The taxi drivers that surrounded us were pointing at Jess and repeating the above phrase again and again.
How did they know that? We had never met any of them in our lives. Was it possible that our reputation was preceding us with locals as well as fellow cyclists? Coupled with our earlier conversation at breakfast, the attention was beginning to make us feel a bit uneasy. Confused, we ignored the hoopla and focused our energies on getting our gear loaded again.
Away we went up yet another Strand Road, shaking off a final, admirably persistent motorbike taxi who was still insisting on giving us a lift, despite the fact that we were now riding through town under our own steam.
We figured the riverside would be a good place to find a bite to eat, and we duly found a very nice cafe called the Monaliza on Strand Road just after the Ayarwaddy Bridge. There, we enjoyed the usual fried rice and noodles, but it's the milkshake that brings all the boys to this particular yard, and we had two each.
Magwe isn't particularly well set up for foreigners, but there are a few accommodation options, and we visited all of them in the search for something half decent.
- Rolex Guest House near the bridge is an absolute joke. 10,000 kyat per person gets you a damp prison cell with a "bed" and a lovely potpourri of mildew. That's it. You can do better - do not stay here.
- Htein Htein Tar on 17th Street is a viable option if you're willing to pay $50 a night. Don't get us wrong - the establishment looked well maintained and clean enough, so if you're feeling flush and need a good sleep go ahead, but holy cow - $50 could pay for two nights in Pyay and you'd probably get a massage thrown in as well.
- Sein San Guest House on 16th Street one block off the main road, is your best bet.
For $20/26,000 kyat per night, we got a room with twin beds and a cold-shower bathroom, with a deadbolt on the outside, which we joked would be used to lock us in during the night. But it did provide us with a fantastic, shaded workspace in front to tinker with our bike. We spent the rest of the afternoon fixing up any last gremlins so that we could be fairly confident of it getting us to Bagan without letting us down. This meant that we didn't take much time to enjoy the charms of Magwe, but what we did see from riding about led us to believe we didn't miss a whole lot.
Because we had three hours or so until sunset, we really dedicated time and effort to sorting out the things that we'd been patching up and putting up with. Things like our three punctured inner tubes, which had fallen victim to the tiniest sliver of metal buried in the front tyre, completely invisible to the eye, and found only by stroking the inside of the tyre with fingertips.
We also reconnected the third brake that had come loose way back in Hpa-An, cleaned the gears and chains, and spent ages on the front brake to little avail (this thing is going to haunt us in our sleep).
Food in Magwe was ace, much to our surprise. For dinner, we went to an unassuming-looking place just down the road from the guesthouse called Sein Yatu Restaurant, which turned out to be absolutely brilliant. They had fresh-grilled meat from the barbecue out front, as well as an a la carte menu that looked like it came from an 1860s Western movie. The chicken with green chillis was magnificent, and turned out to be a super fresh salad of sorts, with tomatoes and shallots. We enjoyed mug after mug of ice cold Myanmar Beer and played cards, much to the amusement of our fellow local diners.
Our first idea for the next day's ride was to do what many have done before us and head to Kyaukpadaung. But this was a 100km stretch, and more hilly than we've been enjoying lately. We weren't really feeling too enthusiastic about that prospect, so Neil decided to have a look around the Interwebs and see if there was anything closer. He found what appeared to be a beautiful guesthouse up in the hills in Yenangyeung, a town 50km closer. The website showed stunning rooms and grounds the like of which we hadn't seen anywhere else in the country, and although it was more expensive than anywhere else we'd stayed so far (a Superior Double was 50,000 kyat), it looked like it would be well worth it.
The clincher was when we read the mission statement of the Lei Thar Gone Guest House. All profits made went into the neighbouring school, which educated orphans who had lost their parents to HIV and other diseases. So if we were going to stay in a nice place, we might as well do so in one that was for a good cause, one that we knew wouldn't be lining the government's pockets willingly.
A quick phone call later, we had a room reserved and went to sleep looking forward to a bit of a treat tomorrow.
Or at least, we tried. Surprise surprise, the local monastery was blaring chants until 4 in the morning.