The bus ride to our next stop, Kalaw, fulfilled what other travelers told about domestic bus travels. We booked an ordinary operator, and found us in a bus made for small people. No leg space, no head rest that a European could rest a head on. On top of the overall nightlong squeezing experience, my chair-back didn’t fold, instead, my man in front’s chair didn’t have an upright position. Swinging head, deep frozen by the insane AC, knees blocked between the two seats, bumping up and down and tortured by loud kitschy karaoke videos, I just wanted a bed.
Kalaw turned out to be super well organized compared to Yangon. People working for tourism speak understandable English and have something like a service mentality. As predicted, it was very nice to arrive here after dirt and heat in the plains. We stayed over here, enjoyed, and booked the threedaystwonights hike to Inle Lake.
The hike became one of the alltime highlights. It started out with the new year’s eve at Lily’s Guesthouse at which mad (and drunk) young men grilled ducks and chicken including head, wings and feet and just the Italians shared a wing or so with fat dripping fingers. The next morning was soft, we found the three guys with whom we booked, and two more couples joining. Being such a large group, we got two guides, 60 year old mathematics teacher James and 23 year old history teacher in spe Newnew. Both the perfect eye into Pa-O’s live today: James routined all knowing, Newnew crazy and authentic.
She grew up in one of the tribal villages, went to school in Kalaw, and moved out. Only when she’ll have graduated, she’ll be going to pick her husband. So far: no boyfriend. No problem. Young couples usually marry when she gets pregnant. But if they don’t, or she had more than one man, she got a problem. Then, she needs to move out from the village, request asylum in a neighboring settlement and live alone in a bamboo hut. Newnew’s words. However, she herself was flirting with almost everyone during the three day’s trip and I don’t have any concerns that she’ll “chose” her man exactly as she desires. She’s even comfortable with Facebook! How about Google? “This, I never tried.”
If you want to get a government post, you need to bribe the local officer. In Newnew’s case, it is about a position as a teacher in her home area because normally you’d be sent to one of the unpopular border regions as a start. Like her cousin, who ended up marrying a non-Buddhist Christian. Eeeek, that’s not what you want. But if you put two millions on the table, rather push under the table, and your contestant happens to have given four, then you lack both the post and the two millions. This system, she said would last long. They can be so successful with their anti-corruption seven-step program in Nay Pyi Taw. Too far, vast and poor is the countryside, too many graduate from university, too few good jobs are available. Whatever university means…
On the hike, we saw an old women carrying dried cow dung on her hand. We saw ox wagons that transport water to the village that doesn’t have an own source. We saw a stone break were man pounder the big stones to smaller ones and women who carry those on their heads. This is not after WWII and locked away, this is poor poor middle age. We passed mountain rice fields (“more expensive than the white rice from the plains”), chili fields and the “chili capital”. We actually got the impression of a sustainable, small scale agriculture. Jungle book like hidden monasteries in the hills completed the picture.
We saw Newnew’s home village were her family is still used to non-purified water, we came close the poppy field area, that, however requires extra permission not by the military but by the owner. We heard a lot of singing in the schools and we slept in a bamboo hut. The owner had space for us because his parents died and his brother is married. He doesn’t farm, “not farming, he’s alone, but helps other family”. The other group slept in the house of the mother of 9 kids. The last two were twins aged 7 and playing “motorbike” in the village. She chews betel. Girls normally don’t. “But married women do.”
Newnew hasn’t been neither in Bagan, nor Nay Pyi Taw or Yangon. No money, too expensive. She wants to go and … see the Shwedagon Pagoda. As a truly believing Buddhist. Her imaginary younger clever sister will have several boyfriends. She’ll earn money with trekking tours or something new like drug zone adventure tours. What will she do then? Get a baby? Start her own business? Or simply end up moving to Yangon?
This trip was much more off the beaten track than I imagined before.