The day before we left Burma, we woke up in the pitch dark and headed out in the early morning to catch one final sunrise.
This wasn't the easiest thing to do due to the lack of street lights. We had also disconnected our own lights to divert dynamo power to our USB charger, so we were riding by starlight and the dim headlamp of the odd passing motorbike. Romantic, but hairy.
With dead silence all around, we explored as best we could, trying to find a good place to take it in. One flat-roofed building in a great location looked promising, but once again we were thwarted by a giant wasps' nest at the end of a corridor. With the sky beginning to lighten, it was time to find a vantage point, and we turned up a dirt track following a troop of tourists on electric scooters, figuring they knew something. Lucky for us, they all scrambled up one temple and we picked another nearby that had just as good a view, but only one other person on it. Result.
Then we sat and waited and watched.
As we watched the landscape sharpen and come into focus with the increasing light, we reminisced on what it had taken for us to get here.
From dawn until dusk for the past three weeks, our senses have been wracked with the sights and smells of Burma, to the point where we have it coming out of our pores. Our interactions with the towns, the people, and the roads have been simultaneously fleeting and somehow everlasting. As a result of that, we have lived every moment as if we would never do so again, and the days have felt incredibly long and full.
Submerging ourselves into this country and culture the way that we had was possible only because of cycling. Riding a bike enabled us to breathe the same dust, survive the same road, appreciate the same tea, and see the same things as ordinary people in Burma every day. Our story is certainly not the standard one of skipping about between Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay. Don't get us wrong, if that's your cup of tea, that's OK. But in our opinion, Burma is too special to limit yourself to just those three spots. Live a little, step outside your comfort zone, and you just might find yourself in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere being the only Westerners within a 90 mile radius, and laughing along with the locals as you all try to communicate with hand gestures and smiles.
So, why should you visit?
Because the political temperature is changing by the day. In the 2015 Burmese general elections, the National League for Democracy won the supermajority of seats in the government, issuing in an unprecedented call for reform in favour of human rights, freedom of speech, and peace and prosperity for all citizens. This means that the country will continue to open up and experience the influx of Westernisation that always seems to come along with such transformation. As a result, the Burma that we know now, with its rich, cultural, and painful history will slowly cease to exist.
A country is nothing without its people, and a universal quality that we found in the ones belonging to Burma is kindness. Despite the corrupt, crippling regime that has stolen from them for so many years, they still know nothing other than to open up their arms to us strangers. Some cynics might say that incessant brainwashing and indoctrination is the cause of that. But we prefer to think they're just gentle and good. Nobody is forcing all these people to put themselves out as they do for the likes of us.
Those who travel here have a responsibility to preserve and give back as much as possible. Try and leave it a bit better than when you first came. Change was long overdue here, and the pent-up desire for it will surely see mistakes being made as they scramble to catch up. The wind of change will blow as it sees fit, and the citizens will have to bend to it. Before too long, the corporate vultures will strip away the uniqueness of this place, and it will become like any other major Southeast Asian hotspot. But until it does, treat this fragile culture with respect.
We're already seeing Burma being pushed to the forefront of the media today. The world is interested and it is watching, which means that the country is responding. Things like Top Gear having permission to do one of their specials there, or a recent decree passed right after we had left which prevents tourists from free-climbing up the temples of Bagan ever again due to litter and defacement. Like or not, we are the conduits for this shift. They never asked us to show up. So let's take care of it.
Because if we do, it will be good to us. We need more compassion and humanity in this world.
When we first thought about doing this trip, we were nothing but two idiots with a dream. Now, one tandem, three weeks, 1,200 kilometers, and eleventy billion pagodas later, we're two idiots with sore backsides who swapped the dream for an everlasting memory.
It was exhilarating, exhausting, and exactly what we hoped it would be.
From the fellow kindred tourers who we met on the road, to the literally hundreds of Burmese people who laughed and waved at us every day, to our friends and family back home who were rooting for us - the positive response has been overwhelming and we are truly touched by its sheer volume.
If you have the choice, go explore the world on a bike. It will make your heart burst with happiness.
We hope the next cyclist we see along the way is you.