were more like mopeds that had mostly flat tires and cracked plastic body coverings held together with wire twist ties. In the rural areas of Myanmar, gas is sold in used alcohol bottles that sit in wooden racks on the side of the road – the moped driver would pull over at the beginning of our trek, put in a litre of gas (just enough to get to and from the destination) and give the bottle back.

We had a lot of gear

I had my gear bag on my back (about 25lb), my driver had a gear bag slung over the front of him like a backwards backpack, then another bag hung off the handlebars of the moped into the space where his feet rested. However, others had it more difficult – one of our videographers had a DJI Ronin MX gimble in a hard case. We were worried about dust getting in the mechanics so we put it in a garbage bag each day. With a backpack on, he would rest the large case in front of him between himself and the driver as we took off through the jungle. In total, there were 7-9 bikes each day, all with extra baggage on board.

Crossing the Ayeyerwady River with our motorbikes and gear.

The jungle is not an easy place to ride a moped

Each morning we would drive to the field office from our hotel about an hour away, load up on the bikes, drive 5-minutes to the river, get off and load the bikes on a small steel hulled barge and cross in two loads, then get back on the bikes for another 45-minute ride. The moped’s suspension would bottom out constantly which sent jarring shockwaves through our backs, the trails were dusty as we weaved in and over roots and dry wood. As we drove, we passed through villages with houses that stood on stilts, people were lighting fires to prepare their morning meals and stare at our convoy in confusion. Sometimes we’d get a smile and a wave, sometimes not.

This trip through the jungle was tough, but it was always worth it. We would reach Zin’s village as close to daybreak as possible and start shooting as soon as we could. Zin was always gracious, she smiled at us as we arrived and would then start her day. We followed her as she went about her routine, over time we all slowly got comfortable with each other and fell into a rhythm. Zin’s quiet confidence came through on camera, and as we spent time with her and her family we knew her story was an important one to tell.

Sign up here for our first screening of Pressure Baby, a documentary about Zin, her family and her village.


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