|08-22-2012, 08:18 PM||#362|
Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Dooral Dooral, Eastern Oz
Gee, I recognise that ugly mug.... more than I do when I look in the mirror at the moment - the staff here dared me to shave my beard off, and I did. It's 27 1/2 years since I've been totally cleanshaven. Won't happen againg for a while either.
So, can I ask what's the magazine? I take it that's a photo from the eXtrim Sumatra eXpedition 2012 event? There were plenty of media folks there.
In the meantime... back to Mae Sot. This is the owner of Highland Farm, where the Gibbon Rescue Centre is. Pharanee Chotiros/Deters. As mentioned earlier, her husband, 3 staff and a child were murdered at the Rescue Centre ten years ago. I got the impression she's finding it tough as she ages. She gets support from a number of organisations and volunteers, although none were there when I visited. I'm feeding 63 Gibbons, 16 monkeys, 1 bear... and perhaps a couple of the staff for one miserable day with the small donation I was able to give.
Some of the Gibbons have been badly mistreated before getting here... several are missing limbs
I wasn't totally happy with what I saw there. Pharanee told me that the Gibbons are unable to be released back into the wild. I don't know if that's just a resourcing issue or not. The WWF has been able to achieve it with Orangutans.
Here's the kitchen...
I headed back into Mae Sot to find some accomodation, and got wet again....
The temps were mild, but I grabbed an aircon room to dry things out. Yeah, I do prefer starting the day with a dry sheepskin to sit on.
It was payday at the guesthouse and the young guy who does the reception, a Karen refugee, had his mates around.
um... this looks bad, but it wasn't.
I also got speaking to a Polish lass... Monika, who joined us for a beer, and she's been here doing some work on her Masters degree in photojournalism on the refugee camps. There's only one camp you can get anyone into without government permits (which they make hard to get)... and its back down that road I jogged to the south on to see the Gibbons. About 100 miles south. I decided to change my "plans" and head down to it.
Monika joined me on the KTM the next day and we had a run down to the Burma border.
This is the Thai take on the Hummer.... a bit narrower and smaller for local conditions
The soldiers were all doing some repair work to the border fence. I found it quite funny when one of the Burmese stall holders handed over a tool to the soldier to help him with the fence repairs
All quite friendly....
This is how the Burmese get over to the fence... they float over on tubes or wade through
Quite a few live here in no-man's land
Its nothing but a swamp. There's more living there in the dry season, I'm told.
There's lots of little stalls along and just over the border fence, selling all sorts of things, mainly porn, willy stiffeners (I always thought Viagra was a blue pill... but I saw orange "Viagra" and red "Viagra"... and of course, there were penis enlargers too
More gemstones on display... and I pleased some guy by spending a couple of dollars on some crappy ones
We picked up some treats at the 7/11 and headed out to the orp[hanage school that our guide had gone to
There's about 65 Karen orphans living there. The treats didn't last long and the boys needed some encouragement to share with the girls.
Our guide's father and grandfather both died fighting for the KNLA against the Burmese Army. I won't show him because I suspect that he'll end up in the KNLA at some stage too, although there's a ceasefire at present.
This is the boy's dorm... mats and very thin mattresses on a concrete floor.
... and the school office
Monika doing portraits
The school "laundry"
... and the Principal. It was the weekend btw, and he was a tad unwell. Interesting to talk to. A refugee himself, he has been stateless for many, many years. I think he said he'd been gaoled... he definitely said he lost 7 students shot dead by the Burmese Army.
You see a lot of leaf-clad buildings around here. Mostly Burmese I think...
We headed out to the illegal border crossing, but got busted.
We had the OK from the Karen Liberation Army on the other side, but the Thai Army chased us down and wouldn't let us on the boat. There were some raised voices and arm waving. We hung around for quite a while and the Army backed off... but the locals said that we'd get nailed if we went, given they'd vetoed it. It was all about liability for the Thai Army officer... he'd get it if anything happened to us. When Monika flashed her Press accreditation... that really sealed it. No crossing.
This is an army guy doing the rounds of a few locals to make sure they called him if we got on a boat.
Locals doing the laundry
This is Burma
More leaf thatching
Another load of illegals coming over.
I'm told that there's both drugs and munitions crossing the border, which is another reason the army is tetchy. I read of a 10 ton shipment of illegal rice being seized while I was in Mae Sot.
I only got to spend a day with Monika, which was a pity. She's an interesting character. She headed to Vietnam via Laos with her boyfriend that night.
... and the ever-present dog on the road heading back to town
|08-24-2012, 11:17 PM||#363|
Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Dooral Dooral, Eastern Oz
Monika had given me directions to the Friendship Library to see if King Zero would give me an introduction to U Lin, down at the Nu Pho "temporary settlement camp", near the Burma border, a bit south of Umphang. Uh, oh... backtracking. I don't like backtracking...
