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Myanmar, smiles and respect.

To cross the border of India with Myanmar (or what is the same with Burma) was a big celebration.
We crossed full of desire and joy, energy and excitement, as children in an amusement park.
Myanmar entrada 1
It was years that we were desiring it, years hearing about how special and unique is this country looking at the beauty which is not in the land but in the people. So many travelers had fall in love with this place till getting mad, the curiosity, the wish to get to know it and to be able to cross from side to side, have accompanied us patiently in the saddlebags waiting something to happen, for everything to synchronize and by that, finally, one day come to visit it.
A Buddhist country that since 1960 has suffered the weight of living under a military dictatorship, closed to the world, censored at the end, with tribal inner fights and the most of the country vetoed to tourism, they have been here remained silence, as in secret, living, being, without mixing too much with others, without this “Westernization” that is sweeping the world, making them lose its customs and uniqueness.
carretera Myanmar carros.
A few months ago the unthinkable happened: they opened the borders by land in the country, and just, exactly, when we were cycling Ladakh in the very Northwest of India, perfect timing!! as if it had ordered to measure!!.
Since the good news came, a fresh joy and lively enthusiasm seemed to push us, to help us move forward.
Of course we were aware of the restrictions that still prevailed in the country and we were very curious about how was going to be to cross this country, due, mainly, to a law that affect us directly: Camping is prohibited, also sleeping in any house, or in a temple, school, etc… tourists must overnight in hotels which are, very expensive.

Concerning this, some other cyclist had explained all sorts of stories: for some it was not nice experience, some has been followed by the police, some others, spending so much money in hotels, some, woken up at midnight and forced to pack up and leave while they were camping, an another one said that he has been sleeping in monasteries almost all the way long.

Policia siguiendonos en la carretera, él aburrido de lo que le ha tocado hoy, yo harta de no sentirme libre. Ambos deseando que esto acabe, Aitor inmortaliza el momento.
(Pictured: police escorting us on the road: he, bored with his duty for today, I, tired of not feeling free, both, looking forward for this to end, Aitor, immortalizes the moment.)
What would it be like for us? What to do?
The thing is that the problem increase by something else: population has the obligation to inform, if you are camping, if they suspect that you’re going to do it, if you ask for shelter or a space anywhere, they, by law have to call the cops, it is their duty.
All of this sounded to nuisance, even crazy because… sleep we must sleep every day!! and there is a big difference between free camping or having to pay a minimum of $25 per night in a hotel. Myanmar is cheap but as far as hotels are concerned prices are soaring, especially outside of touristic areas where there are not many options.
The first day we took it easy and we decided to go directly to (as we say in Spanish) “the mouth of the wolf”.
Our plan was as follows: instead of escape from police trying to hide from everyone , we decided to go to ask for shelter, yes, to them.

We know that they always use the excuse of the “safety of the tourists” to try to give any sense to that stupid law. They say that it is not safe to camp, so we decided to use this pretext saying that: as… “it’s not safe to camp” therefore here we are: at the police station, safe place, we came to seek for shelter. And see their reaction.

They were very surprised to see us appear, they really did not expect it and after a few calls here and there, we were finally offered not only to stay but an empty room into a small wood house.
First night:  saved!!
Myanmar entrada 5
For the rest of the days we decided to do as we did in Africa, in over-populated countries: pedaling until nightfall, take dinner before, and already at night when all the people have returned to their homes from the country side, find a place and camping without even turning once the flashlight, not the stove, camping literally as outlaws, hiding, sometimes running with bike so they woudn´t see us enter through one small path , or going into the forest. Usually it happened that a car suddenly appeared… then…” body to Earth!!”  literally, as in the war.
The first days of pedaling were hard .

Aitor had choosen a path across the country that make us able to cross the 1,750 km in the 28 days of visa, also we could escape the cities and go to Bagán, the unique tourist place that we would visit. Just first day we had found a pair of German cyclists who recommended us a change for these first kilometers and pointed us to another one saying it was much better option, so, we decided to take it… catastrophic decision for our quadriceps!.!

