01.04.2012 30 °C
We’ve just arrived after our mega bus journey. The seats were as hard as wood, the dust at times unbearable (as was watching the Burmese slave away making the new roads by hand in the heat of the midday sun), I think I may have refractured my back and the woman asleep on Justin’s knee dribbled…apart from that I loved seeing the Burmese countryside, mountains, villages, markets, trains, election cars and general day to day life.
We’re currently stood at the hotel I booked over the phone before we left Bagan. A woman behind reception is having a strop and doesn’t want to speak to us. Her neighbour appears to tell us that they are full. That’s fine we have a booking. “Is your name up there?” he asks. I look at the board and cannot see our name. “Then you don’t have a booking”.
He offers to take us across the road to another hotel. By this point we are exhausted and agree to spend the night in what turns out to be the dirtiest place we have stayed in our travels so far. To make matters worse we notice over breakfast the number of government awards and flags in the communal room…definitely government run. We are both gutted, pack our bags and leave.
We book a boat trip on Inle Lake for the day. We head out in a thin little wooden boat equipped with a motor at the end of a long metal shaft. Inle Lake stretches out as far as the eye can see and fishermen are already busy at work. Our driver stops so that we can watch them paddling their boat paddles with their legs in a S-shaped movement. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. Our boat driver happily walks up and down the sides of the boat, leaving Justin and me clinging to the sides a little. It is a little wobbly even for a couple of rowers!
The water is crystal clear and you can see down to the bottom of the lake. We head towards what looks like solid land but as our boat driver slows and turns down into a smaller channel you suddenly realize everything from the tomato crops to the houses are floating on top of Inle Lake. Children happily scamper up and down little boats and everyone is busy washing clothes, preparing food and making handicrafts.
The Inle Lake markets move around the village on the edge of the lake every day, with each village specialising in a different handicraft. We head to the south lake market and find that we are not the only ones there! Men and women wearing their traditional clothing have travelled for miles around to buy essentials. Most of the market is filled with food sellers (including stall after stall selling fish and eels), clothing and DVDs. At the far side it turns into tourist tat heaven.
We get the shaky wooden boat out of there and head to some of the stilted handicraft workshops, including a weaving and silver workshop. In one workshop we meet a small group of ladies from the northern states. They are sat in a corner weaving traditional patterns. They wear golden hoops around their necks that have, over time, elongated their necks to what Justin describes as deadly lengths. We try to talk to them through one of the Barma ladies but we unfortunately didn’t get very far. Internet access hasn’t been great for the last week so I haven’t been able to search for additional info. They smiled and chatted away the whole time we were there, but it all felt a little sad. I guess it was that feeling that we had turned up at what we have started calling ‘the human zoo’.
Our final stop is ‘the jumping cats monastery’. Justin was very excited by this and I was worried that he’d be let down. We had read several reviews that described it as ‘the sleeping cats monastery’. But…we were not disappointed. One cat jumped through a hoop. The others all looked a little too tubby to get some air on their jump for food diet. Justin is looking forward to teaching Coco, Metu and Kimber when we get home!
We head back into the middle of the lake to watch the beautiful sunset, which was absolutely breathtaking…until our boat engine exploded in a poof of black smoke…in the middle of the lake…as the sun is disappearing behind a mountain… and the mosquitos gleefully surrounded us. 10 minutes of frantic waving saw us saved by another boat, much to the amusement of all the local water taxi passengers.
We head back to our new homestay, which is run by a wonderful family who make us feel like we are some long lost relatives visiting for a few days. They fill our dinner table with traditional food - vegetables, potatoes, rice, soup and a giant grilled fish – and keep coming back to see if we need more. The next morning we wake up late (as I turned the alarm off and went back to sleep…opps!) and after gulping down a wonderfully large breakfast of pancakes, we rush over to the starting point for our hike into some of the nearby villages and countryside.
We walk up a dusty road before cutting into farmland. It is dry season and only a few crops are growing at the moment. Tumeric, used in traditional curries, is being dried out and the ladies are hard at work preparing it. We visit a couple of local temples and learn about meditation rooms and caves, where monks will meditate in the dark for anything from a few hours to several years. We spend a couple of hours watching our lunch being made over a smoky fire, before heading off with very full stomachs to go to a local winery (verdict – stick to beer). From here we stumble the rest of the way home down some pretty back routes to town for an early night before our mega journey to Indonesia starts...
(Problem uploading photographs - will try again soon)