King Zero (U. Issariya) and U Lin, along with U Gambhira were the instigators of the 2007 Saffron Revolution in Burma. U Gambhira was gaoled/jailed for 68 years, the other two escaped to Thailand. King Zero and U Lin can't go back to Burma. I was subsequently shown photos of the meetings that organised the revolution... but they can't be published because they show the faces of people who are still in Burma that the secret police would love to "have a chat with". U Gambhira was recently released from gaol I believe, suffering brain damage from the torture he's endured. Here's King Zero when I visited him some time later (after I went to Nu Pho)
I tried to get a shot of him on the bike... but its a no no for monks. Not having a sidestand didn't help either.
I'm not sure where to start with Nu Pho. Its a refugee camp in all but name. Thailand refuses to call the Burmese refugees. Everyone I met in my 6 days in the camp was a refugee. More on that later. The ride down was borderline diabolical. Wet the whole way. Plenty of slushy stuff. This shot was from the ride out... not much different on the way in.
I got into the camp on my last legs... near hypothermia - in bloody Asia. There was lots of sideways stuff, even on the bitumen, which was the slipperiest bitumen I've ever ridden on - and I'll always know the road as the KY Highway. I passed one crash site on the way out from the camp that must have been a multiple fatality based on the bits laying around.... a bus or truck at a guess. They missed a bend, got airborne and then came to a sudden stop into a hillside. Ugly.
I wrote the following while I was in the camp:
"This (Nu Pho) place is a disgrace to the international community - at a nations level. Some great work being done by NGOs - keeping the people alive in hellish conditions. One man killed by a falling tree last night and a 3'+ diameter tree took out the next hut to us... broke the guy there's back and almost took out a toddler (she got hit and is dizzy... but dizzy doesn't get you hospitalised)."
Some photos in the refugee camp... starting with the old bloke riding around on his dirt bike.
Heading down to my parking area
Extracting the bike after a visit to Buddhist School No 3 in one of the Karen sections of the camp... where it was a real hit with the kids. I'd been there the day before for a talk to each class.... about 365 kids. I bought them some paper... something that's always in short supply. I wish I could have done more, but my wallet was empty by the time I left. I'd slid down a clay path to get into the school.... and this way was the vastly better option to get out...
A BigFella footprint. About 2' long.
That was in the school grounds. This place is a real mudpile in the rainy season. The principal there had asked me to "inspire the children" and I spoke to each year. How the hell do you inspire kids born in that muddy shithole in say 1997... and 15 years later they are still there with no papers, no frigging future?
16,000 stateless people living here. It doesn't matter if they are third generation born here... no Thai ID.... although I'm told that they can be bought.... in bulk even.
My bed for the week was on the concrete floor in this open-sided temple/library - and at times the rain spray reached the centre. A bamboo mat for a mattress. Uggh. I'm thinking this might be where I "got sick".
Not much sleep though... a couple of nights there were all night long preparations for the religious festivities, this night and the following, there were lots of folks in the temple - scared of the trees near their huts, and for good reason too... lots of trees and branches came down.
That young guy is "a bit crazy" from a Burmese army beating... and he broke his back in a fall due to the conditions. His therapy is a couple of ropes strung in his parent's hut... and he tries to learn to walk (not too succesfully) using the ropes. He's got some pretty nasty ulcers, but a caring sister. We think he'll get to Oz eventually
This one broke another guy's back and wiped out two huts
We were able to help him out too before the wallet deflated. They will look after him.
One of the guys whose biography I re-wrote. He failed at his DHS interview because some drongo had written his biography using stuff he had no clue about.
He won't get another shot with the USA, but maybe Australia, Norway or NZ... Maybe. He fled Burma, without family at the time, as a 13 year old in 1988 with the army in hot pursuit. He has no ID or travel documents. He's stuck here.... in the mud.
Plenty of varmints around
One of the lucky ones. She's just left for Wisconsin. He's stuck here - forever?
I spent a lot of time talking about "things" with U Lin. He's a fascinating individual.
"U Lin" is a pseudonym to protect family members in Burma.
King Zero's story of the Saffron Revolution is here
100,000 Burmese monks took to the streets in peaceful protest against the military government. The government responded by wrecking monasteries and shooting citizens and monks.
and wiki's here
I also met one of the "generals" behind the 1988 student revolution. These people face jail terms in excess of 60 years if they return to Burma for their role in the peaceful demonstrations.
The real faces of the refugee camp though are the young tackers.... my mate here, a charming young guy who shared the temple with me (and his parents) a couple of nights is 3 years, 7 months old... born here and likely to be here a long time.
This lovely young lass is 7 years old, has cystic fibrosis.... and her parents struggle in the mud.
