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« January 14, 2005 | Main | January 12, 2005 »

January 13, 2005

Tanai Guesthouse, 9:00 AM

Have finished breakfast, a delicious roti canai with chickpeas, and we are now loading up the truck for the trip to Shimbweyeng.  Battered, blue Toyota pick-up with the back modified with seats for sixteen people and room for luggage underneath. Huge knobby tires, roof rack, a spare tire on each side, protective grill and armor plates on the front.  The classic monster truck. We will all cram into this vehicle with our luggage and travel northward for about four hours, stopping occasionally when we see rattans to collect.

Went to the market (see Shopping for Supplies) early this morning with Saw Lwin so he could buy some socks. The image of indigenous Kachin women in ethinc dress sitting behind a cloth laid out with fresh chilis, long beans, onions, and leafy vegetables in the morning fog was enchanting. A young, shaved-head monk in safron robes walks slowly down the street hitting a chime. He is followed by his fellow monks with their begging bowls out looking for breakfast. The fog is slowly lifting as the sun moves higher in the sky.

Shimbweyeng restaurant, 1:23 PM (N26˚41', E96˚12')

I am sitting in a rather noisy restaurant in Shimbweyeng after 7 grueling hours on what is left of the Ledo Road. Our truck performed nobly. We were able to maintain a velocity of about 15 miles/hour in between getting stuck, getting unstuck, stopping to put the hubs in 4-wheel drive, struggling to get the clutch to work so that the driver could use second gear, or everybody piling out to collect a palm that Andrew spotted along the side of the road. I started the journey in the front seat between Andrew and the driver, but after about three hours of moving my cramped leg every time the driver needed to shift gears (which was a lot), I climbed into the back with everybody else.  I stood up looking over the cab of the truck for the rest of the trip with the wind blowing in my face and checking out the beautiful scenery or either side of the road for spiny, climbing palms. For most of the journey the road was winding through closed forest that came up right next to the road.  Five hours of forest.

The most exciting parts were when we had to cross the rivers (see Hukaung Valley Rattan Survey). The original Ledo Road had bridges, but most of them rusted out years ago. In one spectacular crossing, we all had to stand in the back because the water was about four feet deep. The had rigged a special tube on the exhaust to keep it out of the water so that the motor would keep running.  I was hoping that the water wouldn't enter the back of the truck where the baggage was because my bag was on the bottom. [NOTE: It didn't - too much]. The last couple of hours of the trip we were driving through the foothills of the Himalayas. Closed forest on either side of the road and mist-covered forest up ahead.  We tried to avoid stopping the driver to make collections, but we did manage to grab to new species of Calamus, both of them new records for Myanmar.  As always, we arrived late to the village and after checking in to the little guest house, we were again pressing plants by flashlight.

Shimbweyeng didn't have a guest house or a restaurant the first time Alan Rabinowitz came through here. In 2000, gold was discoved in the nearby hills (see Hukaung Gold Mines), and the village has been experiencing a boom. It still, however, has the feel of a small, remote village. Wooden houses with palm thatch roofs, lots of little kids, chickens, and goats running around, smiling Naga men in longyis and interesting hats (stocking hats, fedoras, Operation Desert Storm camouflage, and even the occasional NY Yankees baseball cap) and slender, slow-walking women with perfect posture and huge rattan baskets of firewood on their backs.

I think the plan is to spend a couple of days here. Use the guesthouse as a base camp and run transects and make collections first to the south and later northward in the mountains. I have a corner room in the back of the guesthouse with two windows, a table, and a huge bed with kapok mattress and mosquito net. It's only a short walk to the outhouse. 

I should mention that we are now a team of sixteen.  In addition to the original core group of seven, we have now contracted a cook, kitchen staff, and several field assistants.

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