Saturday 19th November 2016
Aunglan – Pyay, Myanmar
Until this point I’ve written mainly about my experiences and realisations, not so much about the daily intricacies of my adventure, so here’s a one day snippet of what I get up to and the thoughts that go on in my head.
This morning I woke up at 5:30am. I had the pleasure of sharing my cell-like room with an unusually vocal house lizard and after watching him scurry across the ceiling multiple times last night I fell asleep wrapped uncomfortably tight in my sleeping bag liner and with extra protection from an additional blanket to prevent any unwanted intrusions. It certainly wasn’t the best nights sleep, so after catching up on the various friday night activities back at home and noting the whereabouts of previously mentioned lizard, I spent the next couple of hours dozing until I really couldn’t justify laying there much longer. I made a call home, which set me back a bit time wise but was definitely worth it, I love speaking to my loved ones back home and with the huge time difference a good catch up is a rare luxury. After yesterday’s cold shower in the grotty shared shower room I couldn’t really face it again, I decided I would treat myself to a nice hotel tonight with a lovely hot (hopefully) shower, oooh or maybe a bath. Don’t get your hopes up Fenja, but hey, it’s a possibility. My eyes are pretty red and puffy, a result of yesterday’s hot and dusty ride, I remind myself to put my flannel in my bar bag so that I can wipe the dust from my face with that rather than my already dusty hands. After freshening up and packing my panniers for the 142nd time, I was ready for my days ride. Today’s ride is a short one, just 72km (45 miles), and relatively flat so I didn’t need to do a huge amount of mental preparation.
As I was packing my bike a monk approached me bearing gifts, I thought it was supposed to be the other way round, me giving him gifts, but I graciously accepted his gift of 200 kyats and a bun of some sort. The bun made me realise I hadn’t eaten this morning and I became acutely aware that I was starting the ride on an empty tank. That said, I set off out of the busy and dusty town in high spirits. The sun, despite it being 10:30am, didn’t feel anywhere near as hot as it had the coupe of mornings previous. My body and mind both felt strong. The only slight irritation was the road surface, the roads in Myanmar are generally pretty good, but having witnessed the laborious process of their construction (basically a lady lays some stones on the road, another lady follows her kicking the stones into place, a man then follows with a heavy roller machine and then some poor sod essentially dips a watering can into a bucket of molten tar and sprinkles it over the prepared stony surface!) it’s not surprising they aren’t 100% perfect. Some sections of road are extremely bumpy, which can be rather tiring on the arms and also quite exhausting as the additional friction from the uneven surface means a percentage of the energy I’m expending is being wasted. Regardless, my morning starts happily, with thoughts of the days spent six months back in the lead up to my departure and also excited thoughts about the new life I will build when I get home next year.
The first 10km pass by quickly and easily. I am passed by a truck which stops a few metres ahead of me. The couple in the truck usher me over to them and in wonderful international sign language invite me to take a ride to my destination in their truck. A hundred thoughts try to rush through my head at once, while I try to work out which signs I should use in response. I indicate that I’m happy to ride, with a lot of smiling and prayer-type thanks I believe I’ve communicated effectively and our short interaction ends with lots of smiling and nodding. For a few minutes after this event I battle with myself. Maybe it was rude to decline their offer? Maybe I could have got more in touch with the locals? I’d have more time to explore Pyay! Or even out my tan! But it would feel like cheating to take a lift! Wouldn’t it? Remember what happened last time? And I was enjoying today’s ride anyway! After a few minutes I settle the argument with myself that I made the right decision and I carry on riding through the beautiful flat, green countryside. I can’t quite see the mountains, I know they are to the west, but the mornings mist is still lingering in the distance.
After 15km, I start a short descent and as I turn a corner, two young girls on a moped call “Hi” in unison, I call “Hi” back, and I hear them giggle, which makes me giggle in response. Such a beautiful momentary exchange. I carry on down the hill with a huge smile on my face, caused partly by the girls and partly by the feeling of the wind on my skin. At the bottom I reach a long bridge, with the smoothest road surface I’ve ridden for weeks, I savour the feeling and ride at as slow a pace as the preceding descent would allow – I mean I wasn’t going to brake, obviously. Maybe this lovely surface will continue for a while, don’t kid yourself Fenja, it will end at the other side of the bridge, ok logical Fenja you win. It stopped.