... but she has a mother's love
Some of the many, many kids at Nu Pho
This is Jessica, from Oregon... one of the English teachers. The only other expat I met was a 70yo Aussie guy, also teaching English.
.... and one of the tough ones... this was me at the school, trying to "inspire them". Sh!t. A bit of warning would have been nice. This is one of the Karen girls doing a quick traditional dance for me.
I'll post some more from the camp later perhaps. I went there for one day and stayed six. Its bloody heart-rending. As I befriended people we would talk about their story... and I'd end up reading their rejected refugee applications. I re-wrote half a dozen or so and then decided I could do better by developing a process for them to do it themselves.... which I've done. I think they are going to need some more assistance with it though... and U Lin has asked me to come back. I, quite frankly, can't see how I won't end up back there.
|08-25-2012, 12:26 AM||#364|
Joined: Dec 2011
Location: PERTH. West Australia.
Hi Big Fella,
I have been following your thread for ages. Fantastic stuff. Absolutley brilliant photos. I worked out of Timor Leste for a couple of years and now work with a few Burmese PRs here in Perth WA. If you need some ground support for the orange thing over there , the Katoom importer is here in town.
If you want to be in touch with some assistance we somehow might be able to round up or provide for the Burmese people in the camp PM me.
All the best, stay safe.
|08-25-2012, 03:17 AM||#365|
Joined: Apr 2011
Location: Ipoh, Malaysia
It's bloody heart-rending alright ...
Words just can't describe how the heart bleeds upon knowing of the plight and conditions of the Burmese refugees, thanks to you being there Ian ... Especially the young ones. I gotta do something myself ... Maybe organize some humanitarian ride out there. What will they need most, Ian? Lawyers? Lobbyists?
Motorcycle Travel & Adventure Rider (Malaysia)
|08-25-2012, 04:26 AM||#367|
Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Dooral Dooral, Eastern Oz
Thanks Alex & Ronnie. I think what they need most is the knowledge and processes of how to organise themselves. Many of them who got there before 2006, when Thailand stopped the refugee registration process, have had humanitarian visas denied. When you dig into their cases, you uncover the truth that isn't evident in their applications. One that got me, was the phrase "and the police call me" in one man's biography. When you explore that, it meant that the police would call him on the same day every month. He would then have to go to the police station... missing work... and for the next 6 1/2 hours would be beaten and burnt with cigarettes. Head wounds from the beatings would be stitched on the spot and he'd be made to sign a statement saying he'd been in an accident. His main reason for seeking asylum in his application for a visa was "the police call me".
This isn't the place for a full rundown on those sorts of things, but I've got a few ideas. As for organising themselves, I've funded a young woman to do some activism from the camp, with U Lin mentoring her. She's produced some wonderful material on what its like to be a kid in the camp, what its like to grow up and live there. I want to see her continue it... without placing herself at risk (pseudonyms and the internet are wonderful things). I've left them with a process for Burmese to interview Burmese and develop their biographies so that they reflect the reality. Burma is improving, but its got a long, long way to go before these 150,000 or more people can go home (there's 9 such camps... I saw 3).
|08-25-2012, 06:42 AM||#368|
Joined: Sep 2007
Location: Perth Australia
This is heart breaking stuff Ian, thank you for showing it here and being being courageous enough to go there, As some have said what do they need most and the best way to get the assistance directly to them?
|08-31-2012, 02:43 PM||#369|
Joined: Feb 2010
Location: Bris Vegas, Australia
Just keeping track of you, Bigfella.
'10 R1200GSA Big Pig, '10 DR650SE Piglet
Don't shoot... It's only me!
Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.
|09-01-2012, 05:57 AM||#370|
Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Dooral Dooral, Eastern Oz
Geez, I'm glad someone's keeping track of me.... dunno where I am. Here's what I had to use for my hotel room three nights back.....
Nice four star room for 60 Yuan. Didn't expect to be using Chinese money on this trip.... but I'll get back to that.
Thanks for the comments and PMs about the refugees. Helping them isn't about money, its about making sure the world knows what's really going on there. I have to be careful what I say and put up, because some folks would be at risk. I couldn't take photos of some areas because there are people there who are in the KNLA and who go back to Burma, fighting the Burmese army forces. I met a couple of the senior soldiers. I witnessed virtual slave labor, where Thai government agencies come in and get typically 15-30 or so men for the day, maybe five times a month and take them out on work parties - cutting back the bamboo around an army compound was one that I saw... and so on.
There's a lot of stories that need to be told. I'll try and get something happening with the media when I get home I think. In the meantime, I've written some material that will go into Ministerial enquiries or similar. We need to have some questions asked of how we approach this. I got a very good picture of what's going on in there... something I'm pretty sure most governments don't have. Our mob (apparently) go in on a day visit once a year and are "only interested in Karen people and Muslims"... which I find a bit repugnant. I've got nothing against either group, but I'd like to think we are interested in the most deserving refugees, regardless of race or religion. No overnight stays... no getting close to the people and understanding what's really going on. It may have happened.... but it sure isn't flowing through to actions to deal with the problems.
