Written July 20th
Had a long run into Burma. Was up at 5am rushing to the border town of Mea Sot but didn’t arrive until 11am. Was supposed to meet my three guides at 8am but once again Google maps told a fib on the time and I was late. They are great guys and were very helpful getting the D90 into Burma. Once I got into Burma you could feel a change. So there is two roads you can take to the golden rock (where I am now), you can take the old road (shorter) or the new road (about 45kl actually). We had to take the new road due to conflict between the local klans and the government last week. Apparently gunfire was a regular occurrence so it was better to avoid it. I fully agree with that decision.
The first 100kl were littered with checkpoints and government military personnel. Some even taking naps along the railing of the new highway clutching their semiautomatic weapons. Some of which didn’t look a day over 16yrs old. Because you are on a new highway just leaving Thailand you get a sense of being in a modern country but then you notice people bathing in the roadside gutters and the poor quality huts even for SEA. You also notice right away the face paint that most of the locals are wearing. Apparently it is from the Thanaka tree that they grid on a stone to make a paste (smells fantastic) and apply to the face to protect it from the sun. Oddly enough this is only applied to the cheeks in big squares or circles. Surly if you are protecting yourself from the sun you would cover the entire face but that’s not the case although I did see one or two that had done just that. Once the new highway ended it wasn’t a nice easy transition into the old beat up road but rather instant and it continued for most of the day. Along the road there was more checkpoints and people holding silver bowls asking for offerings. The offerings are for the locals who would like to either fix the stretch of road or place a small shrine or stupa on the top of the hill and need funding to do so. I find that interesting. Lunch was at a “restaurant” along the road towards Yangon. Actually wasn’t bad but kept it simple with a Burmese curry. They brought out tons of other dishes to try but I didn’t want to sour stomach this early into the trip.
The fun part of the trip was leaving the car at the bottom of a hill that takes you to the golden rock, which is said to defy gravity and is suspended on the side of a cliff. You kind of need a picture but they have covered the rock in gold leaf and a small Stupa is situated next on top of the rock. We had to take an open-air truck type bus to the top and we were packed like sardines in this thing. It’s low season so the locals had a fun time with the one white dude who didn’t fit in the truck. When I say truck bus think dump truck with bench seating in the back. When getting into the truck I came around the side and it looked like a scene from major league when all the baseball players wives are spitting chewing tobacco while watching the husbands play ball. They were all chewing betel nut and the deep red stain peppered the concrete, and when I say everyone I mean everyone (minus the children under 9yrs of age). The 78yr old grandma was even offering me a betel nut. The locals chew this in the same manner as chewing tobacco back home but this is for pleasure and purpose. They mainly chew betel nut after a meal to clean the teeth and refrain from using toothbrushes. Lots of Burmese don’t have toothbrushes (have a feeling I will be handing out quite a few toothbrushes in the next few days) so they chew this to clean the teeth. Bad thing is it stains the teeth and looks like it rots them as well… Halfway up the hill it starts to rain and grandma and I share my umbrella, she then buys me a rain coat (trash bag pretty much) and helps me put it on backwards (also gets a laugh.) Sweet old lady shook my hand for 10 seconds when we finally arrived she was so happy. Lovely lady. Tomorrow-Golden Rock.
So the south east asia saying “same same but different” kind of applies in my situation. There are of course similarities between Myanmar all of the countries I’ve visited so far but Myanmar is definitely different in a good way. Been a busy few days visiting pagodas and even squeezed in a monastery. I got 4 people guiding me though this country and I can only figure out what 3 of them do. One is the tour guide, 2nd is the driver, 3rd is with the tourist police and the 4th….dunno. Guy is just sort of there but very nice. So because I’m driving through the country I have to stick to my travel plan to almost the hour. Every time we arrive somewhere more tourist police are there waiting for us to make sure I’m not up to any mischief. With BNJ in northern Thailand I of course am not. Ive started taking pictures with all of them and most are friendly. One or two were upset cause we were behind schedule like today. Had a tie rod go out on the Chariot so had to play with that in the rain with the Betel nut bandits for a few hours. Oh so fun but parts coming so she should be good to go in a few days. Can still cruise but shes got Tourette’s now and once in a while and starts to freak out and the steering wheel goes nuts. Luckily I got Travis and Keith from Nordic helping out so I can get this sorted. All in due time.
The golden rock is actually pretty impressive. The way the rock lays on the mountain top (apparently placed by super humans or spirits of some sorts years ago) you cant actually see where it sits on the mountain. They say people have attached a rock to a string and tossed it across the rock and managed to bring back the string to show that the rock is hovering on the mountain top…and if you want to get inside the gate you have to have to be a man (or look like a man I guess) cause women get the boot when they try to enter. Worth a look if you are in the area. Unfortunately it was covered by a rain cloud while I was there so the pictures are so so and I got wet.
Managed to visit the Kalaywa monastery. Came during lunch to see the young monks eating the food they had gathered that day. Seems standard for the monks in SEA that on the way to the monastery they, I guess you could say beg (call to alms) for food. They do this twice a day (some only once) that provides breakfast and lunch. No dinner if you are a monk, just water and maybe some juice after lunch. Whatever they had left over was put in massive containers and cooked in a big soup for the next day. Any monks that didn’t receive food on the way to the monastery would eat this soupy smorgasbord. Was interested to hear they are free to go if they decided being a monk isn’t for them. Its not a school they have to attend. They get a wide variety of children as because of this, some may be orphans, while others from wealthy families. A very interesting mix.
Cane Ball (Chinlone as they call it in Myanmar)
Cane ball is pretty cool if you haven’t seen it before. It is a mix of volleyball, martial arts, and soccer. Seen it in a few different countries but apparently Myanmar (according to the locals) is the best at it. Its played on teams of 2-5 depending like volleyball and instead of a net you have a long piece of bamboo. You can kick, knee, or head the ball over and that’s it. The martial arts come into play when they “spike” the ball. They can literally get their feet high enough to spike it. Must do some serious yoga before the game to get up that high. Also noticed it was commonly played on concrete and they slap the ground with their bare feet. That has to hurt even for the toughest feet. Interesting sport. In the asia games but not sure about the Olympics. If it is who wants to join the American team?
Ive made it to Inle lake so far which is more central Myanmar just up in the mountains. Had a great ride up today but was delayed like I have been every day so far in Myanmar. Had a buddy (Jack) I met in Vietnam try to fly in. Jack is from Newfoundland so I call him Big Newfie Jack or BNJ. BNJ has been trying to fly in for a few days but cant figure out how a visa works (its not hard). He finally gave up after 2 days and decided to see what is going on in northern Thailand and pattaya to the south. Im sure BNJ will turn up somewhere along the trip. Changing subject it’s interesting to notice the farmers transport change from country to country. They all seem to have the rototiller machines that they can put steel tires on and till the land, switch to rubber tires and turn into a tractor, or further disassemble and create a truck. I thought I was seeing small trucks with no body on them but then realized they had just converted it. As I got further into the hills these are very few and far between and its all horse or cow drawn carts. Even the roads where you normally see that little lane of dead grass that is a scooter road now is 2 or 3 lanes due to whether they use one or two cows to pull the carts. There was even a lady who had converted a push bike to carry barrels of gasoline. It had no gears and was so heavy she had to push it up a slight hill instead of pedaling. Most of the other countries you would have seen a scooter towing a trailer with the barrel behind it, this was purpose made and looked like Sampson couldn’t even of pedaled the thing. Hard people no doubt. Its late so time to hit the sack. New day coming.