I’ve missed getting a few countries flags for my cases, but I’ve made up for it with the entire front end tagged. Each town we stayed in, and a couple other random spots, I had someone write the name in Burmese writing. I also got a few things in english when they didn’t understand I wanted their language. I already don’t remember what some of them are, but it doesn’t matter.
I like pulling up to places and seeing the reaction on peoples faces when they can read or understand one of the many places. The mashup of different styles is like a piece of art and it tells a story. The night in Monywa began with a search for some food and being close to India is a great thing. Fresh chapati, aloo, and curries along the street hit the spot. As I walked by a little bar type place, I shared some small talk with a few guys drinking whiskey and before I knew it had bought a bottle and was sitting with them. A pint of whiskey costs less than a dollar so it would be stupid not to. They ordered little traditional plates of food for me to try. One of the guys was a cyclist for the Myanmar national team and supposedly number two in SE Asia. He smoked a lot of cigarettes and said it was because there wasn’t any training going on. He was a good guy. They were trying to get me to go and learn how to play Chinlone (they were calling it sepak takraw, but this is the one played over a net). From my understanding they wanted to go over in some area where people were playing at ten o’clock at night. It all sounded strange so I shrugged it off. We kicked one around for a minute and then they convinced me to get on the back of the scooter. When we arrived a few blocks away I partly understood what they were trying to tell me. There was a big square stage set up with a boxing ring feel to it without the ropes. A group of guys was in the middle of a game with the stage surrounded by onlookers.
Instead of me trying to explain, here’s how wikipedia explains chinlone: “A team of six players pass the ball back and forth with their feet, knees and heads as they walk around a circle. One player goes into the center to solo, creating a dance of various moves strung together. The soloist is supported by the other players who try to pass the ball back with one kick. When the ball drops to the ground it is dead, and play starts again”. The ball is like a wicker basket material woven together. They’ve been playing it for over 1,500 years. They’ve created more than 200 ways of kicking it with the knee, heel, inside and outside of foot, top of toes, and sole. It’s incredible the stuff they do with that ball. A lot of it’s done behind the back where they can’t even see it. The second ranked team in all Myanmar, from Mandalay, was there. They took it to a whole other level. During a lot of the Buddhist festivals chinlone is the feature activity going on. On one side were all types of instruments and big drums. A few of the guys from the bar all came to be my hosts. They took me around and introduced me to all kinds of people including the leader of the district and his wife. I got to go smack dab in the middle of the band and take over the drums.
I got a beat going and the crowd went wild. The crowd really gets into the action too and yells out moves. The announcer will yell out moves and things for them to try. When the Mandalay team was playing they would climb up on stage and safety pin money to whichever player they thought was the MVP. Guys kept giving me 1000 Kyat notes ($1) to take up and pin onto my favorite player. They had a girl in the group that was incredible so most of it went to her, and not just because she was a girl. The stage was set up right next to the temple and the guys took me to it. They have a sitting Buddha statue that supposedly is the only one in the world that opens it’s eyes. It reminded me of the beginning of the movie Stigmata where the Jesus statue is crying. The small statue is behind glass doors and a gate so you can’t get too close. On a TV screen they play a news clip over and over that’s supposed to be showing the eyes opening. It flashed from scene to scene kind of quick and had a lot of close ups, and sort of felt like subliminal messaging going on. They only open once a year, and the festival going on is celebrating it. Maybe it’s real and maybe it’s not, but who am I to judge. I’m there to take it in the experience and get an insight into their culture. Celebrating and having a good time with Burmese guys leads to a lot of Betel chewing. By the end of the night my cheek was raw and I had a dark red mouth. My tongue was stained for days. From Monywa it was a long day over a small range to Kalaymyo, which sits in a valley close to the India border. It was our last full day in Myanmar and it was a hot, dusty, bumpy day. The best part was Aung had no problem with me and Steve going off on our own and heading to Kalaymyo alone. The first couple days in Myanmar there were quite a few checkpoints and spots where they were checking our paperwork, but after that it has been wide open. It’s really got me thinking that it’s possible to do the crossing without a guide. You would just have to get the permits and paperwork. I could see in the next year people being able to get in on their own. It really makes me want to try and be the first, but the west pulls me. There were a few routes to Kalaymyo and it didn’t seem like the guide had any idea which one was best. They were stopping along the road and asking people about the conditions of the different routes. There was one that was a fairly straight shot, but he said there were some tough sections that might be difficult for motorcycles. The vehicles were going to go on the south route, which added a lot of km’s and time, but was apparently the “good” route. He left it up to us which way we wanted to go. The way he described it as a good road led us to decide on the same south route as them. Once we got up into it it was apparent he didn’t really know what he was talking about, but it was actually a good time riding on some of the torn up roads and bouncing around. The best part was getting away from the towns and away from all the traffic. The road leading out was mostly one and a half lanes, which leads to a lot of close calls and nerve racking moments. A lot of Myanmar reminded me of the outback in Australia. Before we started climbing up we passed through sections that were so desolate and inhospitable. It was sand everywhere and only the hardiest of plants making a go at it. It all looked like flood plains that turned to a dry nothingness in the dry season. You could see where the water would flow in the monsoon season. In one area there were over twenty kids all over the road/beach excitedly jumping around at the sight of us. They all stuck out their hands for high fives and I caught just about all of them. At the base of the hills there were fields of bright yellow sunflowers.