I got a very good picture of life in there. I visited families in their homes, went to multiple schools, temples, training courses and workshops... and so on. I even sat in on a SLA (Savings and Loans) management meeting and looked through their books. They were concerned that I'd tell the world that they had money... and that may have an impact on services getting to them. Yep... the 18 of the wealthier families who were shareholders in that SLA had an average of about $150 per family. The SLA pooled this "wealth" and offered loans to people to fund micro businesses... like this one...
or this little restaurant...
My hosts took me to this and paid for a meal. I had a word to U Lin and said that whilst I appreciated that I was his guest and he wished to look after me, I was going to make a donation to his Library and Temple.. and that every time he spent money on me, that donation would shrink in size. That worked.
Here's another of the restaurants run by a refugee family. I looked around one morning and realised I knew someone at nearly every table. It cost me $6 to shout the whole restaurant.
The local lads had a pretty decent gym... well, OK, they had a bamboo bench and some concrete blocks on a bar...
I mentioned workshops earlier... here's the forge... making machetes
I bought one made by this guy. He asked $3, so I gave him $6 on the proviso that he not up the price to the next customer...
Its really well made, quite solid, but not stainless, so I've got it under the seat, all greased and wrapped. I hope it makes it home.
..... oops... I'll continue this shortly. I've doubled the memory in this computer, but it still acts up.... sorry....
|09-01-2012, 06:36 AM||#371|
Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Dooral Dooral, Eastern Oz
I spent time talking to people who know Aung San Suu Kyi - and we discussed the likely future path for Burma. Its got a long way to go. There's a likelihood that the Army will still control things after the 2015 elections, so its a long time out for real change to happen. I like the fact that things are starting to open up there. I looked at some preview pics on guided bike tours that are going to start there soon. Its an amazing country. The more foreigners get in there, the sooner the repression will end.... I hope.
Here's another shot of my young mate. He was the politest young chap.
His parents "aren't political"... their words. The guy was asked by a couple of kids (12 and 14 years old) if they could stay at his place one night. He found out the next day, when he took them home to their parents, that they were deserters from the Burmese Army... which turned up at his house. He was out at the time and they fled to Thailand on hearing the army was after them. As quick as that. If I could figure out how to sponsor them in, I would, although she's set on trying to get to America.
This young girl at the temple was the most amazing ball of energy I've ever been steamrollered by. Amazing...
Ahh... here's a better shot of my breakfast restaurant....
dirt floor, of course...
It was a special religious festival time while I was there... and the folks were preparing for it non-stop. And I do mean non-stop.... right beside my "bed"... all night long
Part of the festival involved this girls choir
I posted a couple of photos of that lovely young girl with cystic fibrosys earlier. Here's where I met her... her mum was taking her for a walk. I hope she's out of there soon...
I'll leave it at that for Nu Pho I think (I could post about it for weeks). I left, against their requests for me to stay until the weather improved, after 6 days and headed back up the KY Highway to Mae Sot. When I reached around behind to check my luggage security, I found they'd tied a takeaway lunch, complete with cutlery to the back of my bike. What lovely people....
I passed another refugee camp on the way north, but didn't stop.
The road conditions were horrible... lots of landslips, rain most of the way. I refueled at Umphang out of a drum and kept at it. I got a couple of km of dry road a bit after that and gave the 950SE a rev... and it cut back onto one cylinder, which cleared soon enough. Water in the fuel. Hadn't seen it in the sight glass, so it was from the bike being out in the open... something I'd prove soon enough. It wasn't an enjoyable ride, on the slippery, bumpy road. Speaking of which.... on the way to the camp, I was coming up behind a local scooter at some roadworks... clay road... and I saw him do a big sideways slide. I took it easy and when I caught him it was Pa, Ma, and baby in between. Sheesh.
I think this pic gives an idea of the bumpy nature of the bitumin. Its a choppy, nasty feeling surface, particularly in the wet.
Plenty of road subsidence too
Next up... a longer than expected stay in Mae Sot with an "unspecified tropical infection".....
|09-01-2012, 10:19 PM||#372|
Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Dooral Dooral, Eastern Oz
Here's a couple more shots from the camp
Plenty of the adults in the camp chew betelnut. They do it differently here to what I've seen in Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste. Here's the start of the preparation. I'm not sure what the leaves are, but they paint them with a lime solution... that's garden lime
Then they mix in the betelnut... which also looks different to what I've seen before, along with some tea leaves and they chew away... producing the same rich maroon spit.
Tun Tun is showing off his preferred drug. He's lashed out and spent 5 baht on 5 cigarettes. That's about 3c each.
