We have a new perspective on ‘Nellie the Elephant’ but more on that later.
We made an early start after a cold night, the van driving us half an hour or so out of town for a 54 km ride – three legs each got more and more undulating – make that hilly, as the day got hotter, as we rode through rolling countryside and villages. Mr Win and Jaw’s packing 6 bikes plus us and our luggage into an ordinary Hi-Ace van was quite a feat!
We stopped on the way at a school, donated some toys and observed a gorgeous line of children singing the national anthem and then trooping into their classroom to recite by rote prayers and chants. The very basic classroom has a whiteboard which surprised me.
We were glad to reach our lunch point – a highlight of this trip has been eating lunch at small local eating establishments – fried rice, and noodles are always available as well as variations on chicken, pork and fish curries.
The van was again loaded with bags and bikes and we set out on the road to Mandalay. Greg observed that the description of this route in the briefing, was a long descent and wondered why we weren’t cycling as it sounded as if it would be a blast! We soon found out why. The journey to Mandalay included a long descent all right, but it was possible to navigate the road only at a snail’s pace because of the hairpin bends, the dusty and stony surfaces resembling a quarry, sheer drops and two delays while graders cleared slips. From the top, it was possible to see the road zigzagging around the hills way down to the green fertile valley floor, and the rest of the 4 hour drive was through lowland villages and towns on the outskirts of Mandalay, to the city with its roads teeming with motorcycles (mostly Chinese – we have been told that they are a third the cost of the Japanese models) to our hotel, the Eastern Palace, and a glorious shower and we looked forward to availing ourselves of the swimming pool. We went out in vain in search of chocolate and I imagined the headlines “NZ couple in search of chocolate, mown down by Mandalay traffic!”
We have noted no visible military presence nor fast food outlets but I’m sure I is a matter of time before they move in. Also because tourism is not huge here yet, people we pass yell out Mingalaba, Tata, or Hello and seem intrigued and friendly. Most signs do not have English subtitles, so it is hard to work out what many of the buildings are – have seen few medical facilities or hospitals, but it may be that we haven’t identified them as such.