It was quite the contrast with the dried up death look that the surroundings had. We gradually wound our way up and into the ridges and valleys with the road slowly deteriorating. A lot of its in the process of upgrades, but are a long way from completion.
It takes a long time to build a road when the majority of the work is done by hand. There isn’t much concern for any safety standards, which we are obsessed with in the west. You gotta love jackhammering the a rock face in flip-flops.
We arrived to one bridge under construction and it looked like we were stuck dead in our tracks, but a local showed us the secret little way to a small river crossing that led to the village.
At a little shop we hit the jackpot and found fifty pounds of weed in an old cupboard. I boxed it up and put it on the next flight home.
Turned out to only be tea, but it sure looked like the real deal from a distance. Once across the river we had some tasty traditional foods for lunch. The ladies had a massive pot of mohingha cooking up, and were pretty proud of themselves.
Riding down into the valley was full of nice flowing curves. The landscape was orange and empty. This time of year the forests are all being burned for agricultural purposes. Some areas had fire leaping at the roadside and thick smoke filling the air. It was the hottest day we’d had in Myanmar and maybe the hottest of my trip.
I was a puddle of sweat under my jacket. Trees full of bright orange flower blooms were highly unexpected. There were a couple spots where out of nowhere a section of road would be lined by these beautiful colors.
As we got down into the valley it became some of the best scenery in all of Myanmar. Both sides of the valley are surrounded by mountains. Along the border fields become green with crops along the valley floor. After a long grueling day it was nice to feel the temperature dropping and watch the sun drop away leaving rays of light over the sunflowers.
The sunset colorfully into Myanmar. It felt strange that the time was coming to an end and in less than 24 hours we would be in India. It felt like getting to the end of the first chapter of a book. SE Asia was coming to an end. I was excited to be entering a new phase of the trip, but also a little sad that the previous one was over. Our last night in Myanmar was spent at a big restaurant/bar. Steve and I went for dinner and a celebration beer, which turned into many more mixed with a lil whiskey. Closing time was eleven, but we ended up with a band inside till much later. The guy running it just shut the doors. The band was probably the nicest group of guys you could imagine and the exact opposite of most bands attitudes. They were so happy to chill with us. We shared a ton of laughs, beat me at arm wrestling, and talked a lot of random stuff I can’t recall after drinking all night. It was a perfect way to say goodbye to the amazing people of Myanmar. A cherry on top of all the great experiences and friends made. From Kalaymyo its only 120 km to the Tamu border crossing. Before you know it you’re arriving at the Myanmar customs offices. The little village of Tamu is off the the main road so unless you turn into it you pass on by without even noticing. It had to be the easiest border crossing I’ve ever done in my life. Theres a little compound up behind a blue gate that says “Immigration”, and in a small dimly lit office a man in a cut off shirt stamps you out.
The process only took a couple minutes and was completely painless. After this we were told that we were free. I really think it would be possible to get into Myanmar on a Motorcycle after acquiring the right documents. We said goodbye to the group and Steve and I stuck together.
Just down from the immigration is a small yellow steel bridge with a checkpoint on the Myanmar side. A couple cheery officers checked our passports, but were much more concerned with getting a few pictures with us. The bridge crosses over a small trickling river and spits you out into India.
We had made it and were free in India for a whole twenty seconds before arriving to the Indian customs and immigration. It’s a big complex on the right side and actually turned out to be pretty easy and quick as well. The carnet has to be stamped coming into India so some guys take care of that. After walking through a broken metal detector and into a back room, they check the visas.
The computers were down when we were there and they just wrote all our information down on paper. More paperwork for a country drowning in beurocratic paperwork at every turn. Any office you go into in India has stacks and stacks of folders full of papers. While we were in the immigration a group of idiot guys taking pictures with my bike knocked it over. Welcome to India. They don’t understand how heavy it is and easy to get off balance. Guys will start climbing on it and I have to stop them or stand on the side and hold it up. Someone came in and told me it had fallen over and I ran out furious and screaming. The guys were lifting it up and I gave them an earful. They swore it just fell over, but it was obvious they had been taking pictures and bumped it or something. I was not a nice guy. Once the paperwork was complete we were free to head off into India. Hello NE India. Up until this point I had a good idea what I was doing and what was in store since I’d been to a lot of the areas before. Coming into the tribal states of India was exciting because I had no idea what to expect. After immigration we didn’t make it far.
We had our first military checkpoint, which was pretty smooth, and then we came into the small border town of Moreh. It was getting later in the afternoon at this point and we weren’t sure what to do. The German and swiss couple got permission to camp in the army commandos compound so Steve and I hopped on that opportunity. After thinking we were mostly going our separate ways, all of us except the French family camped out together.
It was actually a really nice grassy spot and during the night we had some live entertainment by some guy who made my eardrums want to jump off a bridge. Moreh is small and filthy, but good for a wander. The best thing about getting to India is the new food.
New flavors to try and aromas to smell. Many small ally ways lead off into somewhere with something interesting waiting to be stumbled upon.
Chapter two has begun.