Most of the houses in the camps have leaf roofs. They use two different types of leaves... and a roof will last two years if I'm remembering correctly.
The other style is bamboo. Multiple layers of panels about 2' wide... overlapped at 6" intervals, so there's probably three layers at every point.
I had a bit of fun riding around Mae Sot when I got back there.... pity about the rain on the camera lens though.... down at the border.
Had an interesting dinner that night with this couple. She's Karen - as in ethnicity, not name - and he's an ex Marine sniper. The three of us ended up on my bike together... which was a bit crowded, but fortunately, she was in the middle. I guess that tests the rack out properly... 111kg, 64kg and 98kg (on the rack)
I ended up doing a biography up for "Thai" - as she calls herself. She had trouble spelling her real name in English. Its one word... no surname. Then we guessed at the spelling of her (deceased) parents' names, then her six siblings. She can't read... not something you expect in a 26 year old. Her mother brought her to Thailand at age 4, when her father died. Her mother died when she was 13. She has no papers - other than a UNHCR registration slip.
A parade of beggars came past, we gave some some dosh, not much because a lot of it is likely a scam... sent out by mum or dad to supplement the wages a tad
My preference is this... sit 'em down and feed 'em.
If they're genuine, they get a decent feed ... if they aren't, stuff 'em... let them have a gutache and dad doesn't get a bottle of whisky. I think most are happy for a decent feed.
Here's a couple of shots from the local market
Yummmy... fried cockroaches
... actually, I think they might be cicadas.
I had dinner a young ABC lass (American Born Chinese). She's on her 4th trip here... first when 17, now 21. She's self funded, trains dogs, babysits, etc 8am to 2am to fund her trips. Teaches English, etc.... and does photography here. I showed her some photos that I haven't posted yet and we discussed photojournalism and its impact... eg, I could publish a series of nothing but sad children at the camp... but the reality is that I met some of the happiest and nicest kids ever down there... but, what's their future?
She's almost certain to go there... especially after I told her about the young woman I'm working with on the political side of it (I'll set up a website for her photo essays). Vicki, the American, will follow up and provide some extra ideas, which is great. She also said she'd see if she can find the rubbish dump with me, so yet again, a woman has detained me from, or should I say, on my travels.
With some help from our receptionist (and a few people on the roadside, we found the dump. Vicki knew many of the people living and working at the dump from last time she was there.
These houses get raided and smashed up by the Thai police from time to time.. The Burmese illegals all run off and hide in the rubbish dump, but they lose a lot of their possessions and have to rebuild
We took a big tin of biscuits out to hand out. It would have been nice to take something more nutricious... but we were on the bike and we could carry something that wouldn't run out half way around the houses.... about 60 to 70 of them.
Wandering around, I was wishing my boots didn't have holes in them. The ooze from the dump did a good job of getting in... Its amazing seeing people picking through the rubbish. Vicky said that they want to be here because they can make more money... up to $4 a day at times... than they can in Burma.
Its pretty confronting
Then the "fun" side of travel reared its ugly head. My lower back seized up on me... big time. Like 15 minutes to get off the bed.... and then the only option was to get back on it. I'd have borrowed a bullet if I could have. I'm allergic to anti-inflammatories, so there's no easy answer on this one. I had the cleaning lady massage it, but it didn't help. I got the guy from reception in and asked him to "go get me a woman please... easy job... she just has to get me out of bed to go to the toilet... otherwise you have to do it" He claimed there weren't "women" in the town, but I insisted he go look.... so yes, he came back with one. I had her ice my back down... and yes, she got me up a couple of times. If I'd been thinking half straight, I'd have gone to the hospital... but hey, having a personal tart, I mean nurse, to get me to the dunny was so much simpler. No discount for the different work, but I was rather grateful to have the assistance.... although she buggered off earlier that I'd hoped..... I didn't even get scrubbed up in the shower.
I had other symptoms setting in... I'd bled all over the pillow from my gums, my finger and knee joints hurt, I'd had a headache and funny eyes. I had a rash on my arms.... and with Google as my friend, I decided that a trip to hospital was in order....
My back was good enough (just) to get on the bike... so I set out in the rain for the hospital. I got 150 metres and the bike died. Water in the fuel again. I'd had the bike leaning under a tree and I'd been too sick to go out and cover it in the heavy rain. The water was dripping straight into the lock on the fuel cap. Oops. I was riding in thongs - flip flops... not what Americans would call thongs.... because I couldn't bend over to do shoes and socks or boots... and I ended up pushing the damn tall SE down the road to a bike shop and spending the day working on it rather than going to the hospital. We drained the carbs, but it still wouldn't start. My lithium iron (LiFe4) battery had died trying to get it going, so I coughed up for a new battery ($57 - a bit over half price relative to Oz). I left it there over night and a mechanic had it running by the time I got back the next day. I got 100 metres and it spluttered and died again... but I coaxed it to life and its been fine since.
