Landscape Architecture Magazine

FINDING MYANMAR

WITH HIS FINGERS, HE POINTED AN IMAGINARY PISTOL AT MY FACE, SPEAKING EXCITEDLY IN WHAT I ASSUMED WAS BURMESE. WITH HIS OTHER ARM, HE POINTED BEHIND US, TOWARD THE MOUNTAIN PASS I HAD JUST TRAVERSED. IT WAS CLEAR TO BOTH OF US THAT I HAD NO IDEA WHAT THIS SOLDIER WAS TELLING ME. I FAILED TO ASSEMBLE A LOGICAL STORY IN MY MIND. WHY WOULD HE STOP ME ON THE WAY OUT OF THE BASE AND OFFER AS EXPLANATION PERILS THAT EXISTED BEHIND ME?

HOURS EARLIER, I WAS BARRELING ALONG AT 65 KILOMETERS PER HOUR, TOP SPEED ON MY “INFORMALLY” ACQUIRED CHINESE MOTORBIKE, WHEN THE COZY, WELL-PAVED

agricultural road devolved into a narrow dirt path as it ascended from the plains. I must confess something here: I had not expected this turn of events. It was 2015. President Obama had relaxed trade sanctions against Myanmar, and, after decades of isolation, the country had just recently opened its doors to foreign visitors. Democracy was in the air, and elections were slated for the fall. I wanted to get in before the place was overrun with tourists and guided excursions, hoping to explore forests I presumed to be intact owing to Myanmar’s supposed isolation from the global market. Beyond national borders, information was still hard to come by. There was war, and there were restrictions on where tourists could and couldn’t go. I knew nothing about road conditions or the locations of restricted zones. I knew only that I was illegally driving an illegally rented motorbike because it was the best way for me to stray from a routine script. Using my wits and a map I had purchased on the street in Yangon, I planned to take the motorbike and drive it around until I quite easily stumbled across mythical forests with lucid waterfalls.

1 PYIN OO LWIN TO TAUNGGYI

Now I was on a glorified trail known as Highway 41, clambering up the first of how many passes? I was alone in mountains not at all resembling the lush, jungle-coated ranges of my imagination. At the crest, I gazed over a sea of barren hills, no end in sight. Despite the childlike joy I derived from navigating switchbacks and kicking up dust and loose gravel in my wake, the sight of endless ranges had the effect of multiplying the estimated duration of this crossing by infinity. Then I looked down, seeing before me only steep,

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