Trip Start Oct 23, 2006
93Trip End May 08, 2007
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Saddened from the disappearance of Adam, Jon and I had to decide where to go next. The only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes. The only things guaranteed in travel are unbounded (and often unsolicited) advice.... and taxes. (I consider the discrepancy between 'local price' and 'foreigner price' to be a tax). So the advice we had received regarding our next destination was to make all haste towards Mrauk U which remains relatively untouched by tourists. Then we received more advice that travel time to and from Mrauk U exceeded the time we had left. If lucky, Jon and I might spent an hour in the village. That glimpse would be sandwiched between 3+ days of miserable bus and boat travel on either side
So rather than visit the promise of untouched, unadulturated, and uncommercialised Burmese culture, we set out for the most tourist infested location in the country: Inle Lake.
The road to Inle was a steep, winding swath of gravel and pothole laden dirt. Not terribly pleasant on yet another non-A/C bus with shot suspension. Not to mention all the times we had to pull over to allow military convoys to pass through. Finally arriving at the Shwe Nyaung bus drop-off, we had to arrange transport into the city of Nyaung Shwe. In these situations there is power in numbers, so Jon and I asked a Japanese guy who got off the same bus if he'd like to split a taxi. He agreed. We then found a Japanese girl headed the same way. On the ride in we all did the usual small talk. The guy's name was Tatsuya and the girl was Emi (pronounced Amy). Once in town we all ended up finding rooms at the same hostel, the Pyi II Guest House. Being that the four of us got along so well, we immediately arranged a boat trip on the lake for the next morning.
When the next morning came, I joined Tatsuya and Emi on a walk to the local color market. It's referred to as a color market because it includes colorful wares such as fruits, vegetables, clothing, and flowers. On the way to the market, we passed a long line of novice monks collecting their tribute for the day
After the color market, we swung back by the hostel and picked up Jon. The four of us walked the narrow dirt roads of Nyaung Shwe, which we saw then to be the crests of a grid of levies. At the main canal, we climbed into a long narrow motor boat and chugged towards the lake.
We spent the day visiting various markets, shops, manufacturers, temples, and restaurants. We went to all the same places that every one of the other 800 tourist boats went to that day. But it was still interesting, and we made our time unique as best we could. The real treat, however, was, as usual, sunset. But let's not dwell too long on what any and every person experiences at Inle Lake.
First order of business when we got back into town was a celebratory dinner and a few rounds of the local brew. A perfect cap to a great day, and the next day we were all shipping out to our various destinations. Or so we thought.
The owner of Pyi II is a man named Mr. Joe, and Mr. Joe is one of nicest sneaky jackasses I've ever met. We knew he was gouging us a little on the price of everything, but considering how short a time we'd be there and how little the gouge was, we didn't care to complain
The four of us decided to pick up a bottle and play cards. Mr. Joe kindly offered to go fetch it for us. He also kindly charged us 800 kyat more than it costs in the stores, though he claims he pays the same price he charged us. Whatever.
So while he ran to buy our hooch, we all felt the need for a shower. Here's the problem with Burmese showers: even when hot water is a technical possibility based on the plumbing and equipment, the electricity is government regulated for the oddest hours possible. And becuase we'd stayed on the water until dark, our late night shower would be cold, and in the pitch black. I decided to try my icy spray by candlelight. Worked surprisingly well. (Not for heat; for light). Once we had each refreshed ourselves, we grabbed a fistfull of candles, retired to our room, and played the usual card games that all backpackers inherently know
Then, of course, I had to have another frigid shower, but this time we'd run out of candles. Pure darkness. I will never agin take for granted that little switch on the wall. It does so much.
Jon felt much better the next morning, although it was still good that we didn't have our busride that day. Instead we read books and played it casual. The following day we headed for the bus stop via pickup where we met Nadine and Kelly, a couple from Canada (although Kelly is originally from Honduras). They had spent weeks in Kho Phangan on several occasions. That was Jon and my intended next stop, so we extracted as much information as we could from them. Turned out they were planning to be there at the same time. Serendipity.
After a very long wait, our bus to Yangon arrived, and it was a simple 20 billion hour drive on rutted roads with a screaming, puking baby (no, not Jon) until we were there. I could only smile and shake my head: This is backpacking.