I spent a morning at the hospital. The good news is the blood test came back negative to Dengue and Malaria. The bad news is that I had a non specific tropical infection. More good news, I was told I was in the "recovery phase"... and on 4 different pills, well, 3 really, because the doc here didn't understand when I told him I'm intolerant of salicylates... "what that?" and the muscle relaxing pills he's given me (Biocalm) seem to be based on some pretty intense salicylate "all natural" ingredients. I'd rather not try out their emergency ward.
I ended up scratching like 40 bastards... and feeling as weak as a kitten again, so I stayed on in Mae Sot for several more days. My next run was up the Burma border, then hang a right at Mae Saiang, for Chiang Mai. 240km, then 200km. In the meantime, I discovered my main bag, which I hadn't been near all week was full of sodden stuff. My main gear travels in dry sacks, so its just ancillaries.
The rash came back and it had the characteristic red dots of Dengue... and a few folks who had previously had Dengue nodded wisely. They said the test for Dengue has to be done over two days and they reckoned that's what I had. I dunno. Nothing fell off and I'm feeling better now.
|09-04-2012, 07:56 PM||#373|
Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Dooral Dooral, Eastern Oz
I'm well clear of Mae Sot now... and have based myself in Chiang Mai at Phil & Som's Riders Corner Cafe. I'll do the full update on the ride to here and the trips I've done around and from here, including a visa run through Laos to the China border.
I'm in the final stages of stuffing around commissioning a "new" bike for Laos and Cambodia. Not because the Super Enduro can't do it.... it just isn't the right bike for this time of year nor for some of the more interesting places I want to go. Like this ride I did the other day on a rental bike
I've bought Justin's KTM 525 EXC... a well known bike on this forum.... it is really a 570 rocketship. Justin is about 100lbs lighter than me, so there's been some changes needed - eg springs. I've whacked on a new chain (an EK X ring 520 here is $64.... my chains for the Super Enduro are 4 times that in Oz - but not same brand). I've fixed the speedo, having a new exhaust shield made as I've got the Giant Loop Great Basin and Justin used to run their smaller bag. Herman's going to do the valves and an oil change tomorrow and when I get the rego sorted, I'm off to Laos again. Laos reminds me a bit of Sumatra... a lot more "raw" than Malaysia or Thailand. The scenery is just amazing.
I'll leave as much gear as possible behind here in Chiang Mai (I have to come back to get the Super Enduro). I'll leave the 525 here when I head home for my wife's second hip replacement in early December... although there is the chance I'll leave it in Cambodia instead... it all depends on how things pan out on the ride. The plan is to ride more of SE Asia.
Here's the 525 on Justin's most recent ride
and parked with the SE-R. I'll be riding damn near 100kg lighter than before
Sliding backwards down this hill was the decision point on the 525. I would have turned around well before here had I been riding alone... but on the 525, I'd have made it easy. As usual, this hill is steeper than it looks... and it was like grease.... hard to stand on even.
The clay in Laos is particularly slippery and the other two guys with me fell off twice each on that ride. The 525 isn't a problem to pick up, The 990 that I had to help pick up twice was.... too much bike on these roads at this time of year
That hill was so slippery coming down that engine braking was locking the rear wheel. We had to pull the clutch in to keep directional stability. I was going dead slow down here, as I could see the crash marks where a local had fallen off.... and Phil arrived on the scene behind me, unable to stop, so he had to "ditch" it.
On another note, I've also said that I will sponsor two refugee families to Australia from the Nu Pho camp.
Depending on how things progress there, I may have to drop things here and scoot off home to manage that. It means I'll have to carry this computer in Laos too. So much for lightweight eh? If I do scoot off home.... I'll definitely be coming back, but that isn't happening before I go to Laos again. One of the families I want to sponsor is the couple with the 7yo with cystic fybrosis. I'm not sure of the attitude of the authorities to that... but I guess I'll find out soon enough.
|09-04-2012, 11:34 PM||#374|
Good ol days my arse
Joined: Apr 2006
Location: Ex. Little village called Brisbane, Australia
My daughter volunteers with Refugee families here in Brisbane helping then settle in to the rat race. I have directed her to this RR so she can see the other side first hand
Yell out if you need a hand with any red tape, or just someone on the ground in Australia while you are away
Feb 2014, currently travelling the America's on a Tiger 800XC
Live every day like it's your last, one day you'll get it right!!!
|09-05-2012, 09:46 PM||#375|
Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Dooral Dooral, Eastern Oz
Thanks mate... we'll see how things pan out. I'm waiting to hear back from the families in the camp. In the meantime, let's finish up Mae Sot ..... and get to Chiang Mai.
This is the Mae Tao Clinic, started by a Karen woman, and quite well known. I was there the day I went to the rubbish dump .... the day I collapsed in a heap.
