- Travel Topics
It amazes me what people are willing to pay to do. This time, Vicky and I decided to go on a three day trek from Kalaw to Lake Inle with the trekking group Eversmile. This was a three day, 60 km hike primarily spent in the Burmese sun, carrying a sizable amount of baggage to sustain us. For some reason, we actually paid to do this.
We imagined that it would be us and perhaps 2-3 other people. Once again our expectations were shattered.
That morning when we arrived at Eversmile there were around 15 or so other foreigners, neatly divided into two pockets; the English speaking and the French speaking. At this point we still didn’t know that everyone was part of the same group, but when we all set off together it was clear that we had a lot of new names to remember.
Unfortunately I tend to remember people by their nationality. More unfortunately it’s not polite to say “Hey Spaniard, come over here!”
Despite having spent nearly two months in South East Asia, this was our first trekking outside of Vietnam. We had heard a few horror stories, usually involving leeches and mosquitoes as the antagonists, and we didn’t know what to expect. Much to our surprise, it was actually quite calm – just a lot of walking and talking. On occasion we might all stop together as our guide, a middle-aged Burmese woman named Toe-Toe, would stop to point something out…with her big toe – JK. The trek was relatively flat with few ups and downs, and the surrounding area looked very worn out, almost like a painting using the last remaining remnants of a paint can. Perhaps it was on account of it being the dry season, but the landscape seemed to be lacking a bit of lushness.
The first day of trekking passed as one would expect, and we arrived at our nightly quarters, which were a homestay sans electricity and running water.
I jokingly asked what the wifi password was.
They were not amused and motioned me to my spot on the floor, where I would spend the night.
I hate sleeping on the floor. You wake up stiff as a board – much like the ones you’ve been sleeping on.
I remember waking up the next day and asking everyone how they slept, only to receive the same grimace, which said “well, considering I slept on the floor….”.
Day two was when things got interesting. Although our group consisted of 20 and 30-somethings, people started dropping like flies. Maybe it was the heat and the exhaustion from walking 8 hours the previous day only to have to sleep on the floor of a barn, but by the time we got to lunch one third of the group was in pain and asking to be transported the rest of the way by motorbike (not Vicky and I though, of course). However, being the opportunists that they were, the Burmese charged absurdly high prices for what should have been a short motorbike drive – and all but one of the couples decided to tough it out.
Funny that the guide said the trek was quite easy. It’s true it was doable, but she was downplaying it just a tad I think.
In the afternoon we passed through a village where some local kids were attending school. I have to say this was the saddest looking school I’ve ever seen – with barely a chalkboard and some desks, it was hard to imagine an awful lot of learning getting done here.
A few of the trekkers who were either savvy or simply used to dealing with children in these small villages thought to bring some pencils and paper to hand out as gifts. It was a hit.
I was not so smart, but I still wanted to be kind. I motioned that I was going to offer some food to the kids. We had some left over cookies, why not?
Actually, had I thought for even 5 seconds about what might happen it would have been very clear “why not”.
There were about 20 kids and I only had a few bags of cookies to hand out. The math didn’t add up. I pulled out Vicky’s and my lunch and suddenly was swarmed by a large group of wildly begging children. Before I knew it, the bag was ripped from my hands with unchild-like strength and the kids began fighting over whatever they could get their hands on. Not to mention the fact that this was beyond what I had intended to give out and was actually Vicky’s and my entire snacks that we were carrying for the trek. Inevitably one of the larger kids proved victorious and, with his spoils from war, ran off to a corner to devour the remnants.
It was a sad sight and one I won’t be forgetting. Next time we’ll bring coloring books.
That night we had another homestay, and by now were a bit more comfortable with the group that we could actually engage in some pleasant conversation. As we went around revealing our travel horror stories it became apparent that most of the group was cursed, at least compared to Vicky and I who have only had a few simple mishaps in 6 months of travel.
I made it clear that I didn’t want to trek with them the next day – they were bad luck. They jokingly replied that we were due.
I didn’t realize how soon it was going to happen though.
The next morning as we were stopped at a rest stop, moments before setting off, Vicky decides she’s going to head to the bathroom. I motioned to the group to go on – we would catch up.
About two minutes later Vicky came back and we set off to find the rest of our group, but they were nowhere in sight. We could see quite far down the road as it was pretty flat, but there was absolutely no one. In the short amount of time that Vicky and I had been separated, we knew they couldn’t have managed to get that far from us. They must have gone off the main trail, which, admittedly, we frequently did with the help of the guides, but we assumed no one would do this without the entire group.
We were wrong.
And wrong meant we were alone in the Burmese countryside with no idea how to finish this trek. We looked around and saw a few travelers on a nearby road. Figuring that if they were either our group or they were another group we could latch onto, we headed in their direction, crossing a few fields and fences on the way. When we got there, however, they were gone – as if they were mirages sent to lead us astray.
Now we were really lost.
We had been separated from the group for about 30 minutes and I was beginning to think we’d never see them again. By the time they realized we were missing, it would be too late to find us again and we were way off track anyways. I thought we were going to have to hitch a motorbike to finish the trek, so we made our way back to the main road and started walking, looking for signs of life. With a wave of the hand a local pointed that Inle was “that way” and so we started walking in that direction.
After about 20 minutes, we saw our guide riding up to us on a motorbike, arms flailing . We had been separated for a good 45 minutes now but we had been found.
The group, of course, had gone on a lot longer before noticing our absence, which doesn’t make you feel all that great, but we were happy to not be wandering around in Burma.
We only had two hours or so left and we held pretty tightly to the group for the rest of the time – no more bathroom breaks.
All in all we enjoyed the trek on account of the great company we had. We nearly covered Europe through that one group alone and now have a bunch of people to meet up with. that said, I don’t think it’s right to judge a trek by the trekkers. If I was to look at the trek more objectively I don’t think I’d recommend it. The guides were nice, but didn’t explain an awful lot. The scenery is OK but nothing you can’t get elsewhere. It’s quite a lot of walking if you’re not up for it.