• Tara B. Vasi

Myanmar Three Day Trek to Inle Lake

January 26th-January 29th 2020

Holy crap. I am currently laying in bed at 6:30 pm on Wednesday. I checked into my hotel in Inle Lake after a three-day trek from Kalaw, Myanmar.

The hotel is right on the river and absolutely lovely, though anywhere with a warm bed and a hot shower would be more than acceptable to me.

Let me tell you, the hot shower was one of the best I have had in my life. Three days of dirt and sweat down the drain.

We hiked about 65 km, or 40 miles, from Kalaw to Inle Lake breaking it up between the three days, 20km, 25km, and 20km. Each night we stayed in a small village, both nights staying with the mayor of the village and his family. The first day and night our group was five, including me, and we were all from different countries. One girl was from Germany, another from UK, another from Poland, and the other from Colombia. We were all traveling solo, but just like I met the two girls at the coffee shop and they invited me along on the hike, the other two pairs of girls had met each other during their travels and continued their adventures to Myanmar together.

Monday morning I gather my belongings and check out of my hotel in Kalaw at 8 am to meet the group at another hotel for the hike. We are introduced to Robin, our guide. He is a 61-year-old man who was born in Kalaw but spent much of his adult years in India. He wore a turban and had a pretty sweet gray beard. He collected our money 45,000 kyat for the three-day trek including food and accommodation. That's about $30 USD.

He hiked the entire 40 miles wearing flip flops. He carried a small backpack that barely held any belongings and a large white rolled-up map of our trail stuck out of the side pocket. We all lugged our own drinking water and clothes for the trek in small day packs. Some people brought sleeping bags and wore hiking boots, but I just rocked my nikes.

We set out around 9:30 am the first day. January and February are the coldest months in Myanmar, and also the driest, so the dirt under our feet is loose on the trail. He leads us through rice patties and farmland, stopping often to show us different kinds of trees, berries, and spices. The trail took us up hills and into valleys. We often had to cross water on bridges made out of bamboo shoots that bent slightly when you stepped on them. Some bridges were so old we had to go one at a time and sidestep in order not fall through.

We met so many farmers along the way. Each one smiled and waved. Many had a baby tied over their shoulder. The farmers wore bamboo hats and yellow face paint. The yellow face paint is called Thanaka and it is made from ground tree bark and yellow pollen. The face paint is used as sun cream and acne cream, but also as decoration. The yellow face paint is a distinctive feature of the culture of Myanmar, so you won’t see it everywhere.

The farmers were mainly in a squatting position (malasana) cutting and bundling celery, digging up ginger, and picking chili peppers from the bush. There were sooooo many chili fields and I learned this area grows and exports chilis for the entire country.

We met a lot of water buffalo and I said hello to all of them. They are used to help plow the field and their fecal matter is used as fertilizer. In the mornings when it was cold, we could see their huge piles of dung steaming and knew they were freshies.

I noticed they had rope through their noses and were tied with a very short rope to a stake in the ground. I asked Robin. He said some water buffalo can be aggressive towards foreigners, or people they don’t see every day that they feel are invading their space. (I feel you, boo) He said they sharpen a piece of bamboo to create a needle to pierce the nose. The piercing usually happens when they are around 1 year old. He said they only started doing this to protect the tourists. They are too strong for a leash and collar sort of thing.

We chatted as a group the majority of the time we hiked, about our favorite places, where we were going next, our lives back in our homeland… We also spent some time in silence trekking single file down more narrow trails.

The weather reached the high 80’s around noon and that’s when we stopped at a coffee and tea farm for lunch. The owner's wife was holding a six-month baby girl and all us women cooed over her. She had pierced ears. We asked her name and learned that she didn’t have one yet. It was their custom to wait to name the baby until she is one year and one day old. They have a big celebration and invite the entire village.

We ate lunch under a huge tree that grew what you and I know as LUFFA’s. We had to kick them away when we set up our table and its interesting to think that people in the USA would spend $20 or so on a “good one,” and here we are thinking they are a nuisance.

The tree provided so much shade we all had to put our jackets on again.

We had lentil soup, rice, veg, etc for lunch and we all ate with our hands and used toilet paper as napkins. We filled up our water bottles from a hose attached to a natural spring from the mountain, digested just a bit, and then continued on our journey.

We stopped to visit a healer. He was a 92 year old monk that was sickly. When we arrived his daughter was feeding him soup and wiping his mouth when the soup would dribble out. We sat and had tea in the room with them. I felt really uncomfortable invading their privacy like that, even though they invited us. He was in his most vulnerable state.

We arrived at the village where we would spend the night around 5pm. Children played in the streets with balls made out of bamboo. The mayor of the village showed us our room. There were five beds prepared with a pillow and three blankets each. The temperature drops below 30 degrees Fahrenheit at night and they don’t have heat. He offered us a bucket shower, but he warned us the water was extremely cold. None of us took a shower.

