I woke early despite the 5am arrival time and enjoyed a fantastic hot shower. Worth the $5 alone! Over breakfast I was co-erced onto the three-day trek as I’d have to wait a couple of days for another two-day one to set off. The cost was $10 a day for the guide (and food and accommodation), $4 for my bags to be shipped to Inle Lake and $4 for the boat trip from the bottom of the lake to Nyaungshwe where the hotels are.
It was a nice, small group: Harry, the guide; Anna and Michael from Poland (more Poles!); Mark from Texas; and another Polish lady who’s name nobody got. I shall call her Madame Polska.
The three day route actually starts off heading west away from Inle Lake to take in one village and some of the local culture. We’d actually be spending the night more or less due south of Kalaw after going round in a “U” shape.
It’s dry season and the roads were bumpy and dusty. In some places the dust was so deep that stepping in it made it “splash” in much the way water does from a shallow puddle. It’s also a lovely, rusty red like that of the Australian Outback.
Another thing that the country here shares with the Outback if the most amazing blue skies. I guess “azure” is one word, but I just don’t think any language can do justice to the colour.
Not far from where we began, we walked past some “roadworks”. About twenty locals were creating a proper paved road out of their own pockets. The government couldn’t be bothered helping them (forking out for flamboyant weddings for their offspring is deemed far more important) so they’d purchased and manufactured all the required equipment and materials themselves. From the tarmac bubbling in oil drums that had been cut open to stone graders made from metal with varying sized holes punched in it. May of the workers were female, probably around 80%.
At around midday we stopped for lunch at a viewpoint used by a few trekking groups. Our food was served up – fresh fruit, a salad, a mild curry and as much green tea as we could drink. We spent an hour eating and chilling before pressing on.
Almost every local we passed had a smile and a wave, the children in particular. Madame Polska had brought pens which Harry dished out to the children along with medicines, toothpaste and the like which he himself had brought.
Towards the end of the day we got a chance to take some photos of one of the local trains as it pulled into a station we happened to be at. The guards (in fact anyone in uniform in this country) don’t like having their photos taken. So we made sure and took plenty as serupticiously as we could.
We arrived at our home for the evening at around 5pm as the sun started to dip. A couple of small houses surrounded by farmland. Our hosts had laid out sleeping mats and three thick blankets for each of us. Given that it was still very hot, this seemed overly generous, but we were to need them!
Our travelling chef – who we found out hiked ahead of us – prepared a buffet dinner of fish curry (argh), mountain rice, chilli paste (hot!), fried vegetables and many other things. As at lunchtime there was more food than we could eat – though Anna and Mark tried their best!
We all filtered bed-wards over the coming hours as darkness fell and the electricity was switched off. Mark and I lay one of our blankets each underneath us, folded up, as protection for our bony hips. It was better than nothing, but sacrificed some of the covering we needed once the temperature plumetted in the early hours.
It was really cold!