I hiked the Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek in the midst of Myanmar’s monsoon season. It rained pretty much the entire 3 days and 2 nights. It was the kind of adventure I love and live for. The challenging type that calls for hilariously debilitating and uncomfortable moments. The kind where you see nature and it hits you in this revitalizing, euphoric way, like you were injected with a dose of life. The type of experience you share with open-minded, curious individuals who, as cheesy as it sounds, make you want to be a better person. For me, that was Kalaw to Inle Lake.
It was drizzling the morning we were set to depart. I was not entirely committed to hiking in pouring rain over the next several days, but was traveling with a couple of intrepid and passionate ladies who also happened to be quite persuasive. They reminded me of nature’s unpredictability and dissuaded me from dropping out last minute with their unwavering optimism for sunny, cloudless skies.
We had spent the greater part of the previous night on an overnight busride from Bagan. After 8 hours on the bus, we arrived to a rainy Kalaw at 4am. We cut a deal (a ripoff in retrospect) to crash at a hotel for a few hours until sunrise. It was crucial to get as much shuteye as possible before our multi-day trek commenced.
So first day of the hike. I’m tired. It’s raining. I’m not feeling 100% committed, but I guess it’s happening. I’m going.
Pros of trekking in the dry season: it’s dry and warm and easy to hike on the dirt path. Cons: the scenery is not as lush and vibrant.
Pros of trekking in the wet season: it’s green, lush and very scenic. Cons: the torrential rain. Andddd the gooey, gloppy, slippery burnt-orange mud that grips at your limbs and swallows you into the earth.
Have you ever completed a Tough Mudder or any Mud Run? I have not, but after Google Image Searching the race, I am convinced I participated in a 72 hour Tough Mudder, Myanmar-edition.
I don’t have photographic evidence of the muddiest parts. The majority of the time, my camera was wrapped in plastic and stashed deep in my backpack, shielded from the rain and muck. Also, I was probably too busy sliding down a hill (not on purpose) or calculating my next step as to avoid slipping and falling (my calculations were inaccurate).
The pictures I did take represent what we worked for. There is no way I would have been able to capture the beauty of these rural communities and their inhabitants had I not participated in this long and muddy slip n’ slide. We spent our nights at homestays with local families and ate home-cooked meals. For 3 days, I voluntarily waded and pushed through mud, but it’s silly when you realize this is a routine reality for local inhabitants.
Women and men are out in the fields farming year-round, rain or shine. Children walk two hours to and from school, rain or shine. For those select few who have electricity in their homes, heavy rains regularly cut the power. This is normal, daily life.
I trekked with a family-owned company called EverSmile that I highly recommend. Our guide was the lovely, 25-year old Su Su, a nickname she suggested for herself after we kept forgetting and/or mispronouncing her real name.
Here she is:
And here we are with Su Su. A diverse group with trekkers from Germany, the Netherlands, England, Canada, France and the U.S.
Su Su guided us through scenic mountainsides and farmlands:
We ate as a family. Su Su’s husband cooked a few of the meals and they were phenomenal. Meals on multi-day treks always make me nervous, but EverSmile Trekking did not disappoint with their food quality and service.
We also slept together as a family and shared one large room in each of the homestays. Our group exchanged stories over beers every evening. We took turns using dank, pungent outhouses with holes in the ground. The squat toilets were my least favorite part. I would have opted to pop a squat in nature 100% of the time, but the rain complicated things.
The most memorable parts of the trek involved the local community. These rural villages are not glamorized tourist attractions. Myanmar has only been open for tourism for the last several years. These scenes are authentic. Things will eventually change as a result of globalization; the process has already started.
One of my trekking peers was a French guy named Tibo who also happens to be a talented photographer. He generously shared his photographs with me. Here is his documentation of our journey.
For 72 hours, I had been wrapping my feet in plastic bags and then putting on the shoes in order to keep the moisture out. I snapped this picture during a break in rainfall.
The last day, we reached Inle Lake around lunchtime and spent the rest of the afternoon on a boat tour of the lake. What was the first thing I did when I got on that boat? I took off those damned, muddy shoes.