Kalewa to Tamu
The sand became rocks, rocks became potholes, and then at last road appeared. Approaching Kalewa I sped up to recently unimaginable speeds, enough even for my speedometer to begin working again.
From Kalewa, I took the most magnificent road that followed the river down to the town of Kale. It was winding and undulating high on the mountainside above the river and farmlands below. Hours of pushing this bike through sand seemed a world away.
A truck carrying pigs to the slaughter passes by, about 30 pigs chucked in a tiny truck, piled high with legs and snouts poking out, the ones lower down not surviving the journey. A reminder that despite the beauty, this is still a South East Asian country.
I pass roadside workers that have lined the pavements across Myanmar, predominantly women, often very old. Their job is to break down large piles rocks by hand into small pieces suitable for laying a road. They sit working with small pick axes from dawn till dusk chipping away, raising an interested but solemn glance as i pass by. Each time I’m filled with a helpless guilt as they are forced to watch this privileged man pass by. Normally i don’t look up in embarrassment.
Myanmar is an incredible place to travel, but there is no escaping that this is an extremely poor country with a long way to go.
As often happens, a moped pulled up beside me and started chatting in Burmese. Throughout Asia this happens often as i am a strange sight for people to come across. Often they will hang behind you inspecting the bike and equipment, and sometimes, slightly creepily, will pull up and stare at your bare legs spinning around.
After an explanation of where I had come from and was going this gentlemen wasn’t satisfied and kept following on. He wore a big bright smile and began gesturing that I should sit on his moped instead of cycling, I laughed and explained that I must keep cycling.
A short while later he pulled up beside again and with an even brighter smile used hand movements to suggest that he would like me to stop cycling and have sexual intercourse with him. Undoubtably a kind request, but I was already exhausted, and he hadn’t even offered to buy me a drink. On declining his offer, he finally sped off.
Despite interruptions, It was a truly memorable mornings cycle along the mountainside in the early sunshine before making Kale in the afternoon, and finally meeting up with Pete and Scotty.
The remainder of the day was spent relaxing and re-supplying before we set off the next morning, due north towards the only Indian border at Tamu.
The 250 km border road named the ‘Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road’ is a sealed tarmac masterpiece built by the Indian army in 2001. Speeding north we passed through town after town with families out on the streets, children chasing or shouting ‘bye bye’ from the roadside (for some reason very few know ‘hello’, everyone knows ‘bye bye’), old men waving and mothers hard at work preparing food.
A flat grassland area appeared which had become a makeshift driving range with three men belting balls at unaware cattle whilst small boys with wicker baskets race to collect them.
These last few kilometres towards the border have summed up this country fairly perfectly. It’s a sublime place, full of kindness and smiles, colour and beauty, laughter and the unexpected.
Myanmar is a country of incredible natural beauty mixed with a people (especially in the remote parts) who greet you with open arms and wide smiles. It was a place we were all looking forward to and for me, it has surpassed expectation.
Arriving at Tamu we spent the night in the only guest house, a disgusting hovel where the rooms smelt of urine, the floors strewn with rubbish and any bedding had not been cleaned for months, if not years. From here we were taken down to the border, submitted our permits and crossed the bridge.
I fell in love with this country and it is sad to leave.
But with the gargantuan theme park of India lying a few metres ahead there is no time for looking back.
Sand pit mornings.
Hand built roads.
Mountain road from Kalewa.
The ‘Tropical Cancer Pass’
Caged bear behind a shop in Tamu.
The Myanmar spirit, much friendlier in practise.
Yellow is Myanmar, white is India.
I hope i will.