Nature

Kachin State — Myanmar’s Christian North

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

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Confluence of the N’mai and Mali rivers. Both originate as small streams on the Tibetan Plateau, and draw their waters from Himalayan-range glaciers. My tuktuk driver explained that N’mai is coming from China and Mali from India. Its not entirely clear wether the source of both rivers are in Burmese side or not. Judging the maps, some small streams indeed seem to come across the borders. The confluence is the origin of Irrawaddy River, Myanmars main waterway that flows through the country, all the way to Bay of Bengal.

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June 2015

Train to Myitkyina. We leave squeaking and shaking from Mandalay station into the night. Watching out into darkness, communities are living by the faintly lit street. Smart phones and TV screens are glowing back from there. Next morning we should be well on the way to north and after 24hrs should arrive to Myitkyina, Kachin state of Myanmar.

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Train traveling.
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Morning. Last night went without a sleep, not even the lightest dozing, ride is just too jumpy. Locals didn’t seem to mind much and kept sleeping. Outside our wagon, day is slowly opening. Clouds are looming low, and fields are wet. All the windows are open, sudden shower could wash us all inside. Farmers with their oxen are already plowing the paddies. “Iron-buffaloes” that are a norm in neighbouring Thailand, can be seen also occasionally. Change is coming also in remote parts of Myanmar. On railroads no such luck, except least were using steam locomotives like when British built the tracks 100+ years ago. Burmese trains defy the laws of gravity, to be put mildly.

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Ages old scenes meet today in north Myanmar.
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Myitkyina. Wide Irrawaddy is quiet. Night is coming and different shades over blue are descending over it. Due to the military restrictions, there is no traffic in the river. Water is plenty and level high, it would be easy to sail to Bhamo in south. Christian churches are everywhere, outnumbering the Buddhist temples in the city. A work of European missionaries in 19th century, who converted the local animist population to followers of Christ. Still, when looking the statistics, Buddhism is dominant religion also in Kachin state like in the rest of Myanmar.

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Street market in Myitkyina.

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Bhamo-Katha river boat.

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Two pranksters in Myitkyina.

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View from U-Bein bridge Mandalay, April 2013 & June 2015.
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South Myanmar in Photos

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

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Moulmein.
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June 2015

Most travelers head north from Yangon, Bagan and Inle-lake especially. But south-east of the country offers fascinating sights to see as well. Here are couple photos from Moulmein and Hpa-An.

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Moulmein. Worlds largest reclining Buddha at Mudon.
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Moulmein.
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Moulmein.
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Hpa-An.
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Hpa-An.
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Hpa-An.
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Hpa-An.
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Hpa-An.
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Amazing cloud of bats going for eat, every sunset.

Cuban Reflections

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

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March 2016

Here are twenty photos and some reflections from the trip to Cuba. Because its tropical flora and fauna, couldn’t help comparing the country to South East Asia that has become familiar in past years.

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Malecon, Havana.

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Havana.

What can I write about Cubans? They are music lovers and party people more than anything. Salsa is in their DNA. So are their love for fat cigars and rum. The liquor is even sold in small tetra packs. I spotted often guys sipping innocent looking small boxes and wondered whats the sudden juice or soda passion for grown up men. But no it is Ron Planchao, 40% alcohol. That explained! People are not proud but self confident. Locals often greet foreigners and welcoming them for happy holidays.

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Havana.

From the trio of countries that I’ve been documenting, Cuba is by far most touristy. Ocean cruisers bring hundreds at a time, and so does the busy Havana airport. When hearing the news that Cuba is opening to international community and blockades are history, many wont realise that in tourism industry that happen already 20 years ago. After fall of Soviet Union, Cuba lost not just an ally, but main customer for its agricultural products. From then on, tourists from Canada and Europe brought desperately needed foreign currency. Venezuela provided cheap oil that prevented economic wheels from stalling completely.

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Havana.
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The island is flat, Cuba’s highest peak does not reach 2000m. Scenes from bus: Sugar cane fields and rice paddies. Small sloping hills, palm trees and more fields and greenery.

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Vienales in west of island has landscape that remind scenes from South East Asia.