I believe it has a severe funding shortage at present. There were many Burmese people (illegals/refugees) there the day I called in. This is the waiting area, up front. There are separate clinics down back for amputees and other specialist areas
This, however, is my special clinic. The girls were looking after me.... I was getting a two-girl massage from the housecleaning duo at the guesthouse here. This is the daughter... I think she's older than she looks btw... about 19. Her mum was giving me a head massage. They were more than happy to massage me.... I gave them $3 which is probably more than their day's pay (I know the guy at the front desk gets $3 a day - because he told me a non-refugee would get 400 baht, compared to him, with no papers, getting 100 baht)
Here's a special photo for potential tourists worried about the "bathroom" facilities over here. I had an early dinner at one of the better restaurants one day... the Canadian Restaurant... run by, surprisingly, a Canadian. Here's the "bathroom".
Occasionally you'll find upmarket facilities like this. Everyone's been following instructions... and all the paper's in the bin. Western style pedestal too. No cistern, of course... but the bucket's there for flushing. Pity there was no water though. None for hand washing either... but there was a truck there the next afternoon, delivering some water.... so I guess its had a flush by now. I wonder if they've emptied the paper bin yet?
Here's some more of the streetkids we fed - lunch this time. Three young muslim chaps... breaking Ramadan, but happy to get a free feed. They weren't asking for food, but were begging for money. Sorry kids... we'll feed you, no money. OK
The woman is "Thai" - who I introduced a few posts back - She's the girlfriend of my Nepalese/American ex-marine friend here. She lives at a big refugee camp, with 40,000+ others, but sneaks out to work (at wages a fraction of what a Thai would earn) and runs an incredible risk of being handed back to the authorities in Burma as she has no identity papers. She's a good kid. Deserves better.
I suppose, while I'm on the subject of women called "Thai"... here's another one. Yep.. sitting on my knee. Dunno how that happened..... just for the photo. She's my favourite Mae Sot chef. She runs Mai Thai restaurant... right next door to my guesthouse, which was incredibly handy while I was unwell. Sitting to my left is Vicki, the 21 yo from NYC. She's here volunteering. Yeah, the 3 of us ended up together on my tiny rented scooter. Damn thing isn't big enough for me on my own. The rest of the mob is mostly American and there's a Canadian and a Guatelmalian there too.
Nothing special with this shot... its pretty commonplace. Its just I had the camera handy when they went past. I can see 14 people in the back of the ute in this photo. I've seen well over 30... all standing up, packed in like sardines... with a metal cage to stop the falling out. Amazing. You'd get nailed BIG time in Oz for this.
.... and a gratuitous shot of the other Thai. I beat her, she beat her boyfriend... you'd expect an ex sniper to do better btw, and then she beat me.
The guy running the snooker hall was an ace player. Not bad for a bloke with only one arm. He shoots every shot without any sort of rest for the cue. Amazing.
After a week or so of not being able to get out of Mae Sot, I finally had a day where I figured I'd have been able to ride... so I would go the next day. With no stands on the bike, I really couldn't afford to set out needing too many rest stops. The plan was to go 240 km north, pretty much following the border with Burma, then away from it a bit to the small town of Mae Sariang, then the next day, strike out for Chiang Mai, where I could either prepare for Laos... or leave the bike for a couple of months.
Mae Sot wasn't an option for leaving the bike. The stormwater canals were near full, there were reports of expected flooding - shops were sandbagged - and one of the long-termers told me that there's a dam near the town that opens its floodgates, normally with warning, but sometimes not.... and floods the town. I didn't want to come back in a couple of months to a bike that had been submerged.
It probably didn't help matters when my planned dinner location turned out to be a bit uninspiring, so I ended up at the bar that does outdoors movies... and watched Fitzcarraldo... an epic production... in the pouring rain of course. Got talking to a German woman - who sells fundraising quiche to patrons there, getting 20 baht (67c) a slice for her orphanage. She's married to Karen refugee and has 2 kids of her own and 7 handicapped orphans. It wasn't hard to tell she's a good woman, struggling and she ended up getting on her pushbike for the 6km ride back to the orphanage with some extra funding.
We (Tenzin, my Tibetin/American friend had joined me, "Thai" was sick in bed) also chatted to a French woman and then an Ecuadorian woman, an aeronautical engineer who, strangely enough was in charge of sanitation for an NGO at the biggest camp on the border... Mae La. I ended up in a bet about whether or not I could get into the camp without the required permit. The movie finished at midnight, and for some reason, we decided a massage would be good... and stumbled into the massage shop next door for a two hour massage. Despite what some might think about a 24 hour massage shop in Thailand... its not like that in the smaller towns like Mae Sot. There are some of "those" places in a dingy square over towards the edge of town... but not this establishment. That made it a late night though.
