Thursday, 22 December 2016

Excuse me, everyone...take your time but make it quick! Kalaw to Inle Lake trek

So my one day in the tiny town of Kalaw was spent booking my trek and getting the things I needed for it. So I booked with a company called Ever Smile. I had heard from various people, Trip Advisor, Facebook etc that they were one of the best trekking companies around. It was owned by a woman and she was very informative with information about the trek. It was 3 days 2 nights, the trek was a little bit up a little bit down most of the way, we would be walking roughly 20km each day, the 2nd day being the longest day and we would be staying overnight in local villagers houses. There would be 12 people per group which was just enough (I'm all for more people as you get to mingle a lot more on the trek) and it would be 40,000 kyat (pronounced Chat which I had by now figured out) which included all food, the guide and the overnight stays.

So after I signed up to start at 8.30am the next day, I went to the local market to buy a hat, suncream and lunch at a very local joint, which only cost me 400 kyat! Some gorgeous noodles - I have no idea what was in it other than chicken complete with the broth, pickled veg and tea set. I then bumped into Sam and Ryan, the lovely English couple I had met on the night bus the night before. I advised them to eat lunch there and we made plans to meet in the evening for food at another recommended place, a Nepali restaurant called Everest. The rest of the day I spent walking around the town, blogging and getting things packed for the trek!

At 6pm I ventured to Everest and ordered food, Sam and Ryan showed up and we also got chatting to a lovely American girl who was basically doing the same route as Sam and Ryan, I also helped them plan some of their trip, especially Indonesia with the tips from my travels. Travelling Asia after the first time I tend to find that you become a book of knowledge for people. Most people are travelling it for the first time so having been there already people tend to get as much information out of me as possible, and I love it! It brings back memories and makes me want to do it all over again.

My hotel had a curfew so I had to leave before 9pm, on the way home almost getting attacked by 4 stray dogs (it was a full moon) but luckily the locals came out to save me and got rid of them! Then it was early to bed for the trek the next day!

The hotel luckily had a free shuttle service to the office so I met a girl, Maria, who was also going with ever smile. Once we got there I met Rebecca, a fellow English woman who also booked the trek the same time as me yesterday so we and Maria got talking. Then it was time to split into groups and luck would have it, that we were somehow, like fate, all on the same side when she counted us as a group, and so our amazing group was formed. It was me, Rebecca, Maria from Spain who spoke Italian, French and English as a translator, Christelle from France, Charline and Alex from France, Elke and Ruben from Germany, Matias, Roman and Gonzalo from Chile, and Luca from Italy. I could tell it was going to be a great group from the start and we became such good friends over the next few days.

Our guide Pyu was awesome, he was full of beans, knew a lot of local knowledge and gave us great food. He later told us that most of the treks depended on the guide because the company have them a budget for each person to spend on food and accommodation and if they wanted to keep some of that money they would, and spend less on us. Luckily Pyu was an honest man and gave us more than enough, he even got a cake, as it was Christelle's 30th Birthday the first day of the trek!

The first day wasn't so hard, we mostly trekked first on local paths through villages and rice paddies, then through Forest, where we established Luca was great at helping us over logs and wet paths, spending lunch looking out over the most amazing views. Lunch was vegetable curry, rice and chapati's, with plenty of fruit and chips (crisps), Pyu never left us feeling hungry there was always extra! We had also established at this point a few of Pyu's cute phrases, for example, 'excuse me, everyone, can I have your attention' with his little hybrid accent and for pee stops 'Take your time but make it quick!'

After lunch was another 3hrs to our overnight village, we went through a beautiful mountainside village with amazing views and amazing people, getting a chance to glimpse at local life, a monestry, at the local school etc. We then walked for an hour along the train tracks which were still in use, so we had to make way for a train at one point. And then it was just through some local villages until we found our village. Maria had started to get blisters and had tripped at the railway tracks so she was beginning to feel a little worse for ware and I had begun to get a headache and a small fever.

We reached our local home stay and we had been given the upstairs of their house to sleep in, 12 mats and blankets all laid out for us...and a nice shack in the dark for a shower and pee breaks! It had begun to get dark at this point so we went in turns for the shower, which was basically a wooden shack, with a bucket of very very cold water, in the dark as the first few of us didn't have torches. Let me tell you, it was the coldest shower I have ever had - it was definitely an experience!! The next few people had torches and what they found would have been enough to make me never go in there - we had been showering with 3 huge tarantulas! Needless to say it took the others great courage to shower - I am so glad I didn't know when I was in there!

Then it was dinner time, which was a feast, they had cooked up fish curry with lots of vegetable curry dishes with rice. It was delicious, and Pyu brought out the final surprise which was a MASSIVE cake for Christelle's birthday, and kind of for Pyu too as his birthday had been a couple of days ago and didn't get to ccelebrate. It was amazing but it was huge and very sweet, the sugar actually woke me up!

Sleeping that night was hard, and I don't think many people slept very well which made it very hard the next day.

