Inle Lake Paradise
Trip Start Mar 04, 2006
19Trip End Apr 13, 2006
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Where I stayed
I spent the entire day yesterday on Inle Lake, moving from place to place as the sole passenger of a 25'-30' longboat. It's an almost magical place, where the shoreline villages are populated by a variety of ethnic minority tribes, but the lake itself is home to the Intha, who live in stilt houses, grow vegetables on floating gardens, paddle their canoes with one leg while balancing on the other, and harvest fish using a conical net designed specifically for the weed choked and crystal clear waters of Inle Lake. As a people, they've developed a way of life found nowhere else in the world, all tailored to the this specific environment. Legend has it they showed up here about 700 years ago, and brokered a deal with the other tribes to live on the lake, thus avoiding any conflict over land
All lake tours follow essentially the same route and plan. Throughout the day you boat from market, to silk weavers, to silversmiths, to blacksmiths, and so on. At each stop you have an opportunity to see various things being made by hand, as we used to do, and they have an opportunity to sell you their handicrafts. It works out pretty well for everybody, though by the end of the day the sellers are getting a little less enthusiastic and you could care less about how they make mulberry paper. The magic of the place is encapsulated in the trips between the shops. You move about along the lake witnessing this unique way of life, men fishing, men, women and children tending the floating gardens, men and women collecting seaweed to build new floating gardens, all getting around by handmade canoes, and all doing it effortlessly. My Intha boatman, Myu-Myu, slowed every time I raised my camera for a shot, sometimes pointing out interesting sights to me and offering to take me closer for a better photo. He was a great guy, and though is English was a bit limited, I highly recommend asking for him if you stay at the Remember Inn in Nyaungshwe.
The highlight of the day though, are the several trips I made into the Intha villages
On the way back, at the end of a long day, Myu-Myu took me to a place most boat tours pass by. It was a small Intha shrine, right off the main canal. Dilapidated with age, but still used daily for worship, it turned out to be his village shrine. We spent a short time wandering around, and he told me a bit of its history and importance to his village. It's amazing what you can learn from a man who speaks only a few dozen words of your language.
This morning I got up early and headed out on a bicycle before it got hot, planning to head further into the hills than I had a couple days before. Once I got to the hills there wasn't a whole lot of shade, so things heated up pretty quickly, and I almost turned back a couple of times. I was just about to call it a day when I rounded the bend and spotted a mix of old and new stupas off to my left, about 70 yards off the road
On the ride back, I passed by a mother and her two kids, stopping about 100 yards ahead of them to take a couple of photos. Soon after, I see the little boy approaching, after running to catch up with me. Once he had my attention, he went all shy on me, but in the end I coaxed out of him what he wanted. Pretty much, just to wave and say "Hello!"
And that's about it. The rest of the day has been spent lazing about, eating chocolate banana pancakes and reading. I finished up "The Geographer's Library" and started "The Plot Against America". Doesn't it make your day to know that?
Just a couple notes. I've run into a guy at breakfast the last two days, Adam, who's 7 months into a 12 month post-graduation tour of the world. He's from San Rafael, about 30 minutes from where I live. And I would never have met him if I hadn't come to Myanmar. Or detoured from Kalaw to here. Or stayed at a different in. Ok, I'll stop that now. Nice guy, he's travel blogging on travelblog.org.
And some ramdom observations. The Honda Dream is without a doubt, King of the Mopeds here in Myanmar. The Kango Excel seems a weak second. The horse carts in Bagan are pulled by scrawny horses, the carts here are pulled by plump ponies. If two people are riding a moped, the passenger rides sidesaddle. If more than two, they ride facing front. Yes, more than two. I've seen up to four. There are strange little tractor/pickup combo machines here (see the pictures) that are powered by single cylinder diesel motors. The same motors that power the boats, water pumps, and sturdy mid-sized trucks. Genius really, when you think about it. Water buffalo will let kids climb all over them, but won't let me within 20 feet
Off to Kalaw tomorrow. More soon.
P.S. For the geeks. I was just talking to the guy who owns the internet shop I'm using, asking where he learned to set all this up. We're talking three XP machines with Cd burners, on a LAN, sharing a dial up connection. He taught himself from books. Never had a class. In a town where horse carts are still a means of travel. I'm so impressed, I can't even tell ya.