I was startled awake early in the morning on our second day of trekking, it seemed Paulien was true to her world of wanting a morning yoga session. Although I was momentarily annoyed, I’m glad she woke me and Martin was not far behind. Despite the rough surface and abundance of stones on the porch, it was a good start to the day, and we did get some pretty cool pictures, and video, thanks to Tam Pe. We enjoyed breakfast together, fluffy crepes, instant coffee and loads of fruit, before packing up and continuing for our second day of adventuring. The route was a bit different than our first day, involving many hills and unfortunately also lots of mud. I didn’t mind the exertion of the hike, although my knees aren’t a fan of the downs, but when we stopped for lunch I decided I’d had enough of the mud - little did I know what was waiting for me.
The village we stopped in for lunch was small, and again filled with trekking groups, but I managed to find a few patches of beauty. Martin and I wandered away from our group to see more of the houses, and managed to befriend one of the elders. A man watching from his upper window waved us over and seeing our cameras posed for a few pictures, proudly displaying his tattoos. Before long he was inviting us into his home, and although communication was difficult it was a unique experience, stepping into his corner of the world, what I truly hoped to experience on this trek. We were served a heaping bowl of fried noodles for lunch, and although the health conscious part of me wanted to pass, my hunger won and I polished off a heaping portion.
Similar to the day before dark rain clouds rolled in while we were eating and I had a feeling it was going to be an interesting afternoon. The darkest clouds rolled on quickly after a quick downpour, but luck was not on my side and nor was mother nature done with us. The rain came and went, leaving its mark on our path for the rest of the afternoon. The rain itself wasn’t so much the problem, as was what it did to our route. Trekking through an already muddy, water buffalo frequented route, it was a test of our concentration, balance and endurance; all of us intent on not finishing the day covered in the mud/shit combo that surrounded us. Nature was already testing my patience which caused my desire to socialize to plummet as well, needless to say the Spanish accent was wearing thin on me.
In the late afternoon, after crossing vast rice fields, rocky cliffside and a few more shit paths we reached our village, home number two, a very welcome oasis. We were introduced to the owner of our second home, and instantly I felt more ‘at home’ than the previous night, although I still think we could have benefited from more family interaction. I wasn’t surprised, having done treks similar to this in Thailand, but I would have enjoyed learning more about the village and family we were staying with. Our room was upstairs while the family slept downstairs, just beside the kitchen and outdoor ‘dining room’ that we spent the majority of our time at. Dinner followed the trend of being delicious and abundant, with the surprise inclusion of homemade french fries. I first thought this was a treat only for the tourist, but throughout my time in Myanmar came to realize it’s actually a common occurrence at the dinner table. We were clearly all wiped out from our day of hill walking, shit hoping and rain dodging because everyone was in bed and knocked out by 9pm.
Martin, Paulien and I decided that we liked the yoga start to the day, and promised everyone we’d be doing so again, but with one small change. As our beds were simple mats on the floor we decided they could double as yoga mats, so instead of heading outside to practice we stayed put. A few others said they would maybe join us, and sure enough one by one they started following along, until in the end each and every one of us lunging, down dogging and showing off our proudest warriors. I sometimes forget that I can teach this thing I love to practice so this was a pleasant reminder of that.
Out breakfast on day three wasn’t quite as substantial as hoped, it appeared to be french toast, but upon further inspection was just toast. Before leaving our hosts we took a few pictures together and thanked them for their hospitality. It seemed we were all a bit hesitant to leave which was probably equal parts not wanting to leave and also prolonging the course that lay ahead. The fluffy toast breakfast seemed to quickly evaporate from my stomach so it was great news to me that a tea (and cookie) break was scheduled for mid-morning. While sitting with our morning tea we saw the other group from ‘Ever Smile’ jump in the back of a jeep, apparently they decided they were done and caught a ride to Inle. Thankfully our mud trekking days were behind us and the terrain was much drier for day three, interesting how much our terrain and scenery changed from day to day, if not hour to hour.
Part way through the day we came upon an enormous resort and it was here that we had to pay the compulsory $10 Inle Lake entrance fee, which I hope actually benefits the nature or community and doesn’t just fall into the pockets of government officials. Shortly after this point Tam Pe brought our attention to the horizon and pointed out the entrance to Inle Lake, our destination for the end of today’s hike. Although it was beautiful, breathtaking really, my heart sunk a little; it was still damn far away. I realized I was tired, the multiple days of hiking - on the back of a nasty stomach virus, finally taking it’s toll on me, but I was stubborn to admit it. The majority of the day was spent descending the hills towards the lake, which may sound easier, but with knees of an 80 year old and arid terrain, it was not.
Eventually the ground flattened and there was an end in sight, just as temperatures were peaking, with sweat dripping down our backs we reached Inle Township and were rewarded with lunch. The hard work was done and in my opinion there was nothing more appropriate than a celebratory beer, and thankfully Martin agreed, although I would’ve drank alone if I had to. There was still one last leg to our journey and that was the much anticipated boat trip across Inle, 30 minutes on the water, observing the unique fishing technique and beautiful views. Unfortunately my combination of heat, exhaustion and beer meant that I enjoyed a nap for the majority of the ride, but that too was quite enjoyable.
Opening its doors to tourism in 2012, Myanmar is like a toddler just learning how to walk, but oh is it learning quickly. Where WiFi and ATM's were once non-existent they're now common place. As the country quickly adapts my only hope is that the people do not, maintaining their fresh, friendly demeanor.