Friday, February 26, 2016

Trek From Kalaw to Inle Lake. Day 1. Part 1.


Today was a day that I had been very much looking forward to ever since planning this trip.  I love village treks because they put you into remote parts of the country that you can obviously only get to on foot.  To me, these are the places where you can see and if you're lucky, experience an authentic way of life.

Unfortunately, the day did not start off well for me.  I  woke up when the alarm went off but the moment I stood up from the bed, I had to madly dash for the toilet.  I knew I had come down with a case of diarrhea and I think it was from the sugar cane juice though who knows.  It could have been from what I had for dinner last night.  In any case, I was starting already think about what I would have to do to survive the day.  I went about my morning duties as best I could, rushing to the toilet as need be.

The other two were awake by now and one by one, everyone got ready for the day.

It was a chilly morning outside.  Up until now, I had been trying to figure out how to dress as lightly as I could so I could bear the heat and humidity. Today, as I stepped outside, I was wondering if I had put on enough layers.  Breakfast as a buffet meal.  I had a hard time eating, partly because I was running to the toilet every 5 minutes and partly because I didn't know what or how much to eat.  I can't be trying to find a tree to hide behind every 5 minutes.

In the end I went light on the meal and surprisingly, by the time breakfast was over, I was feeling infinitely better.  In fact, I felt like whatever was inside me that my body was heavily objecting to was no longer there.  Even so, I decided take a couple of Immodium tablets just to be certain.

Aung was picking us up at 9a.  We were at the hotel entrance well before then.  We had turned in our room key and we were ready to go, waiting for him to arrive.



Aung and a driver pulled up pretty much on the dot.  Us and the luggage all piled in for the short ride to the starting point for our two day trek.  Yay!!  My diarrhea felt like a memory....I was feeling good and ready for a walk.

We drove through a bit of Kalaw on the way out of town.


The outskirts of town was pretty much all agricultural land.  This time of year, a few crops are being grown though it is dry season.


The rice fields had been long harvested and the straw was now feed for the water buffaloes that likely once plowed that very same field.



The driver stopped the van in front of a small wooden building.  We had arrived at our starting point.  We and our backpacks got out but our suitcases stayed in the van.  They would eventually meet back up with us at our hotel in Lake Inle.

This was our last chance to pick up water and snacks before heading out.  Although it was an overcast days and comfortably cool, you can still get dehydrated so I made sure I had plenty of water.  So far, my diarrhea was in full check so I was feeling really good.


We made our way across the road and across the field, heading towards the railroad tracks.

A family, hard at work, preparing their field for the next crop.  Not every child gets to go to school.

The sign said Inn Wu.  That was the name of the village we were just about to leave.


The train station at Inn Wu.

As we neared the tracks, we heard the sound of a train approaching.  We decided to pause our walk to wait for it to pass by.



I saw faces looking out the windows as the train chugged past us.  We all smiled and waved at the people and they smiled and waved back.  A simple set of gestures is all it takes to make a human connection.  A smile and a wave. 


We journeyed on.  We had a 20 kilometer (12.5 miles) walk ahead of us and we had barely started.




From one field to another we went. 


Occasionally, we would cross paths with villagers, like this adorable young girl with a man whom I assumed was her father.  Of course we stopped and tried to engage in some conversation, with Aung translating, but she was understandably shy of the three of us.  It wouldn't have surprised me if we were the first foreigners she had ever laid her eyes on. Bro and I can pass for Burmese but Ayşe definitely stands out.




Following the young girl and her father was a women with her small herd of water buffalo.


Like cows, they know the daily feeding routine, walking completely untethered, following the woman ahead of them.


We stopped for the occasional water break.  Unlike the three of us who can only drink bottled water, Aung took advantage of the free community water jugs.  The cup is a simple tin can.




We traversed across many a field.  The ground was often very uneven and so I had to keep close watch on where I put my feet.  It's only been a few weeks since I badly sprained my ankle in Bangkok and I didn't want to risk re-injuring it.  I was glad every time we made it a dirt road as the surface was more even.


Piles of animal dung were everywhere.  I don't know if the villagers use it just for fertilizer or if it's also used as fuel for cooking and heating.


At times, we had to walk along the dirt ridges that separate sections of a rice field.  I don't think we could've have done this when the fields are flooded and rice is growing.  I think it would've been far too muddy though I think it would have been interesting to see the wet fields.


We also took the occasional snack break which of course, were also good opportunities for a photo op which Ayşe doesn't mind :-)


It was about an hour's walk, after leaving Inn Wu, that we made it to our first village.  I had no idea what to expect.  The last village trek I did was in Mali and well, those villages were filled with mud buildings. 


We entered in to a small enclave of wood slat homes.  A dirt road wound its way between the homes which were mostly two stories high.


One look at the homes and their surroundings and you know how poor these people are.  Life cannot be easy for them.


I didn't notice all that many domesticated animals either penned up or roaming around the village although zebu were a common sight.



