Friday, April 29, 2016

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake

I loved Myanmar and had some great experiences there but my favourite part hands down was when I did the 70km trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. I checked into the Golden Kalaw Inn early in the morning and spent the morning wandering around the tiny and beautiful town of Kalaw hunting down the best tour company. At the end of the day I had booked a tour with the best which was of course the first one I’d checked out which was offered by the Golden Kalaw Inn. For 40,000kyt ($40cad) I’d be going on a 3 day tour hiking through small Burmese villages with the amazing tour guide Jojo. Since the tour didn’t start till early the next morning I was able to explore the town, stop for chapatti, potato curry and loads of indian sweets for about $1.50 and later meet and talk with my fellow trekkers Eliza and the couple Thi Thi and Phil.

We left early the next morning and passed through farmers fields, over lush hills, through plains and hills and saw so much stunning scenery. At one point we passed a random house and Jojo spoke with the lady and since she was so unaccustomed to people passing by she insisted we come into her home and share tea and snacks with her. We couldn’t understand her but sign language did the trick, and once again I was blown away by the sweetness of the Burmese people. We continued walking and each time we’d pass through the tiny villages the children would smile and follow us while shouting ‘mangalabar’ (hello). The village we eventually stopped in for lunch was small and filled with garlic and while Jojos cousin cooked us a delicious lunch we chatted, or attempted to, with the 80 year old men who lived there and had the most incredibly lined faces you’ve ever seen but beautiful smiles. Afterwards at the nearby viewpoint I nearly had to be dragged away it was so beautiful. 

We walked for a few more hours and I chatted with Jojo the entire way and talked about Myanmar and learned some great stuff from him, then next thing I know we’ve arrived at his mother in laws tiny village. There are numerous trekking companies in Kalaw and they pretty much all take the same tourist trail but because Jojo’s Hpa-Oh wife’s family lived in that village we took a different route and never ran into the other tour groups. Like most Burmese houses it was a two story house with produce and storage below and the family household on the second level. The family we stayed with didn’t speak English but the language of food is universal. We sat in the kitchen with the small family as dish after dish was made and it was like watching fine art seeing it all come together around the warm glow of the hearth. It was 7 courses and possibly the best meal I had in my travels. We ate till we could not possibly eat anymore and then sat around the fire shelling and roasting peanuts. During the days it was fairly hot weather but nights were freezing so it took all the courage Eliza and I had to step outside to head to the bathroom outside but the second we stepped outside we were completely floored by the sky. It was like we had never really seen the stars until that exact moment. We stood there for ages completely mesmerized by the brightest stars we have ever seen until we retired for bed and fell asleep under a mountain of blankets.

Covered in thanaka and ready for another day of trekking
After a great breakfast we were on the road again trekking for hours seeing wonderful sights like fields of ladies and children picking fire red chillies, men threshing rice, ancient old men behind ox driven carts and the adorable Burmese children. We walked upon a school class practicing an end of school year dance and a little later we came across some little kids and somehow ended up getting in a burr throwing fight with them. One of the gems we found was when we came across men making honey in a field. They had giant buckets of liquid gold full of honeycomb and for 2,000kyt ($2) we walked away with half a litre of the freshest honey I’ve ever had and a giant bag of honeycomb to snack on as we walked. We stopped at a fresh stream and Jojo showed us this sapyati fruit that when split the liquid inside is like soap, very useful for washing our honey covered hands!

We spent our last night in one of the (slightly) larger villages where we found ourselves back on the tourist trail with other groups around. One more night with our group and meals around a kitchen hearth and sharing some Myanmar beers and suddenly it was the morning of our last day. Now that we were back on the tourist trail I could overhear some of the guides and we clearly had the best and most knowledgeable guide. Plus he had great stores about the local Hpa-Oh culture that involved alchemists and their dragon ancestors. We said goodbye and parted ways when we reached the river and got on one of the long boats. On the boat we passed farms that were actually in the water with the houses on stilts, we saw the long neck weavers, monasteries, and the famous one legged fisherman of Inle lake. Once we arrived in Inle Lake I said goodbye to the lovely Eliza and Phil and the crazy-not in a good way- Thi Thi, and found myself on my own again (and loving it) and after the last few action packed days I was able to relax in Inle Lake, see markets and visit the local winery. Months into my trip and I hadn’t seen wine since vineyards don’t exist so when I heard the Red Mountain Winery was located close to the town I had to check it out.  The wine was pretty mediocre but I was happy to pay the 3,000kyt for 4 tasting after so much time of wine deprivation and the views were incredible from up there. Getting there I had walked half the way and ended up hitchhiking the last bit and it was then I realized how bizarre it is hitchhiking in Myanmar. They drive on the right side of the road so when the driver pulls up to let you in he’s on the right side so you have to go around the car into traffic to get into the passenger side. The Burmese man who picked me up was an absolute sweetheart who repairs monasteries and seemed genuinely happy to help out a random stranger, once again reminding me how genuinely nice the people are in Myanmar.
The rings around their neck are unbelievably heavy!

Normally they stand on one leg and use the other leg to paddle so they can fish hands free. This guy was just showing off.

No comments:

Post a Comment