Representing your country.
Magway to Monywa.
I’d always dreamed it would be at Twickenham.
Running out to the screams of 80,000 adoring fans, singing the national anthem before taking the kick off against the All Blacks. Of course we win. Of course i score. The number of tries varies, but i score all of them.
Thirty one years on and this dream is starting to look vulnerable.
Today I chatted with a man who had never met anyone from Europe before. At first it was just interesting to hear. Then as we spoke it slowly dawned on me how important this moment was.
All his knowledge and experience of Britain was in this moment. I was to be his sole reference point for my homeland.
I was at last representing my country. This was my Twickenham.
I felt like Johnny Wilkinson.
Surely this man would go on to tell other family, friends, villagers, village elders of his experience of this British cyclist.
What if he didn’t like me? What if I came across too quiet? Or too loud? Or just a bit crazy? This sickness is making me quite delirious after all.
We spoke for 10 minutes and during the time I told him about England and my life. I tried desperately not to sell it, but be measured and polite, and enthusiastic towards Myanmar (which wasn’t hard). I tried to come across confident but sincere, enthusiastic and knowledgeable but controlled and authentic. Is that right?
On reflection, I probably should of been sarcastic, self-deprecating, stiffed my upper lip, before hugging a bulldog and attempting to invade his village. But it didn’t occur to me.
I hope I did well. I don’t think I scored any tries, but at least I got to run out, even if the only crowd was his goat.
Finding a non gov-registered (illegal but cheap) guest house to recover from this sickness i was not alone, but sharing my room with enough creatures to film an episode of Nature Watch. It’s a prison cell of sorts, tiny rectangular room, walls and windows so black its hard to find their original colour, a strip light and a wooden chair my only friends. The town electricity doesn’t start till 7pm, and when the strip light finally came on, such was its impact I didn’t even notice.
I needed to ask the owner if I could have some soap. She didn’t understand so I dived straight for my Charades expertise. In my haste to show scrubbing and with a dose of exhausted delirium I ignored armpits or chest and went straight to an impression of an Englishman cleaning his testicles In the shower. Say what you like, i gained a soap very quickly.
After a days recuperation I was feeling slightly more human but still extremely weak.
The problem I have is that our permit to cross the border into India is in 5 days time, i simply must make that date and meet up with the others or I’m stuck.
So if I’m well enough to move, I must move.
Creaking out into the morning sun I found a shop selling biscuits, sprite and foxes mints. Balanced diet.
It was 150 km of rolling hills to Bagan. If I could make that distance today i would be back on track. My plan was to find my pace and just stick with it for as long as I could. In my weak state climbing these hills i was averaging 14kmph, so I knew that if I just sat on this bike and pedalled away I could make Bagan with 11hrs in the saddle., keeping any stops short as possible and just keep moving.
The hills came one after another as I climbed into increasingly red landscape towards central Myanmar, starting to feel less tropical and more dusty. Lots of small villages line the roads and the constant attention never stops. I really savour the small moments when there is no-one about and I get a few minutes to myself. I was even able to find a spot alone under a tree for a biscuit lunch today. Bliss.
On another note, the buses are a problem in Myanmar.
Not the erratic driving or the size. Not even the speed.
It’s the spitting.
Men here chew these seeds with water and saliva that give their mouth a terrifying blood-like appearance. Like a post-meal Dracula. There are small bins in public buildings for these to be spat out into, but outside it’s a free for all. In my first days here i thought the streets were stained with blood, but luckily not.
Anyway, there are no such bins on buses so a window will suffice. Streams of this stuff gets propelled out the window onto the road. Some spits are so long the start has hit the road before the end has left his mouth. Its impressive. But when passing a bus you enter a lottery. I’ve noticed from some red faces that the odds are very good in this lottery. Sometimes it’s better to just trail behind.
I rattled into Bagan under darkness at 11pm, found a hostel, some food and slept.
Rising early the next morning to watch the sunrise over Bagan is a magical experience. The rich sunrise colours, mist drenched pagodas and balloons peacefully rising into the sky.
A really very special place.
Having breakfast in Bagan I found it pathetically nice to hear and use the english language, and drop need for charades for a few hours. I met some travellers and enjoyed sharing stories after this time alone, and felt myself building morale back up to cruising altitude.
I rode the remaining 90 km to Monywa running of sweets and sprite before getting another good rest.
Tomorrow things get fruity as I head off west towards Kalewa and the border. The fruitiness is 170 km of road which I’m advised is some of the poorest available on this planet. Sand and rocks mostly.
With 3 days to reach the border I have no choice.
I wonder if Jonny Wilkinson sometimes dreams of being a balding, sickly, Englishman crossing the Myanmar wilderness.
Back on the road.
Bagan by night.
Bagan – 2,200 temples.
T-shirt could do with a wash.
Fifth time lucky.