Today’s uphill trek takes us through villages, alongside fields and gives us the chance to meet many villagers. Lunch in villagers’ homes was our reward.
By Patricia Andersson
It’s been a pretty sedentary trip so far. Lots of bus rides, small bits of walking around, but nothing you would call aerobic activity, save for some stair climbing as we made our way to the top of various pagodas. With the bounty of delicious food we were being served, we were turning into blobs. Today would change all that.
After breakfast, we headed out in the skinny longboats again, puttering down the canal and into the lake to the tune of the single cylinder diesel engines. It was a veritable rush hour, with a plethora of boats carrying groups of tourists as well as Lake Inle citizens going about their daily lives, bringing wicker baskets full of produce to market, transporting huge bags of corn destined for the cities, and commuting to work at the hotels that dot the shore of the lake.After an hour’s journey, we slowed to glide through Ywama, one of the villages that helps give the area the title of Venice of the East, as the homes are all built on stilts above the water. Canals create village streets, and residents row between their houses. Unfortunately for the lake, their “outhouses” are just covered chutes that deposit contents directly into the water. People also bathe in that water, as well as wash their clothes right off their docks. We all made a quick decision that swimming in the lake was not an activity any of us wanted to engage in. Even still, the area is picturesque and charming.
Once onshore with our local guide for what was promised to be an “easy trek,” we headed into some gorgeous bamboo groves with soft sunlight filtering through the leaves. Soon we were walking through a village, all of us city slickers taking pictures of pigs in their sties. I’m certain the pigs never before felt quite the celebrity status we bestowed on them. With much waving, smiles, and greeting calls of “mingala bar!” we progressed through the village and towards a small sugar cane factory where we watched the labor-intensive process of turning this major local crop from plant into molasses.
Then we were onto the part of the trek that none of us would have labeled as “easy,” nearly two hours of walking on an unceasingly uphill, open dirt road in the increasingly hot sun towards the village where were were promised lunch and a break. Happily the journey was broken up by encounters with villagers who would stop their work and talk with us about growing and processing their crops of tumeric (women’s work), the making of charcoal (men’s work), and the building of a road being constructed to more easily reach the 50 — yes, 50 — new hotels that are about to be built near the shore. We all felt we were visiting the area just in time!Finally at the (almost) top, the path opened into a stunning scene of distant hills and bright green garlic fields, dotted with women from the local Pa-O tribe working the fields in their traditional black dresses with colorful turbans wrapped around their heads. The long climb had certainly paid off! As we trudged the last twenty minutes to our lunch break, we gave way along the road to wooden carts piled high with rice or sugar cane, drawn by Brahman bulls with the camel-like humps on their backs.
Finally we arrived at our lunch stop, where our group of 14 was split and escorted to local homes to sit upstairs on the floor around low wooden tables, where we were fed bowls of noodles and vegetables. Nothing quite compared to how good that meal tasted after that long hot climb! Tea, rice crackers, pound cake, sugar cane pieces and specially-procured pomelo (similar to an overgrown grapefruit) rounded out our meal, and then we were back on the path again. This time we were promised a short-cut, and after only and hour-plus — and downhill this time — we were back at our boats. On our entire journey, we had not encountered a single other Westerner.
Stopping at a restaurant on stilts in “Venice” before heading back to our hotel, most of us ordered frosty bottles of the local beer (creatively called “Myanmar”) and congratulated ourselves on our accomplishment. Although in reality we probably only gained about 800 feet in altitude, we promised to a person that if anyone asked, we would claim to have climbed the highest peak in the range.
Photos by Patricia Andersson