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It's cool in Pyin Oo Lwin

While the heat in Mandalay was stifling, here in Pyin Oo Lwin it's quite bearable, at about 1000 metres elevation. I accepted Adam's offer to accompany him and his friends, and on Friday morning, after I climbed the Mandalay hill and visited some of the caves at its foot, we were off to drive the two hours into the Shan hills. The car ride was exhausting, so when we finally arrived, I blew off my initial plans to go to walk the botanical garden (which Adam calls the most beautiful in the world) and instead stayed in started to read my new book, "From the land of green ghosts" by Pascal Khoo Thwe, a Burmese fugitive's memoirs about his travels from this most remarkable country to Cambridge, where he went to university. We went to eat Chinese that evening and I tried to chat up some locals afterwards, but without much success, so after everything had closed at around 9:30, I headed back to the hotel.

The lodge is a beautiful British colonial house with great teak-floor rooms and most helpful staff, set in a very nice setting overlooking the lake up here. At $30 per night, it's actually above my budget, but given that so far I didn't pay anything for transport or food -- Adam and his friends have taken me around -- I am still within the bounds of the expected. And for sure, those $30 are worth it, I slept great, but woke for an hour to witness a giant storm followed by a downpour of really cold rain.

Saturday morning, we visited the local market and I made a reservation for my return flight from Yangon to Bangkok on 4 May. Then, following a recommendation by Adam's friend Eddy, I took a motorbike taxi to a nearby Bhuddist cave and some waterfalls. The cave was great and very unlike the ones we had seen in Laos. It extends several hundreds of metres into the mountain with a river running through it, but stairs and planks have been built everywhere, and there was plenty of light from bulbs hanging everywhere to illuminate the Bhudda statues.

Actually, being very close to the Shan state, which hosts the only people with a catholic religion, I was able to witness some statues of Jesus, and also some icons of Bhuddist images with clearly Christian tendencies, such as the halo, giving it all a very weird touch, or at least I cannot place it yet.

I returned for a longer chat with Adam and then set off to meet James, a former employee of the British government, who runs a computer school and was able to help me out with his satellite dish to at least allow me to send an email to a friend, who will hopefully publish my blog entries for me. Burma is really cut off, many websites are blocked, SSH seems impossible, as does HTTPS, so the sshd I had bound to port 443 is of no use to me. Also, my cellphone has no reception -- only local cellphones that cannot make international calls are allowed -- and telephone calls from the public booths are very unreliable (I tried a couple of times at least to reach my mother to say I am still alive), and a call to Germany comes in at $6 per minute and seldomly work.

My time online is short as I don't want to be a burden to James, and I also want some of his time to talk about Linux and computers in Burma in general. I left eight Ubuntu CDs with him and hopefully he can put them to good use. He seemed interested at least.

My further itinerary is beginning to solidify: I shall leave for Mandalay on Monday and head to Bagan on Tuesday, by boat, which a friend from college recommended to me when he read about my expedition. From there, I am considering to fly to Inle Lake and then take local transportation down to Yangon, where I want to spend four or five days.

That's it for now, thanks for reading along. I will write more about my impressions of Burma when I have more time, at the latest when I get back home.