Photographer. Writer. Adventurer.
6 December, 2011 (Nyang Shwe, Burma): We began the three-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake in Eastern Burma before the sun could pierce a thick blanket of mountain fog. My body shook violently with each icy cough.
The trek itself was not overly demanding, but a chest infection made things a little less than comfortable. The paths, or lack thereof, cut through fields of corn, pumpkin, garlic, ginger and rice – winding gracefully up to the mountain ridge. After five and a half hour of meandering through lush green fields, we arrived at a small Pa-O village that subsisted entirely upon the garlic harvest.
A warm welcome rang out from each window we passed, until a family came forward and offered a bed on their floor. Men huddled together, giggling with each fleeting glance. Women whispered to each other and stared openly at my opaque skin. A young girl smiled shyly and told us we were welcome to stay forever. “You should treat my home as your own,” was the rough sign-language translation – I think.
Something else was muttered, but not translated by the resident tri-linguist. I asked what has been said, to which a young woman requested, “would I stay and marry one of their women?” I smiled awkwardly, giggled and then resumed peeling garlic – saved by the harvest.
After a good night sleep, the women resumed their persistent auctioning of village daughters. The guide laughed it off and told me I should just marry her. We turned and waved to the family, attempting “thank yous” in Pa-O, to the amusement of everyone within earshot.
The second day of walking took us across six mountain passes, climbing slowly to a Buddhist monastery outside Pattupauk. Upon arrival, an elderly monk coughed up and spat out a bite-sized ball of phlegm. Two younger monks stared as they sauntered past. A forth monk sat quietly in a corner, surrounded by candles and depictions of Buddha. Not a word was spoken.
Eyes directed us to a box of bedding in a dark corner. The wooden floors seemed almost lush, when surrounded by the quiet hum and scent of a monastery. I slept better than I had in a very long time. When we woke, the monks were speaking. The elderly monk ushered for us to join him inside. With heads bowed and arms outstretched, we received his blessing. Our journey would be a safe one.
Inle Lake was visible after another five hours walking. We near-jogged down the hill – excited to be nearing the endless stretch of water. Long boats cruised up and down the lake, most powered by one-legged rowers. One hour in a long boat later, we arrived at Nyang Shwe – capital of Inle and the end of our trek.