We had changed without knowing it, the plains for a mountain road full of continuous up and downs which climbed slops of around 1 km but with a percentage of inclination that made us fell even fear, or just laugh looking at some of them … it couldn´t be truth!!!
Myanmar entrada 6
Remembering moments in Mongolia, or Sikkim, we were developing the patience knowing that everything comes to an end and this road would not be an exception.
When we arrived to Bagán, we had already covered almost one-third of the country, we had already tasted the heat in the nights and the strong sun of the day time. We created our routine with always an stop at noon in the shade, our weapons were a pair of straw hats, and our motivation was to continue finding smiles on the way.
mosaico gentes
It happens that, almost every time we visit touristic areas, once there, what we most feel is just….run away from them!!! Really!!!… leave as soon as possible!!!
We are not extremist in that, we have not decided it in advance but it happens by itself and because we have such a bad experiences we had started to almost not visit them but this time was worth it.
Bagan is a special, magical place of peaceful and powerful beauty .
mosaico bagan
We had realized that almost always, in each country or area we had visited, it happens that there is a phrase that curiously is repeated at almost all times, in every village, every day, in most of the meetings.
Often is the greeting that people shout us while we are cycling or it could be the first that people ask when a conversation begins.
As an example to share with you, appears in my memory, the cry of:
-You, you, you, you, you!!!
of the Ethiopian villages, shouted as a chorus by a bunch of kids that while screaming were running close to us, as an flutter bees around a beehive, until we left the village.
An another one:
In Kyrgyzstan was repeated to our astonishment, always in the first minutes of the meeting, a question.If not the first, the second, but always same:
-Skol´ka dollar? (how many dollars?
While they were pointing to our bicycles. They usually asked it before even to ask where we were from?, or where we were going to?, from where? or the eternal…. Are you married?.

Myanmar does not has been different in this.
Here there was a question that is has been repeating daily while riding, when a conversation starts:

-“Are you happy?” –They normally asked in a calm and friendly tone.
Was interesting to see, that it was not just a empty polite greeting because the interlocutor, was always waiting for the response.
Beautiful question as beautiful are their smiles and their respectful curiosity, sympathetic as their habit of singing very, very loudly when traveling by motorcycle which usually is the way the people travel. We were hearing them at night from our tent (even if we have been camping all the time with big distanced from the road to do not be seen), we could hear them clearly.
The heat has been hard, we already knew that entering in February, the cold season was already over and it would not be easy, but we adapted creating rhythms and routines that make it more bearable.

The baths in rivers, canals, shops on the edge of the road or even restaurants (where sometimes the bath place is in view of everyone, on one side, just a few meters far from the tables), have been daily relief from the heat, one, two, or even three times a day.

mosaico baño
IMG_4603
We bathed as the way they baht in the country of course: we covered our body with a pareo, kind of cotton sheet rolled on our body , with which every woman in the country use to bath. And the men use it as skirt and with a shirt we could say that it is the national dress.
When we needed to refresh we got surprised with the petrol stations. To have a bath there was not a problem, but what amazed us was that as soon as we appeared with our bicycles, there was someone who went directly to the fridge to get a couple of bottles of fresh water and as soon as we stopped, they offered it to us, without having to ask for it. Always, everywhere, every day; a custom that has given us refreshing breaks and cute meetings.
And from the dry heat and the arid lands of the North, to the abundance of the southern green.
Moisture and rice fields, trees and therefore more shadows to escape from the heat at midday.
SAMSUNG CSC
Pedaling all, every meter of the way, without skipping anything  because it is hard or difficult, we live the country as it is, the good and the bad, the up and downs, the pleasant and unpleasant, the tough or easy; without taking out or adding anything, as it is.
At soft rhythm and low speed you have time to see more, to discover the details, to observe the customs, and with so much time to think, when comparing you realize that things like in cold places women wash clothes, in the early morning, so it will dry throughout the day. Here however, at this early time what they do is go to the market.
mosaico gentes2
We discovered that markets open at about 5 o’clock in the morning and that the best time to go is at 6:00 a.m. Yes, six in the morning!, at first light..!
If it happen that you appear at 10 am, you will find that already nothing is there, the greater part of the stalls have closed and have gone.
Here they wash at noon, at the time of the heat, with the sheet rolled in the body and thus, mixing showers and washing times: a little of this, a little of that, I wash a sweater, I soak into the water again… and so fresh, taking advantage of the hottest hours of the day to make the laundry and to be fresh.
Again are the women who wash, men at this time have a nap, like us.
Myanmar entrada 4
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In Myanmar to eat is cheap with lot of variety, it’ s base, as in all asia, is a plate of white rice accompanied of 4 or 5 bowls in which normally there are different vegetables, the variety is incredible and as vegetarian we have enjoyed a lot. Tea is always at hand to relieve the chilly of the food.
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With all this of the prohibition of sleeping free we have had some encounters with the police in which we have pushed not allowing them to take us to one hotel in their car, telling them that we want to ride all our way by bicycle. That it was our dream and that there was not way to put ourselves in a car. And that curiously left them without power to force us to take the car, as well as to tell them that ‘I am tired’, that ‘i can not anymore and I need to stop now’, ‘I cannot arrive to the next hote’l (and then put face of slain lamb), an exception is made in the law.