For dinner, we had quite the feast. The mayor and his family had been preparing the meal for us since 2 pm that day. We had curried cauliflower, mustard greens, fried eggplant, yellow carrot, etc over candlelight. For dessert we had something similar to peanut brittle. They didn't have electricity for us to charge our phones so we took turns using the solar converter they kept on the shelf in the corner of the dining room.

I brought a pair of pajamas to change into and ended up sleeping in my puffy pink and my hat. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to use the outhouse in the middle of the night because it was all the way outside and around the house and there was very little lighting.

Even with all the doors and windows closed and three blankets, we were all still a bit cold sleeping. For me, just mainly my nose, which was also supremely stuffed up because the blankets were quite dusty.

We woke up to roosters cockadoodle doing. I changed back int my hiking clothes under my three dusty blankets to stay warm. I didn't feel rested, but luckily my body wasn’t very sore.

We had coffee and tea. No one fought me over instant coffee.

They prepared us a fried egg over fried rice, banana, and watermelon.

We were on the trail by 7:30 am. As we were leaving the village, I noticed frost on the ground. I was not expecting that! #fuckfrost

Robin warns us that the first hour of the hike is steep, which wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been burping up fried rice. We certainly warmed up quickly. Once we got to the top, of course, it was worth every step. The views were amazing and it was awesome to be able to see the exact house that we had stayed in the previous night from 1650 meters above sea level.

The girl from Poland mentioned that her hands were swollen, maybe from the dust in the air, maybe the altitude? I realized my hands were swollen too, and I had never experienced anything quite like it. It was gross.

We hike through some strawberry fields, garlic fields, and many more chili fields. We stopped for a break at a small village to use the toilet, though most of us had already popped a squat in nature.

We had some people joining our trek. Five women from Barcelona, Spain, and a man from Korea. Two of the Spanish girls were sisters. We also added a second guide, though he didn't speak much English and acted as our Kaboose, donning flips flops and a red grin the entire hike. We were now a group of 11, plus 2 guides.

We stopped for lunch about an hour and a half after meeting our new friends. My lower back was hurting badly, so it was nice to rest and take off my backpack. For lunch, we had samosas and hot soup. We ate every dish in its entirety that was put in front of us. I was feeling sluggish and wanting a nap.

For the next hour and a half after lunch, we walked on a dirt road in between cornfields in direct sunlight. Motorbikes and trucks passed us, kicking up dirt into the air.

I can pinpoint the exact moment I was fucking over it.

It was at 3:03pm. We had hiked about 25 of the 40 miles. My back hurt. I was hot, sweaty, and couldn’t breathe well because of all the dust in the air. I couldn't listen to any more travel stories or learn any more about Myanmar. I didn't know how I would make it. Where do I click unsubscribe, I was thinking? I’ll unsubscribe from hiking forever! Where is the opt-out button? I considered telling Robin I was sick and somehow figuring out how to hitch a ride to the lake.

But, I didn't. I switched my pack to my front body. I noticed some of the other girls were tiring too, so while encouraging them to carry on, I encouraged myself to carry on, too.

Soon enough, we were back in the shady jungle and away from the dirt road.

We stopped at another chili farm to show the newbies. The Korean was keen on trying a pepper even though Robin insisted that he did not. The Korean stuck his tongue to it and said that because it was a little dry it wouldn’t be hot, so he took a big bite of the pepper. The Korean was wrong.

We hiked a few more hours up and down and up and down until we came to the village where we would be spending the night. Thank god, I remember thinking.

As we were walking to our house, we walked by a Mama and a baby cow. The baby cow was curled up on the ground and looked bloody and the Mama was standing with what looked like afterbirth coming out of her vag. The baby had just been born a few hours prior. I had never seen anything like that. I didn't take a photo because I wanted to respect their privacy.

All 11 of us stayed in the same room. It was set up in the same fashion as the previous night and we all had two blankets.

Our hosts were so excited to welcome us into their home and so pleased with the meal they served us. The meal was amazing. Pumpkin soup, curried eggs with tomato chutney, sautéed greens with garlic, etc…

There was a musical performance in the village that night, so we could hear music playing from where we were dining. The majority of the group went to check out the show after dinner, but I decided to call it an early night, ie, be alone.

I wake up to the sound of Robin saying, “Hello. Hello. Its morning time now. Hello. Hello.” He had the sweetest way of waking us up.

They prepared us crepes with honey and watermelon for breakfast.

We were out the door by 7:15 am and had a lot of ground to cover in order to make it to the river by noon. Once we were at the river, we would have lunch and then take a boat 1.5 hours to Inle Lake.

We hiked 20 km. At least half of the hike on the third day was on a dirt road, so it was a bit mundane.

I got some goooood thinking in.

Robin let us know when we had 30 minutes left of the hike and I celebrated slightly, knowing the HELL was almost over.

We all felt victorious over hot soup at lunch, knowing we had just crushed a 40 mile hike (Or 15mile) and were so close to a hot shower and a hotel room.

We said our goodbyes and wished everyone safe travels then divided between two boats.

The boats were super long and narrow and had seats for us in the middle.

The boat skimmed the surface of the water as it moved down the river.

I took my shoes off, propped my feet up on my bag, and fell asleep in the sunlight.


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