Over the next 20 km I cruise comfortably on the flat, I consider putting my earphones in, a moment of boredom seems to have crept in, but then I pass through a little village where the villagers are at the road side, shaking small pots for donations towards their village monastery. I feel it’s only right to give the money from the monk this morning back to an equally needy monastery, so I take a little swerve to the road side to make my donation. My mind is then filled with ponderings about the lives of the people in these villages. Do they ever get dressed up to go to a restaurant? What’s the furthest distance they’ve travelled? Where is the nearest hospital? Is there a village leader? How are they elected? Soon I cross another bridge, which has a river running beneath it, this makes me think back to my earlier rides in the northern part of the country. So many rivers were completely dry, and the wet season has only just finished, what do they do for the rest of the year? How do they survive with dry rivers? The questions are endless……
I’m distracted by a man riding right next to me, initially he waves and carries on, but he stops a couple of hundred metres ahead, I pass him with a cursory “Hi” but shortly after he’s next to me again. Initially this makes me feel uncomfortable….what does he want? is he going to try to steal something?….. Fenja this is Myanmar, the people are the kindest you’ve met so far, just be friendly…….but Fenja your version of friendly seems so often to get misinterpreted. Ok, so I decide to go for the reserved friendly vibe and try to explain that I’m going to Pyay today and that I’m from the UK. He nods, I have no idea whether he understands, we ride quietly next to each other for a few minutes, eventually he blows me a kiss and rides off. I’m happy with the friendly exchange, it went better than I had hoped. A few minutes later I pass him again, although this time he’s far more focused on urinating on the road side than on me, which I have to admit is still a bit of a relief, the blowing of the kiss kind of freaked me out a bit. Mentally I run through various unnerving situations that have occurred on my trip, but I’m quickly distracted by three women who sing “Mingalabar” (Welcome) as I ride past their shop/hut/home. I call a loud and happy “thank you” as I pass. Ah god, I love this country. My pendulum of an adventure continues.
After 40km, the absence of food in my stomach is making itself apparent and I start to feel the need for a cold sugary drink and some sustenance, but I convince myself to keep riding, partly thinking I’ll make it to the end of the ride without needing to stop. This is probably when I battle most with myself, the physical need to stop and fuel up, but the mental desire to keep going, to battle on, to make this as challenging as possible. I don’t know why I do it to myself. I pass a little village with multiple options for a pit stop, but I ride on past. Just after the village, I notice the heat, the sun is right above me, and with no clouds in the sky and no tree cover the conditions are pretty tough, coupled with an incline, I quickly regret not stopping. I carry on for a few kilometres, enjoying the views of the beautiful river, and then I make a sudden stop, almost without thinking, at a little hut. I think the Coca Cola sign had done a job on my subconscious and it had made the decision for me. Ironically they only sold Pepsi, but hey, it’s good enough. I enjoyed my Pepsi and my pineapple moon cake in comfortable silence with the two vendors.
I set off after a few minutes break, with just 28km to go, that’s about 1.5 hours ride, although I have a sense there’s a bit of a climb coming so it might be slightly more, but that’s OK, it hasn’t been a tough ride, a hill would almost make me feel like I’d done some hard work, today had been too kind to me so far. I allow myself to imagine what the next city will look like. I only realise the wonderful effect of the sugar hit, as it starts to fade, somehow I’d covered 15km in about 30 minutes, it’s amazing what sugar can do, scary, but amazing. My thoughts had been filled with conversations that I’d had with dad over the last couple of days and the possibility of him coming out for Christmas. Logistics, excitement, route planning etc.
As I approach the last 10km, I’m pretty low on energy, the roads get busier and dustier, I stop to replenish my water bottle, I get a whiff of my gloves which reminds me I should really do some laundry, I push on in the blazing afternoon heat. At this point I just want to get there now, regardless of the distance of the day’s ride, the last 10 km are usually the most frustrating and seem to take the longest. The heat is unrelenting, the stares are becoming more regular, thankfully the hill I had anticipated never materialised and finally I find my hotel. Another successful days ride complete. I’m instantly overwhelmed with a feeling of contentedness, I love riding my bike.
The hotel is nice, quickly and efficiently the staff show me to my room, which is cool and smells of lemon. This is the part of each day which for me takes the most effort, my body just wants to collapse on the bed for a few minutes, but I’m covered in gritty dust and sweat, so I really should just get in the shower. I get distracted with calling dad, sorting out my laundry, playing some music, eventually about an hour after arrival I finally have the shower I had so longed for this morning. The water is hot, it’s a wonderful feeling despite the slight sting from the sunburn. My cyclists tan is coming along nicely, I’m a multitude of colours ranging from white, to brown and then to red. Once I’ve found an appropriate outfit, I head out in search of food, I realise I’ve missed the sunset on the river by a matter of minutes but the colours are still beautiful and the river looks so tranquil. I find a night market starting and sit down to sample some Myanmar street food, it’s delicious, but not quite enough so I head to a restaurant for something a little more substantial and a well needed beer. I get quickly attacked by bastard mosquitoes, I am next to the river just after sunset, I should get used to this…….I don’t. And then I witness the flight of a colony of the biggest bats I’ve ever seen, bats are one of my favourite animals, so for me this is an absolutely wonderful sight. After I’ve eaten, I slowly make my way back to my hotel, where I settle into the evening with my iPad and this blog post……..oh and I think the unusually vocal house lizard may have made the journey with me because he’s here! Hopefully I’ll get a better nights sleep tonight as tomorrow isn’t such an easy day!
I’m tired, so I’ll leave you all at this point but I hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into my wonderful crazy world bike adventure. Thank you for reading. All the love. Goodnight.
Saturday 19th November 2016