We have laughed a lot, sincerely with the theme that we decided to take it as a play, no more.

Finally every day we camped out and much to our regret, have been only three times able to sleep in monasteries, with monks.
mosaico monjes
In one of them, just before sleeping, we were with a couple of old monks who had been there since the age of 8, taking the last cup of tea. They spoke a very basic English. The oldest one was the head monk, the master of the monastery.

– And in all this time here, as monks – asked Aitor – what is the most important thing you have learned as human beings, about

After a peaceful silence that both seemed to be looking somewhere inside, calm, no hurry to respond, the youngest said:

– As Buddha asked, not to do bad things, good practice, and purify the mind.

The oldest one, with a quiet voice and the smiling gesture like a child said then:

-Live being happy in mind and body- and laughed as only a child would do.

That night we fall asleep with a smile in our face.

mosaico budas

The last day in Myanmar broke with all the routines and plans, with everything we do and what we don’t do, we challenge ourselves doing something different, I tell you:

The night was falling, we had cycled not more than 50 kms throughout the day, because we had met in a small restaurant on road to another pair of cyclists, we started chatting and because we have a lot of histories and they had a lot of questions… We spent few hours there, chatting.

We had ridden not many kilometers that day and the road had been very plain. We are fit and still we had energy to keep cycling longer. But… it was already time to look for a place to camp and were doing so, looking here and there while we pedaled in the dark, the cool of the night and the total absence of people , of motorcycles, trucks, etc… was even more tasty the ride and we had not  desire of stopping, we kept on quiet, to a soft rhythm , looking for a place to camp but without wanting to find it.

We stopped then and when we realized what we were feeling, the great idea came to our mind:
There were 110kms to get the border with Thailand, in that journey we had to cross a mountainous with a pass, if we kept on pedaling we could easily arrive for 6:00 in the morning, we would have time to make stops, we would cycle with the cool and also would have the best additive of all: the Moon was full, huge in the cloudless sky!.

Neither of us doubt, it was the best idea of recent times!! The little tiredness we were feeling suddenly disappeared and became enthusiasm and cheerful energy:

-Here we goooooooooooooooooo!!! do not close the border that we are arrrrrriviiiiiiing!!!!

-Yuuuujujuuuuiiiii, to the infinite and…  beyond it!!!.

We were screaming in the dark night while we started laughing by the idea, because we were  breaking with the normality, by the challenge, becouse….everything and nothing at the same time.

Here I share with you the data that I copied from the kilometer counter, thinking about one day sending it to my father, knowing that he would enjoy it because he is a cyclist and also he likes the challenges.

At about 8 o’clock in the morning on the other side of the border, already in Thailand, at a hotel in the first town we found, and Aitor already sleeping I wrote:

Data of the last day in Myanmar:

Time on the bycicle: 11 hours : 48 minuts : 38 seconds.

Kms: 166,48kms

(with mountains and headwind)

Last night: saved!!

     
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