I got a couple of hours sleep... always the sensible lad, eh? By the time I packed and got away it was 11.30am and I was feeling nauseous from the drugs that were supposed to be taken with food... but weren't. Breakfast wouldn't happen, as it turned out until after 1:30pm. It started raining about 30 seconds after I set off... and most of the next 8 hours 17 minutes was spent riding in rain of varying degrees.
I got to Mae La, the refugee camp that apparently has 47,000 refugees in it at present, although some say its close on 100,000... and rode straight in.
I stopped not far from the gate and took a few photos..... and got kicked out. I could have ridden around, but its muddy and hilly and I wasn't in a mood to fall off... besides, I hadn't set up any contacts to talk to. I tried a couple more entry points, but news had spread and the'd locked them all. I could have parked the bike and got in through dozens of foot entry holes in the fence.... but, I'd seen enough
The boys even had a soccer pitch. Smallest I've ever seen and the muddiest. They were playing in 2-3" thick soft mud
Its a tough life.... and the Ecuadorian engineer has some challenges. This place has latrines. How they keep the disease down, I'll never know
Heading north, there were numerous road collapses, like this. Some marked, some not. Dozens of them. Dozens of big trees had fallen over the road in recent days too, but all cleared. This ute, btw... sitting on its front brake disk, with the wheel some distance away.
This was a strange little waterfall, right beside the road. It looked like it had just flooded the plants it was flowing through, but there was a sign of sorts there... so it'd been there a while
When I finally found a restaurant with a post I could lean the bike on, I plugged "Chiang Mai" into the Garmin, because it wouldn't recognise Mae Sariang. It was giving me an 8pm arrival time, but that was fine.. I was planning to stop. I got to Mae Sariang about 3:45... and by then, Mr Garmin was telling me it was only an hour to Chiang Mai... so I set out for it. Nah... first road sign came up with Chiang Mai over 100 miles away... 167 km. In a new twist to the tale of how crappy a GPS can be... it now decides, sometimes apparently, that it will calculate "partial"s Trust Garmin? Never.
The road to Mae Sariang had been interesting. Some construction areas, which in places turned to deep, slippery mud... this bit was OK
Lots, and I do mean lots, of jungle workers beside the road. Every few hundred metres there'd be a bag or more of collected roots or firewood. Most had a worker or two sitting with it, waiting to be collected. Often there'd just be a parked scooter... and presumably a hunter in the jungle or working a plot of land... or collecting. Sometimes, larger groups...
... sorry about the finger there...
Lots of potholes... and I hit a couple of real clangers... ones that made me swear
Corners like this are always a worry... the jungle is reclaiming the road... forcing you into the centre. You can bet your balls that if you have someone come the other way, they'll be on your bit of turf anyhow... so where do you go?
..... and here's a perfect example. I just happened to have the camera in my hand when this woman came along. Between sighting her and passing is about 2 seconds. You have to hope she isn't distracted.... because that's my side of the road she's on.
That road was a real strange one. At times, closed in like this
More jungle worksers... in the middle of nowhere
Not much of a road at all at times
Then you'd break out to some spectacular scenery... most of which you only got glimpses of
Then suddenly... you'd find a piece of road that had received funding.... and away you'd go.
From Mae Sariang, I went over a damn cold mountain pass and started to dry out. The road was better, but with a lot more traffic on it. Still, I got some good wear happening on the sides of the tyres... I was enjoying it. Plenty of nice roadside scenery.
The mountains as I got closer to Chiang Mai were nice too
The rivers I saw were all either brown and boiling, or in a couple of places fabulous, clear, white water.
This is just a small one I crossed... and it was flowing fast
The border river with Burma was clearly in flood... raging along and I didn't see a single boat on it. I followed it for quite a ways.... no decent shots of it because of the heavy rain though.
Here's the trip
The dark bit at the top is the day's run from Mae Sot to Chiang Mai. 431km at a moving average of 62 kph... which is more than I expected it to be. I was on the road for 8 hours 17 minutes... and got out of the saddle 3 times... 20 minutes for brunch.. and two pee stops - with the bike leaning against a tree. The GPS says I did 10.5 km of climbing and the same again descending.
All but my boots and bum had dried out nicely until I got to within 20 minutes of Chiang Mai... when Huey dumped on us again... big time, and I arrived soaked to the bone. I couldn't find the guesthouse Tenzin had suggested and I ended up in some backwater at a local guesthouse and checked in for 2 nights, because I knew I wouldn't be keen to pack up and get into wet gear in the morning. I've got photos of later that night with a snake crawling all over me in some dive of a local bar. I should dig them out.
The nice thing about my Garmin now though is that since I've been here in Chiang Mai.... I've got decent maps into it and its so much nicer. Garmin really did stuff up big time with their choice of Asian mapping partner. More on that later.
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