Without fully thinking about it, my traveling companion and I decided to walk from Kalaw to Inle. I've spent a long time on the Internet trying to find a map that captures how crazy this was, but failed. So this is all you get:
Anyway, we took a day bus (my only bus during the day) from Bagan to Kalaw and then found our guide that my traveling companion had been emailing to set up our tour. We went with Ever Smile, but frankly it didn't seem like it mattered which guide you went with. The main person at Ever Smile is this lovely woman named Toe Toe, but she was feeling a bit sick, so her colleague would take us the next day.
Turns out her "colleague" was her 15-year-old daughter Aki. Aki was great on day one, very informative and helpful, but then her friend met her on day two, and we barely heard from Aki again. Well, except for the occasional yell of "left," "right," or "straight."
A couple of our somewhat overbooked trek (9 people!) were late, so we were sent out to the 5-day market. I'm actually really, really glad we made this excursion because the 5-day market is quite a scene. Basically the market rotates from town to town -- 1 day in each town on a 5-day rotation. We happened to be leaving Kalaw on its day to host. My traveling companion and I had a lot of questions regarding some of the things we had been eating, so it was great to have someone to explain. We ate this very weird bug looking thing the day before in the only salad I had in Burma that I didn't like (pickled mustard greens salad -- I think the pickled part is what made it gross) and I really wanted to know what it is. Basically, it is some sort of bean.
People in the market were happy to have their photo taken, most of the time. I would like to mention that I always ask before I take a photo. It may appear that some people are not aware of the photo being taken, but this is not true. I asked, they replied in the affirmative, and then went about their business. Which, frankly, I was happy about.
I was already a fan of tea leaf salad, but I became thoroughly addicted while in Myanmar. Here are the ingredients...
I tried this sticky rice/greens concoction that they cook in banana leaves. It is pretty good if they have chilies to add. Later I tried a mushroom version and it was much better!
And then off on the trek...
Burma/Myanmar has a serious problem with deforestation and this trek is through mostly farmland, so you do not have a lot of shade. But the farmland is quite beautiful.
We passed a green tea plantation...
We had a fabulous lunch of chapatis and pumpkin curry at an incredible overlook.
Night 1 -- stayed in a home in a village. I'm not sure where the family who usually lives here went. Since we were 9 we did take over the entire house. They put each trekking group in their own house (but all in the same village) and you sleep side-by-side on thin mattresses on the floor. They do cook up an incredible feast, but you are so tired you fall asleep immediately afterwards.
Older women do most of the weaving for the family; they weave their longhis (sarongs), which are worn by both men and women. It takes around 7 days to finish one.
We stayed in a monastery the second night. Same deal regarding sleeping side-by-side on thin mattresses, but now all the trekking parties are in the same building, separated by sheets hung up from the ceiling. Here, again, our guide was a bit lacking because she put all nine of us in the same small area,which could only fit 7 mattresses. My traveling companion spoke up and we got moved to the spacious guide area, where they actually had more space than us for just three of them. Funny how that works! At least we got our own mattresses, but honestly, I'm not sure it is even possible for two adult humans to share one of these small things.
We were awaken at 5 a.m. to children chanting. They did it again at 7 a.m. and they sounded much better. Clearly they weren't quite awake at 5 a.m.
Later in the morning the monks got to play a little soccer..
They were just starting to burn their fields when we were there...
And then we took a boat to the north side of the lake, but I'll share those photos later.