Breaking Burma Day 101: International Man of Mystery

After a not so ethnic breakfast composed of a double stacker of French toast with banana or avocado, tomato, and onion as a topping, we began our hike through the backwoods between Kalaw and Inle Lake. Just before doing so we got to cover ourselves with yellow cream that the Myanmar use for sunscreen lotion. This bright yellow face paint is made from of all things the bark of a thanakha tree. On a somewhat rough stone, I ground a short tree limb from the thanakha down waxing on and off with a splash of water until a milky gold paste emerged. Most everyone put small streaks on their faces but I wanted to go all in lathering my entire face and arms with it as if it were some tribal coating. It took some time to dry but when it did on the dusty trail, they looked back at me and laughed at what a ridiculous sight I was. The rolling and capped lands weren’t postcard worthy but they still offered a fair share of beauty with realistic expectations. I have lowered my expectations from the lush green rice paddy fields that I always envisioned. The landscape was composed of trees sprouting all about in clumps and misguided locales (some randomly pines which offset the continuous aroma of a campfire gone wrong) with rolling hills and distant mountains shining a gilded gold from pervading summer heat and light that made me feel like I could have been in Tuscany, ready to sip a tall glass of wine. At about this time, I was feeling quite tired with the usual emotions of wanting to sit down and hunger. I quickly need to smack myself out of that daze and get back to my center. These are the moments when the mind refuses to open itself to the limitless possibilities that it and the body are capable of. A great deal of this trip has to do with me overcoming what I perceive I cannot do. When trained for so long to think a certain way, you expect it be so day in and day out but not until you take a step back and look closely at your needs and desires do you know the difference. So onward I went evading the minor setbacks. At our first stop, we resumed our consumption of green tea, a hot drink for a hot day (gotta fight fire with fire). At this particular rest break we were fed fried tofu and corn snacks that reminded me oddly of Cheetos with out the dairy coating. Here, we watched a woman make beautiful bags and head scarfs out of the most potent array of colors, all produced by an elaborate tribal sowing technique. Each design took a whole three days to complete with price tag of only three or four dollars for the time spent, a pittance if there ever was one. I tried to get C2 to talk about Myanmar more in depth with particular interest in the government but he more or less grew uncomfortable with the subject. Not many people are willing to share their views about the government and the state of the country. At the same time, I can’t blame them since it is a sensitive subject in which the country hasn’t exactly completed its transition to democracy in the most righteous terms. After some more trekking through the hinterlands, we made camp in a local village. For lunch, our chef, or ‘chief’ as the rest of the group tended to call him, served up a tasty noodle dish with the freshest of grapes and oranges (not without their fair share of seeds) adding a nice touch. Since it was the hottest part of the day, all of us tried to take a nap amidst the relentless lust of human flesh by flanks of flies. When we couldn’t stand the flies any longer, we walked around the village to immerse ourselves into the ebb and flow of village life watching the men and women work and the children play. These people have such infectious smiles and a friendliness that has yet to find a proper comparison. We may have gotten in the way perhaps but they always wanted to make sure we were happy, we were satisfied, when rarely do they receive the same. Buffaloes and a species of animal birthed from a weird Frankenstein experiment between a cow and a camel were the machines to tow the goods and equipment between village and farmland. I also noticed the growing trend in which women (especially in the villages) hold their babies by supporting their child’s weight through the use of a large shawl or blanket wrapped around their waists and shoulder as the baby rests on their mother’s back while she goes about doing her chores. After more trekking uphill even though we had been promised a smooth descent by C2 (a fact that we did not leave by the wayside singing a chorus of sarcastic remarks about the ease of the uphill climb), we found our destined sleeping village, a by now touristic haven for the night. Upon seeing a beer station built into an expansive cabana, we asked C2 how can this be after only four years of the Myanmar borders truly being open (before 2011 only seven day visas were issued compared to the 28 that stand today). He said that these treks to Inle Lake may continue into the distant future but that won’t have the genuine village home stay feel that they do now. The trails will be more setup and more simply, the people will have by then be used to seeing Westerners. As for good times, I was reunited with my friend, the aforementioned mysterious Brit. I had long been dying to hear his story so he began his somewhat epic tale. He took the bus as had been planned from Mandalay to Kalaw but it arrived earlier than expected while he still slept through the early morning as it continued to the end stop of Taunggyi at four a.m. He was told that he was now an hour past Kalaw and would need to take minibus back in that direction. The bus left at seven a.m. and took longer than imagined as it stopped for each and every reason that could or could not have come up whether to load goods onto the bus (which he got coerced into chipping in for) or wait around for people that never arrived. So, he arrived in Kalaw at 9 a.m. (close to an hour past our departure from the trekking town) and somehow remembered that I planned on trekking with Sam’s Family Trekking group. He phoned our guide to meet us along the way and hired an expensive motorbike taxi to track us down. Alas, the effort came up since we had taken the longer more mountainous route which the bike could not reach. Despite spending all that money to pull this off in an effort to desperately hold his word, he had no choice but to join a Swiss group. We drink some Myanmar beer and joked over the ridiculous situation and so much more. Dinner arrived amidst a sea of plates filled with (thank Buddha!) still hot, freshly cooked veggies, French fries (to go really American), and some protein packed chicken. The surprise was a ginger tea that I simply could not get enough of. C2 closed the meal with some history on Myanmar that delved into the assassination of their president from years back by the military junta (the father of the woman still desperately trying to fight for her country. Efforts that have been rewarded with a Nobel peace price). Everyone agreed on Vim joining us for the next day’s trek which was planned to start early since we wanted to arrange a sightseeing tour of Inle Lake. The night died young as all nights in Myanmar tend to do (big city or not).

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