We were up at 6am, breakfast at 6.30 which was fruit, pancakes and tea coffee. Then we had decided to do the 'new' route which was less touristy as only ever smile knew this route, but would also be harder as it involved climbing a mountain at 7.30am. Let me tell you, it was definitely hard, especially with aching muscles and I still had a fever and headache. Maria still had some pretty bad blisters and it got worse throughout the day - we hadn't started well and it only got harder the linger we walked. However the views were amazing!

We spent the first two hours walking along the top of the mountain and then slowly walked through some villages and down. We passed fields of chili's and tea plantations, kids playing football in Manchester United and Chelsea shirts(?), buffalo roaming around in fields and hot hot sun. By our morning break Pyu told us we weren't even half way yet, and that crucified us! We had a good 5hrs of walking before we even had lunch, and then another 3hrs after lunch!

By the last 1.5hrs it got very very hard. Maria's blisters were so bad she was going to take a motorcycle to the village for the overnight stay as she could barely walk anymore, and me and Elke were walking together towards the end just absolutely exhausted, I had burnt a little too, even tho I put tons of suncream on. When we reached our lunch destination we were all so so happy!

Lunch was fried noodles and spring rolls and I made sure I had coffee, water, aloe vera juice, chocolate biscuits, all to make sure I had more energy for the afternoon trekking. I rubbed in the tiger balm, dosed up on the paracetamol and I was set to go!! 3 hours - we could do this!!

The first hour or two was through village fields and then Pyu said there was a river only an hour from the village, so, sensing we could all do with a cool down we went via the river and it was soooooo good! Even just to put your hot swollen feet into it felt refreshing. Some of the team namely the chileans and Rebecca and Pyu, got all the way in but I couldn't stomach it, especially knowing the cold shower awaiting us, one a day was enough! Lol I did have to splash water all over me and my scarf though, just to cool down.

It was then 1hr to our village, but it was the longest hr ever, and just when you thought it would finish, nope there's another dusty orange path to climb!

Upon arrival our new hosts greated us super happily and I bugsied the first shower as it was still light and got in straight away. While waiting for dinner we had a lovely chat in our room upstairs exchanging travel stories while rubbing tiger balm into our legs and feet, stretching and lying down relaxing, hot swollen feet in the air!

Getting up for dinner was a struggle, stiff as a doorknob! Again dinner was fantastic another range of curried dishes and flambé banana for desert using very strong Myanmar alcohol (I think something like their version of moonshine). Then it was early to bed for day 3 - the final day!

Both Maria and Elke had very bad blisters on their feet so decided to take motorcycle taxi's the whole way to Inle Lake. The rest of us geared up, achingly for another day of trekking - just 5hrs today but all in one go before lunch!

Breakfast was great again, today we were allowed a half he lay in so we left around 7.30am, it was still very foggy so it was actually very mystical, and scary with all the gigantic spider webs around with their scary looking poisonous spiders on. The first hour was mostly OK and when we reached the Inle Lake area we had to pay a park fee of 13,500 kyat (around $10) for UNESCO. It was then only 3hrs from here, the first half was on a road, which offered views of Inle lake in the distance. Then we stopped at a cafe for tea and biscuits to refresh and the last 2hrs were through bush and downhill climbing past rocks. Once we made it to our lunch spot we were all soooo happy! It was finished, we had made it, no more blisters or walking for days. We were already planning massages and the amazing hot showers we were all going to jump into straight away. Luckily we were all staying near each other in Naungg Shwe and so we'd still spend the next few days together, which is where the stories continue!

After lunch we said our goodbyes to Pyu and we split into two boats for our Tour over Inle lake. Inle lake isn't just a lake, iit's also a city, on a lake. People live on houses over the water, they have green tomato fields everywhere, harvesting fruit and vegetables on the water. There are pagodas, fishermen, amazing scenery. I wish I had had time to go out on another boat to see more of it but alas I didn't and so it is something I shall have to come back and do one day.

We luckily saw the famous fishermen who row with their legs - I think it's so that they can fish with their hands, and we saw the basket fishermen. So I was pretty happy as I had really hoped to see them!

We then all hopped off in the town of Naungg Shwe and hot-pegged it to our hostels (some of us stayed in the same place, Ostello Bello) where we must of spent about an hour in the shower!! My loaffer turned orange from all the dirt I scrubbed off!

All in all it was a fantastic, if not hard, experience. It wasn't so much the hardness of the trekking, it was the length of walking we were doing each day, which averaged around 22km a day (the 2nd day was around 26km) so it was tiring in the heat. I could definitely recommend it and I would recommend Pyu as a guide for sure - he was awesome!!

Our group had encountered some hard and challenging times, and we were yet to encounter some more together, but that's another story for another blog! However we got through it, our morale, the cheerfulness of the Chileans, the characters - we kept each other going and we made some awesome memories. I am actually going to miss these guys (in fact we talk regularly on our infamous group chat on Facebook) so I'm sure we'll all stay in touch! If there is anything I missed, let me know guys!

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