Another 3 day adventure that I didn’t bother to think through. 60+ Kilometers of hiking, sure no problem! It’s probably better that I didn’t think about it though, I may have talked myself out of doing it. I probably should have compared tour groups or looked into what each one offered a bit more, but in the end I was happy with the group I had and our guide. Tam Pe was kind and helpful, and although our group was larger than I would have liked, a small group also could have led to problems. At least this way I had a spread of people to meet and talk to. Overall the hike was totally worth it, met some interesting people, saw beautiful sights and villages and free exercise!
I woke up with a bit of a recurring stomach bug and was nervous that the problems I had in Bagan were coming back to haunt me. Turns out it was just an attack from the spicy food I had mistakenly chosen to eat the night before. I grabbed some medication on the way, along with a few more packs of rehydration salts, just to be safe. I met two other travelers at my guesthouse, Paulien and Martin, who were also taking part in the 3 day trek with “Ever Smile” so we walked over together. Of course, we had to wait for the rest of the group to assemble, many arriving late and others realizing they had to backtrack for an ATM stop, thoughtless people will never cease to amaze me.
The first leg of the hike was beautiful, just beginning to emerge out of the city, enjoying a change in scenery while getting to know the new group of people I’d be spending the next 72 hours with. We made a brief stop at Ne Ignan (Cool water) lake along the way, Tam Pe explaining to us that the lake was built in 1903 by the British, who at the time were using Kalaw as a summer resort. After chatting with one of the local fisherman we continued on our way, not stopping again until it was time for lunch. This was the first time I realized that we would not be enjoying quite the remote wilderness we had been promised. Not only was our group big, but we were hiking the same route as multiple other tour groups, missing each other by only a few minutes. The lunch spot was the ingenuity of some locals, building an Indian restaurant with gorgeous views, capitalizing on ALL of the tourists passing through the area. The food was one of the best meals I’d had in awhile and probably the best we ate throughout our trip, not to mention the magnificent view.
In an attempt to separate ourselves from some of the other groups we left early, just as the afternoon rain clouds were rolling in. I feared that I would soon resemble a wet puppy, dripping backpack in tow, but thankfully the showers were only a sprinkle and my rain coat served a dual purpose in covering not only me, but also my bag. The trek continued up and down hills, across fields and even a few small streams, with each scene offering more beauty than the last. While trekking the most natural thing to do is talk and so we did a lot of just that. It was interesting being in a group with six Spanish speakers. For a long time now I’ve been considering a trip to South America, the whole time curious as to how much of my high school Spanish skills have been retained upstairs. It was a pleasant surprise to find that I could follow a majority of the conversations, it was just my response ability which was lacking, quite similar to my Korean skills actually. I guess I should take some of my own advice (to my students), stop being shy and get talking.
Eventually we arrived to our home for the night, a quaint room in a small village complete with floor mats for sleeping and bucket showers for cleaning. While I stretched out my stiff legs and back from the day of walking I hadn’t expected anyone to notice or want to join me, but Martin spotted and asked to do just that. Although it was a short practice Martin, Paulien and I decided that a morning yoga session outside our room would be a great way to start the second day. The shower was quite unappealing (standing water in an enormous concrete basin) Valentine and I decided to help each other out since we were both needing a hair wash. It was at this time, with my head tilted back questioning the cleanliness of the water being poured through my hair, that I saw the immense beauty above. The number of stars in the night's sky was immeasurable, it was absolutely breathtaking and I couldn’t help but do anything but smile.
Before we sat to eat we were entertained by a performance of traditional song and dance by a group of village members. Tam Pe explained to us that they were practicing for an upcoming festival, and would also accept any donations we might be willing to give (of course). Dinner was a large spread of different things, rice of course, fish and various vegetable dishes all of which were delicious. Not long after we finished eating people began turning in for sleep, clearly the day's activities had taken it out of us, and there was still plenty more to come.
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.