Thursday, September 1, 2011

Days 86-88 Three Day Trek from Kalaw to Nuang Shwe

The next three days were spent treking through the mountainous terrain from Kalaw down to Inle Lake. The total distance was around 55km in total, while we walked through rice terraces, vegetable fields, forests, and mountains, coming into contact with various small villages in the vicinity, consisting for anywhere from 20 to 200 families per village.

Thankfully, the weather was cool most of the days, as the clouds shaded us from much of the direct sunlight. It also only drizzled throughout the day, which made it easier for us to trek through the mud and red dirt.

We stopped by various villages to greet them and also to stop for lunch and even stay overnight. It was probably the best seven meals I have had in all three weeks of traveling in Myanmar because we had our own chef who trekked with us and cooked our meals.

The first night was spent in a village while the second night was spent at a monastery with around 15 novice monks ranging in age from 6 to 14 years old. They would chant throughout the day, and even in the morning around 4am, serving as our alarm clocks for the day. It was a special experience being able to share and witness their spiritual activities, and to be able to sleep inside the monastery as well!

Our guide was also very informative of the vegetation around us while we trekked, and was very open about speaking about the current situation in the country. He actually doesn't believe the country needs any support from China at all. The country is actually very wealthy with a very strong military. According to him, the country spends 60% of its GDP on the military (and a measly 3% on healthcare and 1% on education). It doesn't need any monetary support from other countries as well because of the rich resources the country has in gems.

He says that very few people in the country actually live in poverty because the people take care of each other, and there actually is enough food and bare minimal resources to go around for everyone.

Much of the country is inaccessible to tourists because there aren't enough roads built to reach these areas, and the government doesn't care to create these roads, but would rather force wealthy tourists to take flights to reach these areas and pay exorbant amounts of money for access to these areas. They also don't want foreigners to see that most of the people in these areas are actually living quite comfortably, despite what UN figures tell the rest of the world.

While there are international sanctions imposed on the country that prevent major corporations from having presence in the country, some of this activity occurs behind the scenes. He has even speculated that the country obtains US weapons and arms through Singapore.

One of the most interesting things he said was that the country knows about all these problems and believes that they can't do anything about it. He said that the country is a majority Buddhist and many people have a sort of fatalistic mentality and outlook on it all. They all believe that something occurred in their past lives that made them deserve their current conditions and that they should just accept it. It would be interesting to argue that religion plays an important part in complacency if it were indeed true.

The treks each day took around 6 – 8 hours, and we woke up around 5am both days and we out by 7am, which was quite the early start for me personally. When we reached Inle Lake, we took an hour-long boat ride to reach Nuang Shwe. Ay By the end of it all, my toes and shins were terribly aching, but it was a very adventurous three days, and the longest trek I've ever done so far. Hopefully there are more to come in India and/or Nepal (and with better hiking boots).

Traditional Village Medicine Man Instructional Book

Playing "Shithead" on the Last Night with my Trekking Group

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