Waiting for the return boat, Emily and I sat at a table under big flame trees by the landing and drank fresh mango juice. Emily, although of a different generation from the older American couple I had met in Mandalay, without any prompting said exactly the same about the folks at home—that most were uninterested or ignorant about the rest of the world or travelling, especially to Asia.
Back in my taxi, the driver took me to an Ocean Supermarket to restock on cheese before releasing me to rest. At six I resurfaced to walk to Marie Min for another tomato salad and lassi. It was still very hot. Marie Min confirmed that SIM cards for phones had been super expensive just a year ago. I had found it hard to believe that they could have been one thousand US dollars, but she said it was true. I suppose it had been the government’s way of restricting access.
I would have loved to take the scenic railway to Pyin U Lwin, formerly Maymyo, where I intended to move to next, but it left at the ridiculous hour of three in the morning, so I opted for a share taxi instead. It collected me the next morning and I was put in the front seat. We weren’t far into the journey before I was fumbling frantically for the seat belt. Surprisingly it was functional; mostly they aren’t. In the back seat were two Burmese ladies and a child. All we could do was smile at each other after I had exhausted my Burmese conversational skills with ‘Mingala ba’.
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After travelling through the town, heavy with pollution, bikes, motorbikes and cars, we were soon on small roads over-hung with trees so it felt as though we were going through green tunnels. Now and then, lines of dirt-coloured shacks or a row of bamboo, woven rattan and thatch stalls edged the road. We stopped for petrol and were each given a bottle of free water, a general practice at service stations in Burma. But what about all the waste bottles that were thrown into rivers and onto the land? Beside the petrol pumps stood a utility with a double-decker load of bamboo crates holding a cargo of pigs. I was pleased to see the driver giving them a long hosing down. Pigs don’t handle being overheated well.
Then the road began to climb into the mountains. It was a relief to see that the old, narrow winding road I remembered from before had been supplemented by another road travelling in the opposite direction, making it two-way. There were not many villages on our path and only one town, which was good as our driver did not slow down in the least for any of them.
We reached Pyin U Lwin in one and a half hours. I had bloged a room at the Royal Park Hotel, out of the town a little in the gardens area. Here I received the usual enthusiastic welcome. My room was not ready so I sat on their comfortable veranda to wait. Surrounded by flower gardens with orchids hanging from large trees, birds chirruping and frogs croaking, it was blissfully cool and green.