17 N – 95E Ayeyarwady, Myanmar (Burma)
Line Hunting Date: November 15, 2008
From the Love Boat to the Post-Nargis Delta
This hunt was the result of a visit to the Love Boat near the outskirt of Rangoon. On this special boat outfitted for health heath education operated by PSI (www.psi.org/where_we_work/myanmar.html) is a very detailed topo map of the Delta region which was a great surprise to find in a tightly controlled country where even cell phone was hard to get . As I was admiring the map and point out there is a confluence point within striking distance from Rangoon, our host John told me that he knew just the right person who would be keen for such adventure – Hia Myo, who also happen to be on the boat.
The reason such a detailed map was available has to do with the devastating event of a monster cyclone – Nargis - which ravaged the Delta area in May 2008. The map was produced for relief and rehabilitation purpose. A quick chat with Hia Myo, confirmed John’s instinct, he was indeed interested in a pursuit where most people regard as senseless. I was forewarned, however, that the Delta area now has been off limit to foreigners, and there is no assurance that I can get in. Of course, this just made the hunt even more attractive. We agreed to go for it later in the week.
Never give up
The GPS distance from Rangoon to this Confluence point is 125 km and estimated driving distance is about 180 km. We decided on an early start at 7 am because I was told that road condition is very bad. Bad was an understatement, it was one of the worst road ever traveled! This was partly the result of intense truck traffic in recent months for post Nagis relief efforts. Hia Myo also recruited Aye Thu to joint this hunt because he is from the Delta area and speaks the local language. They also brought alone the full size extremely detailed relief map, same as the one on the love boat. I cannot ask for a better prepared hunting party.
About 30 km out of Rangoon, we encountered a road block which was manned by a policeman, a military officer, and an immigration officer. We presented my passport and after a couple minutes of heated discussion, we were tuned back because I did not have a permit to enter the Delta. The officials at check point were kind enough to tell us that I can request such permit at the government travel bureau. We turned back and but did hold much hope to obtain a permit – will the office be open on Saturday? If they are open, what kind run around will they give us?
We drove back to Rangoon, and waited for 15 minutes until the Travel Office opened at 9 am. To our great delight, the nice lady at counter told us it would be no problem, provided I write a note of request to enter the Delta as a tourist, and specify that “I will not conduct any political activities”. Ten minutes later, the travel permit was issued, and more amazingly, it was free of charge! Off we go again. It was clear that Hia Myo and I share the same trait – hate to give up when confronted with obstacles.
The 2nd worst highway
The turn back at check point set us back by 2 hours but we were happy to be back on track. We hardly have to stop at the check point the 2nd time around because they knew I must got the permit. From the check point, there was still 150 km to go and it took four and half hours to get near the confluence. Of all the road I have traveled in recent years for line hunting, the only road which was in worst condition is the Central highway of Haiti (19N 72W). It is clear that state of the road condition is a good measure of the state of the country. Both Haiti and Myanmar are fragile or failed states.
The rice field approach with skinny bridge to cross
After almost 7 hours of driving, including the time double back to obtain the permit, we reached the nearest point to the confluence point on the highway – 780 meters. We walk through rice fields at every stage of development, from harvesting to active planting with new seedlings. The last 300 meters required us to cross two bridges made of a single bamboo stick which was partially submerged in water. We found the confluence point located in the middle of a newly planted rice paddy. We walked very carefully to the all zero location in deep mud. For the two first-time line hunters, it was a joyous moment. The hike in the rice field basking in the afternoon sun worth all the hours of bone rattling car ride. We were happy hunters, especially after overcoming the initial set back at the checking point.
The return trip was uneventful. We had a quick stop at a Chinese restaurant right after dark, and got back to downtown Rangoon about 9.30 pm. A great hunt with two able hunting buddies.
Rating of this hunt:
Degree of Challenge: 3 – Mainly has to do it is in a restricted zone and permit was required, but the very bad road do make this ride a challenge. (1= very easy - drive to the point; to 5= a death march – glad it is over)
Scenery:3– Lush green rice fields of the now famous Delta due to Nargis (Scale: 1= not interesting at all; 5= take your breath away)
Culture-social factors: 3– provided a deep appreciation on the cultivation of rice through observations of all stages of the effort (Scale: 1=dull; 5= most stimulating)