I was up early to make the most of a free breakfast before stocking up on fruit at a nearby street market and hitting the road. Myanmar’s longest bridge took me out of Mawlamyine and into Mottama, where I took my first opportunity to get off the main road to the east. After turning right, I rode uphill until I reached a hilltop temple overlooking Thanlyin River. I was halted by a series of steep steps leading down the other side of the hill. Three kids kept me company as I pondered what to do. One of these kids was a monk about eight years old with the bald head, maroon robe and a tattoo on his arm. We were soon joined by an old monk and several villagers who became my escorts as I carried out my decision: unloading my bike and making several tiring trips up and down the stairs to get my stuff down to the riverside.
I soon came across a guarded gate and was told (sign language) I couldn’t enter, but that there was a way around. The detour was a dirt track that took me around the other side of the compound where another guarded gate stood. A little further on I passed through a small settlement and was hailed by a group of guys huddled around a bicycle. They asked (sign language) if I had a pump. Sure do! I confused them for a moment when I set up my camera to film the interaction. After sorting out their bike, I was given a coffee and hung out for a few minutes trying to have a conversation.
After leaving the group, I noticed one of the guys I’d helped was following me. He rushed ahead and I soon came across him waiting by a gate. He waved me in and I found myself getting a grand tour of the farm where he works. There was a series of pens incubated by little hearths, with the heat being trapped by walls and a ceiling made from plastic sheeting. Within the pens were yellow fluff balls running amok: one and four day old chickens. I also met some cows I had seen being herded along the road earlier in the day, and was shown a dam full of fish. My new friend welcomed me into his living quarters and I was treated to some delicious home-made biscuits. I was even given a bag-full as a present.
While parked up on the side of the road, munching on longans by the side of a creek, a young guy stopped for a chat. With good English, he invited me to join him to one of his favourite natural spots. I followed him down some small roads for about 5km and we came to a nice spot next to a river. He said he comes here to get away from the world and on this particular day his parents were angry at him about something, so he just had to get out of the house for a while. I finished my snack session before joining him for a refreshing swim.
Riding on through a really quiet area thick with rubber plantations, I came across a bunch of massive cubes by the side of the road consisting of squashed plastic bottles. I stopped to investigate and ended up taking a self-guided tour through a tiny recycling joint. A group of ladies were cutting labels off the bottles and removing the bottle caps. The bottles were then dumped into shredders and the fragmented plastic was collected in bags, which will presumably to be sent elsewhere for further treatment. A little further on I was waved into a house by a guy who turned out to be someone I had chatted to earlier in the day. I was treated to a coke and had a chat with him and the family and friends that began to gather.
By this time of day I had to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to reach a town before it got dark. I started scouting for camp opportunities. Unfortunately, whenever I would see a good patch of bush to escape into there would be people around. Eventually, I seized a chance to enter a stand of trees on an empty stretch of road. It was close to some habitation but no homes were within direct eyesight. I got in without being seen and by the time I set up my tent it was nearly dark. I had just gotten out my dinner – a can of baked beans and a can of creamed corn – when I heard voices. A family was returning home and was walking along the edge of the stand of trees about 100m away. They had almost disappeared when a child spotted my tent. Although it was dark, the light grey of my tent was giving off enough of a faint glow to be seen. The group stopped walking. I was hidden behind my tent and didn’t move. They waited for a couple of minutes before disappearing.
Paranoid someone might still be standing there, I remained hidden and didn’t move. By this time it was nearly pitch black. I heard voices again and it became clear what happened. While half of the family went home, the other half had gone to the local village to get the support of more guys before investigating. They approached with torches and I had no choice but to reveal myself. It was clear they hadn’t expected a person to be there; they were just seeing what this strange shape in the forest was. I stood up and said mengalaba a couple of times. What a shock they got. They froze and stood silent. I cautiously approached and spoke English (‘Hello. My name is Mark. I am a tourist’). Then I shone my headlight at my face so they could have a good look at me. They instantly relaxed and became curious.
I showed them my tent and bicycle and gestured that I intended on sleeping here for the night. They asked if I was only one person and I said yes. We ‘chatted’ for a while before a man in his 60s indicated I could sleep back in the village with them. I instantly said yes and proceeded to pack up camp as fast as I could, making the biggest mess of my bike and gear in the process. I walked with them out of the forest and down the road back the way I’d come. Because it was dark and I didn’t dare shine my torch in anyone’s faces, I didn’t really have any idea who my companions were. We left the road and I found myself at the front of a house on stilts. Other similar houses were nearby and I could hear pigs grunting and chickens clucking. My bike was parked under the house and I was summonsed up the wooden ladder into the home. With a kerosene lamp lighting up the room, I was able to properly meet those who had escorted me out of the forest.
No one could speak English, but I did my best to explain more about myself. I showed them photos of cycling through Myanmar and Thailand, as well as the hardcopy photos of my family that I carry. We sat for a while (about eight people) before I was told I could go and have a wash. The ‘shower’ was a metal drum that collects rain water from the roof of the house. I stood on concrete blocks to get myself off the muddy ground and donned my longyi, which I wore as I bathed like I had seen locals do. I was given a dry longyi to wear afterwards. Just as I sat down inside I was treated to tea and biscuits, followed by a bowl of rice with three small pieces of fish.
After I ate, we continued to sit and I became a spectator to the discussions going on. As the night wore on, the room began to clear as people went off to bed. I finally learned whose house I was in: an old man and his wife, plus a young man who was a monk and could have been their son. A bed was prepared for me, consisting of a woven mat laid over the wooden floorboards and under a mosquito net. The old man and I slept in one room while the lady and son slept in the other.
|Distance ridden today||68.01km|
|Average cycling speed||15.2kph|
|Total distance ridden||13,836km|