A trekking full of surprises

Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
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Trip End Feb 06, 2013


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Flag of Myanmar  , Maymyo,
Monday, December 10, 2012

Mandalay to Kalaw: 9 hours in an air-con bus or 25 minutes in a plane? The choice was quickly made; besides that the price for the plane ticket was very affordable - good for our conscience :-).

We arrive at Heho airport and take the taxi to Kalaw and check into our hotel, the New Shine Hotel, really OK. Immediately we head to Ever Smile, which organizes trekking to Inle Lake.
Bull's eye! We are welcomed by Toe Toe, owner of Ever Smile. The Description of the trekking to Inle Lake on two days one night is so nice, that we immediately decide to skip our 2nd night at New Shine Hotel.

Interesting detail: our trekking guide will be Aki, the 14 year old daughter of Toe Toe and her friend Jucy, who is apparantly a great cook.

With the tea we are offered avocado from the tree next door. We are overwhelmed to be invited for lunch by Toe Toe, a great meal of rice and veggies, during which we learn her life story and already get to meet Aki, who is home from school for lunch.

Afterwards we discover Kalaw, drink coffee and eat nice pstries at a small teahouse. For sunset we walk up the stairs to the local monastery and enjoy the view on this little mountain village. We have a fantastic Burmese dinner, especially the green tomato salad wit a dressing of lime, peanuts, chili and garlic is just delicious.

For the trek we don't have to get up too early, which is great. As Kalaw lies in the mountains and it is winter, the nights are very cold and the days are hot and that means a lot of fog in the morning. When we cross the road to get to Ever Smile we see a dog running along the street with a big, naked (plucked) chicken in his mouth. Probably stolen from the market or a restaurant. A guy on a motorbike is chasing him, throwing things at him, trying to catch him. The dog gets away and the whole street has a good laugh about this funny scene.

8 AM we are at Ever Smile again, watching the girls get ready for the trek. We each carry a little of the food. We are with 5 people: a German guy, Gerald, and a Hongkong couple, Alex and Ophelia. After a short ride with the taxi we start walking, still in the fog. After a while we discover that this is the place where chilli is grown and the red stuff is everywhere. Gerald decides to eat one straight from the field: big mistake!

We have tea at a Pa O village, in the house of some local people, their hospitality is limitless as they give us all kinds of small things to eat. We buy a bag from the (old) lady of the house, after seeing her weave it by hand. The environment is mostly agraric; besides chilli there is also a lot of wheat, mustard and sesame seeds (never new how this grows).

Around 4 we arrive at the village where we will stay the night. We go to the house of the family where the two girls are already busy cooking. The family gets some money and in return lends us their living room where we eat and sleep on the floor (ouch!). At one point the five of us are in the kitchen, watching and lighting up the dark, smokey room with our headlight. Really special! And they keep on cooking and cooking on the small fire untill there is a nine dish dinner (8 vegetable and 1 chicken) on the table plus a delicious soup. Wow!! We learn that french fries is a traditional Myanmar food which takes a long time to make in the wok, and it is delicious! Everything is delicious! We feel so incredibly priviledged and so happy we made this choice of doing the yrekking! And then the night comes.....

This village does not have electricity at all. The Pa O village where we had tea did have lightbulbs, functioning on solar energy, but here is total darkness when you don't light a torch or a candle. So after dinner we go outside to brush our teeth and have a look at the starry, starry night. It is indescribably beautiful.

We were prepared for the sleeping conditions, have done this before, so we came well prepared and did not get cold (thanks to our thermal underwear! Love the stuff!) but we are too old to sleep on the floor unfortunately, so it was a really long night. Getting out of bed was not easy but with the breakfast already on the table and two 3-in-1 too sweet coffees we are ready to hit the road again. And the night is soon forgotten. Aki and Jucy do the cooking, serving and washing up every place we go and leave everything very neat and clean. So after the washing up we are ready to go. It is 7:15 AM.

Our German friend is missing (again! :-)) when we are having breakfast, already taking photos in the foggy village. Then Frank starts talking to him, just before we leave and he tells us about his time in East-Germany, when he applied for emigration with his wife and two small children to the West. We both still get goosebumps thinking about it. His story is so moving, about being powerless, at the merci of a cruel government, where nobody could be trusted and the man he thought was his best friend turned out to be Stasi. He gets real emotional and frankly, so do we. When Frank asks how he felt the moment his emigration, early 1989, had been approved he starts to cry. He is very open about it all, even though he cannot stop crying talking about it. A very special moment.

We start walking again through the fields. The dirt roads and hills are orange red from the ironrich soil. I walk together with Jucy for a while and she asks me what kind of music I like. She likes Justin Bieber and Shakira. I guess 14 year olds the world over are similar in some ways, even the young Myanmar trekking guides.

We walk untill we arrive at the Inle lake. There a boat is waiting for us to take us to Nyaung Shwe on the other side. We think it is just like a taxi, but it turns out to be a very nice boat tour across the lake where we get to see the legendary fishermen. But at the start we drive for 15-20 minutes through an incredible landscape: on both sides houses on stelts in the water and all kinds of vegetables growing on the water, or so it seems. Tomatoes, beans, water plants, people working the 'land' in boats, or taking the produce to the market in small boats.

We arrive in Nyaung Shwe happy and sunburned, say goodbye to Aki and Jucy and get to our very nice hotel. Exhausted, with sore feet, but without regrets. Massage tomorrow?

We end the day with - believe it or not - really nice tagliatelle al dente and a great bottle of Myanmar Pinot Noir.
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