Farm animals are everywhere. It’s nice to see cowboy slowly riding to the fields in the mellow evening light, to return livestock back after grassing the day out. Condors gliding lazily with air currents and screening the world underneath. Another common bird that can be seen in shores is the pelican.

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Trinidad.

Ride paddies are not worked as meticulously as in Asia, where rice has always been backbone of feeding populations. Burmese or Thai farmer could be shocked to see how temporary the mud walls that form the pools are. They seem like pulled up quickly with tractor, not carved to the soil in shape that farmer passes on to his son.

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Trinidad.

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Havana.

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Cienfuegos.

Streets are in pretty good condition, although street lights at night are dim. Lack of light pollution means bright night skies even in city centers. Traffic culture more expectable than in Asia, car drivers and pedestrians respecting each other.

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Santiago.

Shops and markets lack the endless variety and full shelf’s like in more prosperous countries. There were some queues occasionally, but in general shops always have least one brand of product’s on offer, and shelf’s were never completely empty.

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Trinidad, locomotive drivers.

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Camaguey.
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Weather in March has been really a dream. Constant winds, especially in Havana and northern side of island are refreshing. In south side, and especially Santiago, air was more stale and walking around in mid day not as nice.

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Camaguey.

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Santiago.
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Santiago.
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Viazul is Cuban hard currency bus company. Many tourists are using their busses while traveling in Cuba. Drivers are pretty well motivated, but are making bit extra on their own. Busses always have front seats that passengers cannot use. Those are for people that are picked up from hitching by the road side, and pay directly to drivers.

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In a bus. Co-driver relaxing, texting and chatting with the driver.

They are funny blokes to watch, wheeling and dealing their own along the way. When they feel like a juice, for instance, they stop by the shop, all passengers watching and waiting. Or when the other one knows a good basket shop on the way. The duo again disappear to a road side shop for a minute, and return smiling with nice new baskets in their hands. Chinese made busses are in ok condition, and schedule holds pretty well. That ensures no big protest arise when another surprise stop happens. Things run, but bit differently in Cuba.

Patagonia: Torres del Paine and Perito Moreno

Spring 2011, exploring Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia.

April 5 2011 — Arrived ok to Puerto Natales before noon, by boat from Puerto Montt. Weather was more sunny today, it was quite misty and rainy boat trip. But views and trip in general was memorable. There were not many signs of human settlement along the Chilean coast. At one part of the way, boat exits from protecting archipelago to open seas of South Pacific (Golfo de Penas). That happened in the middle of night while sleeping. I woke being inside giant washing machine. My cabin mate was lifting our bags from floor that had buckets of water rolling. Nice wakeup! @ Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales, Chile

April 7 2011 — Went to Torres del Paine today. Scenery was just stunning, postcard like! High mountains, bright blue and green lagoons, dramatic cloudy skies, guanacos and condors. Weather also was gentle for us, as this time of year it can rain days in row. At some places, winds were very strong. It indeed felt like the edge of the world, just as Tibet was the roof of world.

Torres del Paine national park, Chile

I’ve ended up much more South than originally planned, tomorrow its time to start correcting the “error” and jump bus to El Calafate, see glaciers and continue again North towards Buenos Aires @ Puerto Natales

On Road in Patagonia

April 8 2011 — Came to Argentina today. My first visit to Chile left only good memories. Beautiful country and people! Drive North from Porto Natales was through empty pampas that had only cattle grazing on few spots. In its vast emptiness, scene evokes imagination. How would it be to live here… @ El Calafate

Glacier Perito Moreno, Argentina

April 10 2011 — Lazy Sunday in Calafate, and tomorrow morning bus to Comodoro Rivadavia. Did some laundry today + organizing photos from past days.

Trip to Glacier Perito Moreno was another highlight of my trip in this part of world. Weather was nice in afternoon, and ice monolith is just massive. It is a river of ice, that rolls forward like a slow lava. Ice constantly lives, cracks size of a building falling off and splashing to water. Current melting edge was snow in high Andes, about 500 years ago. So, at the time Columbus was trying to find new sea route from Europe to India, water was frozen and became part of glacier. Gives a bit of perspective to our human limitations. @ El Calafate