Saturday, January 23, 2016

Myanmar - The impossible achieved

In the previous post you could have read about the mutiny which had taken place. During the day our tour guides had been working away in their van, laptops on all the time and all of them continuously on the phone... while we went on a ride after all. I wasn't happy with the arrangement and had preferred to stay put until this was resolved. True to their word though, the day ended before darkness this time and we had a good ride as well. One of the suggestions we had made, letting the bike riders go on their own, worked really well. Despite keeping strictly to the speed limits and needing more fuel stops, the bikes were considerably faster than the cars. Being on our own meant the tour guides only needed to keep an eye on 3 cars (which proved difficult enough...)

The guides had done the impossible and came up with a totally revised tour! To say we were impressed was an understatement. They had done miracles and as we found out later made it an even more interesting tour as well. For us, the bikes in the group, the riding changed dramatically as well. We no longer had to follow the van with the guides but could do our own thing. As we were considerably faster than the cars we now had the time to take photos, could stop where we wanted for lunch, organised our own fuel stops and had a great time. At the end of the day we arrived first at the meeting point and enjoyed every minute of our visit as Myanmar is a great country! The friendliness, the smiles we received everywhere was just overwhelming. Sure there was a big language barrier but sign language solved most of that as people really want to communicate.

Myanmar really is a jewel to be discovered. A jewel, we hope, which in terms of customs, habits and people won't change all that much in the coming years. Myanmar is going through some big political changes at the moment. It used to be under dictatorship, is currently under a military regime but while we were there had its first democratic elections. In theory this is all good of course. The part we are worried about is the opening of their borders with India... if India's chaos crosses the border then this country will be ruined. If not then this is definitely a place we would love to come back to.

The ride had changed just in time too as we were heading for some beautiful mountain scenery on our way towards Inle Lake. Not only was the riding now much better, the guides had also found a good mix of riding and non-riding days. After all seeing a country and getting a good impression requires off-bike days as well.

Yes, they are carrying bricks...
In Kalaw, for instance, we enjoyed the local markets. Markets are traditionally the places where people buy all their vegetables, spices, clothes, nuts, etc. They are also a social event where people from all over the district meet. In the West, markets have lost most of their original appeal but here they are still very much alive. They are also colourful events, just like in Mexico and Central America for instance. We loved it and there isn't much you can't buy at the markets.

Along the way we visited several beauties like a cave with no less than 8,000 Buddhas in it. Eight thousand Buddhas all in a single limestone cave means a maze filled with Buddhas everywhere you look! Right at the end was a crawl-through entry to a second and very small meditation cave.

We're not Buddhists but could still experience the strong spiritual feel of it, which considering it has also become a tourist attraction was unexpected. Every type of religion seems to have its peculiarities when it comes to financial matters. The Catholic church expect you to donate your money and collects it in a bag, here collections are done in big glass boxes... so that everyone can see it... but there is also a rather, we think, unique donation option! At the entrance of the caves you can buy small bits of gold leaf... gold leaf which you can then rub onto one of the many Buddha statues...! Judging by all the bits of gold leaf clinging to the many Buddhas, this is done by quite a few people.

Back at the parking lot we found Vince's BMW had a flat rear tyre... The single sided swing arm of a 1200 GS makes wheel removal easy, so in about 20 minutes we had the rear wheel out, tyre removed, fitted the spare and put the wheel back in. To the know-alls who'll claim it can be done faster than 20 minutes... the tyre took some persuasion to break the bead and I was doing my best not to scratch the rim of the virtually brand new bike. The only hick-up we had was a group of German tourists who thought it was funny to start touching Vince's BMW while the rear wheel was out and it was only supported by a pannier... Vince tried verbally to get them to move on, which was unsuccessful, Karen tried the same approach but louder, upon which the overweight irritant idiots started arguing with Karen, asking if she was from the Police or something... I was in the middle of a tyre change, had no need to extend that to a BMW falling off the stand and thus dropped the wheel, barged in with the tyre levers still in my hand and threw the two biggest trouble makers off their feet... It settled the argument, they disappeared quickly and I continued the tyre fitting in peace :-) Always go for the biggest ones, make your intentions clear and don't hold back!

During lunch I replaced the chain on Mike's XT as a steel place was right next to where we were having lunch... I cut the rivet link with an angle grinder and fitted the cheap 520 chain I bought in India. No one in the group had to wait for us and all was well again. Meanwhile the restaurant next door managed to still cook us a quick egg-fried-rice!

Riveted chains are stronger according to the manufacturers... all that being so, when there isn't a bike shop which has the tools to replace them, you look for something like this!