As we made our way through the village, the sound of many voices soon filled the air.  It came from a bunch of men who were helping to construct a home.  Village life is community life and when someone is in need, everyone who can help, does.



While the men worked on the house, gathered nearby were the women who as far as I could guess were bagging rice, presumably for sale in the market.  Each group of women had a particularly task to perform.  The scarves wrapped around their heads identified women as members of the Pa'O tribe, the largest ethnic minority in the Kalaw region.



While I might consider to be the Pa'O to be poor, they can at least sustain themselves.  Typically, I look at the faces of the children so see how well a people are able to feed themselves. All parents will make sure their child is well fed before they eat.  The children here had the plump cheeks that you would expect to see of a child that is not starving.  In fact, at least one face was too cute to not photograph.


Everyone in a village has a job to do.  Today, it was the task of two boys to go to the community pump and fill up the large yellow plastic container with water.  The boys carried  away the filled container which dangled from a bamboo pole that spanned between the boys shoulders.  Aung stopped to help the boys, making sure the container was positioned halfway across the rod so it was equidistant from both boys. 


The young girl was not to be outdone by the boys. When they left, she took her turn at the spigot.


At times, we all chatted and at other times, we were all lost in our own thoughts.  Each person has their own way of making it through the world.  Pretty much, at all times, I brought up the lead - slowed down because I was taking photos. 


Aung has trekked this route more times than he can remember.  The good thing about that is that he knows all the good places for a rest break.....like under the shade of this massive tree.


I took way more photos than I had expected to on this walk.  I think I have at least a dozen photos of rice fields alone.....they look the same. :-)




The land is so parched.  If  I remember correctly, it last rained in October.


The next village we happened upon, we just walked by.


I rarely saw any mechanized farm equipment here.  Power typically is provide by a water buffalo or two.


It didn't look like the village had any electricity but there was loud music blaring out from speakers somewhere. :-)

The one thing I have noticed about the villages is that there are homes that are constructed of cinderblocks instead of wood slat.  My comment on this was that these were the homes of the wealthier villages.  They are definitely sturdier homes.  I don't know if this is an earthquake zone or not but a cinderblock building is more likely to survive a mild quake than a wood slat structure.



There were some village women working, turning a pile of compost.  They came up to see us, curious of course.  I remembered we had brought along some snacks with us and I suggested that we share some with the women.  I don't know who got more out of this simple act of kindness, us or the women.  






We crossed paths with a Pa'O man who was really curious about us.  He and Aung had a brief conversation and then he kindly agreed to pose for a photo for me.  I loved the shot and I had to show it to him before we parted ways.  I'm not a portrait photographer but I love to take photos of people in their element, where they are most comfortable.  Not to mention that he happens to be dressed in colors that blend well with the background :-)



We walked through many a grove of tall bamboo which is an essential material in the daily lives of the villagers.  They use it for everything from construction to small  kitchen items.


The third village we came upon this morning was where we stopped for lunch.




We strolled by piles, literally piles of chilies being dried.  Maybe they're this village's specialty?



This one woman was sorting through an enormous pile of the chilies.  Empty bags were sitting nearby, waiting to be filled and taken to the market.


Aung led us inside one of the village homes.  It's custom here to take your shoes off before entering.  We then headed up to the second floor. 


The stairs ended in a room that looked like it was the family's living room as there were personal items displayed everywhere.  Best not to touch anything for fear I would break something.


To one side, a low table was already set out with a few small bowls of food.  That was our lunch table.


As I walked across the floor, the slats would slightly give way under me.  I joked it was not meant to be walked across by 3 people from the US - we are on the hefty side compared to the typical Burmese villager :-)

Curious about the world around me, I had to check out the view from the room's front and back windows.




As we relaxed, Aung was busy getting our lunch together for us.  Little by little,  plates and bowls of food were brought to the table.


We had burned off a good number of our breakfast calories and I was definitely hungry as I had barely had any breakfast.  I think we also enjoyed having a chance to relax our feet and legs even though it really hadn't been a difficult walk....even for me.



We each got a glass of juice, a bowl of veggie fried noodles topped with a sunny side egg, and a bowl of soup.  There was no meat served and I wouldn't be surprised if meat is not a heavy part of the village meal. As I mentioned earlier, I really did not see all that many domesticated animals in the villages.

There were bowls of fruit - Asian pear, watermelon, avocado, and orange slices to share.  It was a very simple lunch but very filling.


Sounds silly but I loved the egg.  Two thumbs up to the hen that laid it!


Shortly after we finished eating, the skies opened up and we were in the middle of a torrential downpour.  There was nothing we could but wait it out.



I was dreading having to spend the afternoon here because that would really throw a wrench in our trekking plans but thankfully, as quickly as the skies had opened up blue skies soon showed up and we were on our way down the path.

On our way down to the first floor, we made sure to thank our hosts on the way out.  I know Aung had made all the arrangements but it was actually them who did all the work to provide for our lunch.

As we left, I glanced back up at the second floor, to the open door that led to the room that we had our lunch in.  A very modest home to a very hospitable family.