Yangon to Okkan 121km
Okkan to Gyobingauk 96km
The last few days, I've been living in a bubble, an "expat bubble" and it has been delightful. Staying in a condo, with food in the cupboard, cold drinks in the fridge, and ice in the freezer. English language TV channels, good Wifi, good AC, clean shower and toilet, and a washing machine. My conversations have been in English, and the topics have extended well beyond my answers being "New Zealand, Grum, 60 years old, India." It has been a fantastic break. Thank you Ben, and International School, Myanmar staff.
It was with a certain reluctance that I ventured back onto the road yesterday. Yangon has a population of 5 million souls, in an area about the same size as Christchurch. Unless you have special permission, read friends or relations in power, you are not allowed to ride a scooter in the city. This means the traffic is quite a bit meaner, faster, and more aggressive. .. almost western, and all the roads leading north are pretty busy, so it's full on focus, no looking at landmarks and tourist attractions, just the traffic.
25kms later, and the traffic is starting to thin out. I'm knackered. It's hard work staying safe, and navigating, and it is very hot. There just seems to be masses of humanity. Buses, trucks, taxis, cyclists, rickshaws, pedestrians. The roads are narrow, and bumpy, and out of the masses, at one of my "look at the map" stops, a twelve year old boy comes up to me. His English is precise "Queens English". He just wants to introduce himself, and find out if I need "assistance". He, and his teacher, are on a day trip, exploring, and speaking only English. Many many others want to have conversations with me as well, but my focus is getting out of the city safely.
The next two days are pretty flat, through rice paddies, and watermelon fields. There are lots of watermelons. Roadside stalls have huge piles of them. I don't know how they will sell them all. Asia has a strange way of organizing stalls. For 10km there will be nothing but watermelon stalls. The next 10km might be stalls selling weaved bamboo seats, then 10km of fish stalls. I don't know how people choose which stall to buy from. Today there are also lots of bricks. I haven't seem any brickwork, but almost every house, in some areas, has a stack of new bricks outside their gate. Building boom?
I'd done 90km, and am pretty stuffed, so decided I should look for a Guesthouse. Not easy, because there is no English script. A bit of tooing and frooing, and I find one. "Full". Next one "Fully booked". Third one....." You're not allowed to stay here mister. Only in a hotel. You need to go to see the Immigration Police to get permission." More circling of back streets, but I eventually found them, and they were very pleasant, except..."You can only stay in a hotel. The next one is in Okkan, 18 miles (26km) north". Oh bother.
The Okkan Hotel is very nice, and I am shown a very nice room on the third floor for $35. Sorry buddy. Too expensive. He rings his boss, and I'm offered a tidy, small ground floor room for $20, still expensive, but I'm knackered. The service was outstanding...baggage carried, doors opened as I approached, nice meal, lovely smiles, but rubbish wifi, and I picked up a mild case of diarrhea from breakfast....oh well....
Day two was even hotter. The road was melting, and all sticky tar. It was still narrow and bumpy, so I spent quite a bit of the time on the hard packed, dusty, red soiled hard shoulder. This got me out of the way of the traffic, mainly trucks and buses. Almost without exception, the truck drivers are courteous and aware. They give a small toot as they come up behind you, then you hear them braking and changing down gears, so as to safely pass you. The bus drivers are not in any way similar. Almost without exception, they are arrogant, ignorant, and don't know their father. You hear them coming. Horn blasting, engine roaring. No braking of any sort. I want to stop them, and slap them, but I'm not going to get in their way, because I'm pretty sure they don't care, and wouldn't stop. I will instead, rise above the frustration, although I will continue to swear at them loudly.
A few cool things happened today, even though I was feeling a little seedy, and three times had to evacuate into a ditch...diarrhea. At one stage, a group of bullock carts could be seen, far off in the paddy fields, heading towards the main road. They were creating a huge dust cloud. Looked very much like a movie scene. They reached the main road just as I went past.
At the cafes I stop at, I seem to always attract a crowd. Some are brave enough to chat, but most just sit and watch me drink and eat. As I was leaving one such cafe, the owner came up to me, took my hand, and blessed me. I'd only spent 50c. Amazing people.
So tonight I'm in a $12 Guesthouse. Seems it's okay in this town.
Had some good news. Carlos, the Spanish cyclist who was beaten up, flew out to Barcelona yesterday, first class, and they even got his bike on the plane. Thank you Warmshowers people. You are amazing. It's very comforting knowing we have a network of people supporting us, as we cycle through these unfamiliar lands.