(Pictures marked with * are from Anselm)
10 days through the back country
January 11, 2014 : Yangon to Setkaw , 106 km, 99 highmeter , Ø 16.6 km / h
Anselm and I leave Yangon and opt for a route west of the Irrawaddy river. First the road is very busy but after about 20 kilometers the traffic dies down . We cycle over a huge bridge and then on a small, but still paved road near the river.
The road quality is sometimes good, sometimes really bad. A paved road can become suddenly a bumpy, rocky dirt track. We cycle through fields and small villages where people stare at us and wave sometimes.In the small towns, where the traffic is always dense, there is a better food selection. A typical meal always consists of rice plus various currys. Instead of water, green tea is served in the restaurants.
Sometimes we are followed, more or less secretly, by police on a motorbike. As soon as we leave their district they turn off. In the evening it is always a bit difficult to find a campground. Apparently each rural resident in Myanmar learned to call the police as soon as he sees somewhere two foreigners, especially in the evening on a field. At two days we find a lonely campground, one night again our tent is guarded by the police. In the next article I will write detailed about a nightly encounter with the police.
January 15, 2014 : Kyangin to Pyay , 67 km, 225 hm , Ø 16.3 km / h
During a break I take a closer look at my front wheel and notice three broken spokes. I´m not surprised as the roads are really bad. I have a new frontwheel since Thailand, because the bearings of the old dynamo hub were broken and I had to change it. The new spokes are probably of lesser quality or poorly assembled – or both. Of course I have spare spokes with me, but decide to get the job done by a mechanic in the next town. I just don´t feel like removing the wheel and the tire right now. So we ride ten kilometers to the nearest town, Pyay, and quickly find a mechanic at a corner. I hand him my spare spokes and watch in amazement as he just remove the broken spoke from the nipple and screw the new in. Without removing the wheel or tire and tube. Again a lesson learned. It takes only 5 minutes and he refuses any payment.
January 17, 2014 : Pyay to Thayet , 81 km, 213 hm , Ø 15.1 km / h
Anselm and I continue on the right side of the river, the road should be better here. We want to cross the river at the evening with a ferry. The Irrawaddy is very broad and, unlike the Mekong, good navigable. There is no ferry pier, it’s just a sand bank by the river. Many small boats arrive and depart all the time, piled high with goods and people. But the price the boat people tell us is pretty high. I can´t imagine that the Burmese pay the same price. But there is also a large car ferry, which is much cheaper. The ferry is packed with trucks, cars, motorcycles and people, a miracle that it is still floating. But we arrive safely on the other side and don´t even have to pay anything. It is already dark and after we bought something to eat, we find a place for our tents on a slightly uneven field.
January 18, 2014 : Thayet to ? , 66 km, 753 hm , Ø 9.7 km / h
In the morning we try to find a road that exists at least on the map. Quickly we are lost on sandy trails, fields and small villages where the people staring at us. Children are afraid of us and I feel like an alien with its ultra-modern space ship on an unknown planet. Here oxcarts still seem to be the normal means of transport and a power line the latest achievement.
Asking for directions fails, at every crossroad we decide by the compass. We push our loaded bikes up steep oxcart paths and drive along narrow country lanes, to the astonishment of the women working there. After a few hours we are on the right road and we can cyle a bit faster, at least on the asphalt pieces. The rest are sandy, rocky slopes.
The landscape has changed dramatically in the last kilometers . From the green river scenery it goes now up to rolling countryside. Heavily forested and dry it almost reminds me of a European autumn landscape. It’s a tough day , the heat, the dust , the road , the average speed of less than ten kilometers an hour says it all. At twilight we pitch our tents just besides the road. It is a quiet night.
January 19, 2014 : ? to Minhla , 60 km , 609 hm , Ø 10.6 km / h
The landscape is hilly, the road sandy. In one valley I see nothing but tents. It looks as if an Indian tribe has set up camp here. Only when we arrive at the next settlement we learn the meaning of this. Apparently there are oil deposits here. Everyone who has a piece of land has drilled a well and is pumping the black gold upward. The Tippis are the drill pipes, covered with tarps as protection against the sun. The oil deposits appear to be very limited, only at certain spots the tents are lined up next to each other.
Even on the short drive through the village you can feel the “gold rush “. The small shops on the roadside are filled with fruits, food, clothing, mobile phones and electronic equipment. Actually, the village consists only of a few bamboo huts on the main road , but there is a lot going on here. Everyone seems to be busy. The oil from the weels is filled in large canisters, which are brought by motorbike or a wheelbarrow to a collection point. There, oil-smeared men pour it into barrels and load it on old trucks. Even a few large tankers standing around. For these vehicles it takes quite a while on this bad roads to reach this area. But apparently it ‘s worth it.
In the evening we pitch tents in an abandoned temple beside the road. Again the police comes, even though no one saw us. They offer us to sleep in the police station in the next village . Actually a good option, because we are pretty tired and have no desire to find again a new spot in the dark. The village is only two kilometers away which is why the police refrain to accompany us on their motorcycles. But then there’s a perfect opportunity for us to fool the cops: Beside the road is a huge haystack, behind a flat ground where at daytime the rice is threshed and dried. The place is guarded by an old man, but he doesn´t mind that we sleep there. Less than five minutes later, a tent is pitched and we are in it. We are really tired. Then we hear the man making a call. He´s probably calling a friend we think. A few minutes later we hear some motorcycles, not friends but the police arives. They take our escape with humor, probably they had been looking for us already. We remain in the tent and listen to the voices. A little later all is quiet again, only two men were still talking. They were reassigned to sleep next to our tent. The next morning we discover them freezing wrapped in thin blankets bedded on some straw. We had it warmer and more comfortable in our tent.
After 10 exhausting but beautiful days we arrive at the temples of Bagan, one of the top attractions in Myanmar.