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Impassable Burma (I)

4 April, 2016

Impassable Burma (I)

“Mr. X has invited Mr. Walter Adrian Astrada Marzan, passport xxxxxx7, to visit Myanmar on his own motorcycle in February 2016 to explore the possibilities of exchange agriculture produce and, in particular, to improve the fishing business, from production to the export of produce.”

This is an extract from the invite letter sent to me by the tourism company that helped with the bureaucratic paperwork to cross into Burma. I have nothing to do with neither agriculture nor fishing, so when I received it I sent an email asking if it was a joke. The answer I got was that with such letter, I would have no inconvenience acquiring my visa.

While preparing to organize the plan to access South East Asia, Burma appeared an impassable country with one of the longest civil wars in history and an iron steel military dictatorship that has controlled the zones where tourists can visit.

Last November, Burma celebrated the first relatively free elections the country’s had in the last 25 years. Thus, I imagine that in the attempt to demonstrate a road to democracy, the cease-fire accord among armed groups and the creation of the Tri-lateral India-Burma-Thailand motorway (made thanks to the Indian government) opened the possibility of crossing the country in your own vehicle. Something unthinkable in a little more than a year ago when travellers had to send their vehicles from Nepal to Thailand by air to avoid long bureaucratic paperwork in India.

But, like all changes that are happening in the country, the possibility of crossing has its restrictions: some zones are still closed, not all armed groups have signed the ceasefire agreement and one still needs plenty of paperwork to get permits. This is where the tourist agency comes into play.

The cost per person for the journey is 1100 Euro in a group and it could easily rise to almost 4000 if you want to do it on your own. The road is predefined and it includes the costs of hotels, all permits needed to cross the different states, an escort truck with a guide, driver and a government representative that you must follow through the 2400km journey from Moreh – in North East India – to Mae Sot – in the North of Thailand – going through the key touristic spots like Monywa, Baan, Mount Popa, Mandalay, Pindaya, Inle Lake, Golden Rock or Mawlamyine. You cross the country from West to East and the journey can be done the other way around as well.

Up until now, save for a few days, I’ve been travelling on my own. But for Burma, because of the sizeable expense, I couldn’t allow myself to travel on my own anymore. So, as I prepare the crossing, my main concern was hoping that I would get a nice group of cool and relaxed travellers. If the group was going to break, there would be no chance to get off that boat in the middle of the river. My second concern was the hope that the group would be formed of big and powerful motorcycles so I could be last with my Enfield. If that was the case, I wouldn’t be able to make long stops since I wouldn’t be able to catch up with them so easily. Besides, I really enjoy travelling at tops speed of 80-90km/hr.

As it turns out, the group of 12 people and 7 vehicles was tutti-frutti in all aspects from nationalities to journey styles. Proving that if one wants to travel, it doesn’t matter what sort of transport form one takes. From the start, we had good fun and camaraderie, which made the whole journey fun and nice within its the bureaucratic limits.

My bike fell between the second and third vehicle categories in respect to speed and I discovered a great advantage in travelling with a group; the distances between vehicles extends greatly and it makes it difficult for the guide to control everyone equally. This allowed us, the “freedom”, in the most touristic places, to arrive at our pace at the predetermined hotels we were all meant to gather anyway.

Because of this, although for a few brief moments, I had the sensation I was travelling on my own allowing me to stop wherever I wanted to take some photos and eat in one of the many towns we were passing by. At the same time, if I had the choice, I would have wanted to stay longer in some places than the scarce minutes a lunch takes.

As I was crossing the country I was remember the final words of the invite letter for the visa which states that the rules we follow while travelling through the country are made for our own safety. What I was thinking the most, obviously, is the use of particular wording governments love to camouflage the control and liberty restrictions about what we can and cannot do.


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