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Published: February 27th 2009
Don't worry, we didn't get arrested in Pyinmana, but I felt intimidated by the police presence. I say "I" because John G didn't really notice anything out of the ordinary that was going on. I did. First we were made to give our passports over by rather stern looking older men standing around in a very unrelaxed way, in direct contrast to the friendly experiences of Myanmar so far. They looked intently at our passports and visas as we sat nervously on some seats. Then our passports were photocopied multiple times whilst some short arsed sinister bloke arrived and asked us where we had come from, where we were going to, where we were from, what we did as occupations. No one was in uniform so we just didn't know who these people were, and they didn't identify ourselves. Then everything was written down in a log book by an older copper in uniform. During all this time, we struggled to communicate about getting to Kalaw in which were vaguely promised that a bus would get us there.
Amongst all this John was simply unfazed, maybe his experience of leading tours in the Middle East had stood him in good
stead when dealing with authorities; I wasn't and I felt it all a bit too abrupt and sinister. We ended walking over to a food place for the bus at 6pm, and I started thinking about how we'd passed the nearby new capital of Myanmar that was built at enormous expense and in great secrecy. As we sat looking through the menu, I was certain and speculated that one of them was from the police or intelligence services. Maybe this was the reason behind all the frowns and multiple photocopies? Suddenly, Mr. Smiley Man turned up from behind and sat himself next to us - we obviously couldn't be left on our own! Then John G confidently asked if he was police whereby he presented his Police card, which said "Special Branch" on it - an old hangover from British colonial times - domestic intelligence services, essentially a police intelligence agent. I was vindicated! The only thing I care to remember about this dull man was his sinister smile and the fact at 38 he was still a "bachelor" - in which I sarcastically asked why that was. To top it all off, when I got up to leave I
looked out the entrance door and there was Mr My Little Pony mole hair guy sat on a motorbike brazenly taking a photo of me!
As we stood in the bus yard with our bags being watched by two or three of these Government stooges dressed in Western clothes (no doubt Chinese made fakes) I wanted out of this place.
So we got put on this bus to Kalaw - which is a town in the hills just inside the Shan State - the Shan being a separate ethnic group within Myanmar. It's one of the reasons why the country is no long er known as Burma - because it excluded non Burmans. As were were climbing higher into the hills it got pretty chilly. In fact according to the Lonely Planet the British colonial authorities built hill stations here (including Kalaw) so they could escape the oppressive heat of the lowlands.
The hill roads leading to Kalaw unfortunately were the worst I've experienced in this country. Literally the majority of it was not in fact paved road but a series of mud tracks with 'natural features' such as pot-holes. What added to the jumping and jolting
side to side was the bus developed a clutch problem. What should have taken 7 hours by bus actually took 10 because the shitty bus couldn't get into gear as we climbed a hill. So, we all juddered back and forth trying to get into gear reaching around 15 mph. It was a complete drag and very sleep was had as a consequence.
When we got to Kalaw at 4 a.m. it was freezing cold and I actually used my Berghaus jacket for the first time since I left England. We ambled around looking for a hotel to stay at and arrived at the Golden Lilly Guest House. It was answered by a tall Indian guy at 4 in the morning who offered us two rooms for five dollars each. We needed some shut eye...
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