Sunday, March 19, 2017

Myanmar Motorcycle Epic 18: Back to Where It All Started

Leaving Loikaw.
If you're a regular reader, you'll remember how concerned I was before my recent motorcycle tour that I wouldn't be allowed to go where I wanted, that I would be stopped at a military checkpoint and turned back. I'll admit I may have played up those concerns a bit to increase the suspense for my tens of readers because as it turned out, I didn't ever even try to go somewhere I wasn't permitted. 

My original plan
As I was leaving the hotel in Loikaw, my intention was to head south through Kayin State to Hpasawng. When I communicated this goal to my hotelier, she told me I couldn't do that. That road was closed to foreigners at Demoso, some 50 kilometers south of Loikaw. Huh. Well. I suppose that's something I should have researched before I'd left Yangon, three weeks previously at that point. I didn't want to drive a couple hours only to be stopped and turned back, so I needed a new plan. 

The route I ended up taking
I turned around and headed back north, through Pekon, where I'd been before, and just before Pinlaung there was a mountain pass I was eager to explore. My friend Chris Blood had told me about it, this road connecting eastern Myanmar to Naypyitaw. Yes, I was heading back to Naypyitaw where this whole epic had begun 2000 kilometers ago. 

This road was new (maybe 2 years old), and so I expected it to be in great condition. Yeah, not so much. That said, as drove along there were a couple of surprising aspects to it. 

Mooooove out of the road!
First of all, it was deserted. With the exception of a couple of small towns, there weren't any settlements along this major thoroughfare. It hasn't had hundreds of years of being a road to develop communities along side it. There were fewer people around and less traffic than I'd experienced since Chin State, and I was only 50 miles from the capital of the country! 

This lake and bridge don't exist on Google maps
Secondly, Google maps nothing of this road. It exists on the map, but the biggest feature on it isn't there at all. About halfway through this mountain pass, there's a valley with a hydroelectric dam and a huge lake. This lake doesn't exist on the satellite imagery. I guess it's relatively new. 

At 250+ kilometers, this was one of the longest legs of the journey. I was a little forlorn as I drove because I knew this was the last time I'd be crossing a major mountain pass on this trip. From Naypyitaw, it would be all valley heading south.  

 A big change in the videos. You may have noticed a musical theme in the first 18 episodes. All of them have featured music from my favorite video game, Civilization V. Alas, I have run out of compelling tracks from the soundtrack to that game, and so this one has Coheed and Cambria, one of my favorite bands, for the background music.


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