Waking up was magical. The sun was still rising and the mist had settled comfortably in around the bottom of the valley. We were greeted with coffee and french toast before setting off again. Then disaster struck: my camera shutter froze. So for the rest of my time in Myanmar I would have no more photos to show for it.
The rain from yesterday meant we spent a good hour or so trudging through some pretty thick mud. And I got leeched, for the first time ever! After some initial jerky leg movements and stomping I pulled the squirmy sucker off in one piece (and consequently didn’t die).
We wandered though a multitude of small villages with gorgeous old women drying peanuts in the sun, and little children hanging out of windows and running up to us with giant grins and thanaka-covered faces. Cries of “byebye!!” would ring out for miles though we often couldn’t see where they came from or who they belonged to. The crops that surrounded us changed a multitude of times, from ginger to peanuts (which accompany many meals in Myanmar), to corn, to rice.
The sun was unbearably hot and the ground undulating making for a long and sweaty hike. The water buffalo were living up to their namesake and taking refuge in the streams – something I longed to join in.
We stopped for lunch and a quick nap in the house of a local woman. Fried noodles were accompanied by coca colas and bottled water, and watching over us all was a spider the size of my hand. I kept one eye on it and my mouth shut – as I knew certain members of the group were less fond of the eight-legged friends. The pet cat, looking somewhat scraggly, was making determined lunges at our food, and what with these warnings about dogs and cats in Asia – none of us were too keen to touch it. Thrown out a multitude of times by the owner, she always managed to squeeze back in through an impossible window.
Refuge from the heat finally came to us as we passed beneath large tree canopies and eventually popped out at a old monastery – our chateau for the night. As the shower arrangements were once again somewhat public we took turns in couples to in order to keep a lookout for the young men playing football outside. It was another of those awkward squat-down-and-wash-yourself with one hand holding a towel up and the other soaping and rinsing. It became a bit of a quick ordeal when I realised that the toilet blocks were situated slightly up the hill from where I was squatted butt naked.
On water duty – I went in search of a small shop. The man, bless him, had no idea how to make the simple calculations for the things I was buying and undercharged me by a couple of dollars (which, in this part of the world is a significant amount). I had to insist that he take the extra money I pushed into his hands, as I cannot bear to rip off someone. Robin later told us that this man had sold his pig for 50,000 kyat (~$50) and opened this small business instead. I thought of buying him a calculator…
The monastery that we stayed in is home to approx 100 monks only none of them were there. From what we understood, the head monk was in hospital being treated for a brain tumour and all the monks had accompanied him there. As it was the period of Buddhist lent (July-October), monks are not allowed to travel – usually they remain in the monasteries during this time – so they had to stay on at the hospital, and there was a small group of local youths looking after the place until they could return.
Dinner was served to us sitting around the tiny table on the floor and our tight knit group was enjoying plenty of laughs and good banter. It only got better after we ate as the chef came and joined us, swaying and singing, and he swilled from his sprite bottle close to half a litre of rice whisky. His funny questions and explosive singing brought us to tears of laughter a number of times and we enjoyed his company for an hour or so before he started insisting of giving us massages. Then it was time for bed. Needless to say, the singing carried on well into the night, until Robin gave him a bit of a talking to, and actually, a bit after that too. I woke in the night to what I thought was animal sounds – but later realised was the chef, bringing up his rice overindulgence.
We set off again in the morning along a gravel road and under another baking sun. We reached the highest point of the trek – 2000m – and a brilliant view of never ending green fields and the start of the lake before dropping back down to walk along dried up creek beds and sunflower fields. It only took us a couple of hours to reach the small town on the shores of Inle Lake where we would board longtail boats and be transported to the other side to the small town of Nuang Shwe. The ride itself took us alongside a small village of wooden stilted houses built up over and along water channels – like a run down Asian style Venice. We slid smoothly past rows and rows of hydroponically grown tomatoes floating on the surface, and fisherman balancing precariously on one foot as they simultaneously paddled and rearranged their fishing net with their hands and remaining foot – as is customary in this particular part of Myanmar. An old wooden monastery famous for the monks that train cats is there in the distance, although all these things will have to wait until tomorrow to be explored.
Other longtail boats whizzed past with their passengers hiding from the sun beneath thick layers of thanaka and flapping umbrellas. Everyone smiles and waves at each other across the churning water, and this experience is engraved into my memory as the best part of Myanmar.