April 20, 2016 6:20PM (JST)
We woke up with the alarm ringing. Excited to set off the journey, we quickly set ready to go and waited at the table outside the hotel. Mitch was only about 5-10 minutes late, but Geoffrey was impatient again.
Mitch wore shoes unique to Myanmar, and maybe even Southeast Asia itself. Its sole was made of rubber, I believe. It was made for trekking on soft surface. The hiking shoes the travelers and hikers wear have hard soles and they are made for rocky trails. Nonetheless, we had an awesome local who spoke good command of English and since he was around our age (he is same age as me), we talked about a large range of topics. He was keen to travel outside Myanmar and see the world. His girlfriend who was five years younger attended university and was planning to partake internship in Germany. Geoffrey was very excited about it and talked about meeting him in Europe, while Marta, Fabian, and Rita could all easily meet each other in Europe. Except me, of course, and I realized that Americans and Europeans were very different and it seemed that I do not get along with Europeans well.
DAY 1: Trekking
We walked toward the Tuktuk pickup area from our hotel, maybe for about 15 mins. I did not expect to be picked up by the Tuktuk. We had a 10-minute ride to the starting point of the trekking. It was a road that can be easily ridden by vehicles – well, at the beginning, at least. I also thought we were to visit remote villages and did not know that the roads are frequented by motorcycles. Nevertheless, the road was quite rough and one needs some skill to ride road. Beginners like me and Marta would absolutely fail to try riding the bikes by ourselves.
It was very foggy in the morning. We simply thought it was bad weather but it really was not. Mitch explained it was always foggy at the lower elevation and it was always foggy around that time every day, before the sun came out. We walked in the fog and were greeted by warmly hearted villagers – those who lived closest to the town of Hsipaw. Everyone was curious and approached us without hindrance – not just during our first visit at the first village, but all others along our journey. We brought fruit candies earlier in Bagan so we can give them to the children. I disagreed with this idea though, because I thought that children should learn that they should not gratefully accept gifts from strangers. Myanmar is a country that is recently opened to outside world, so it is the most critical step that the citizens should be careful with strangers, even though they are with their guides.
Not soon after we left the first village and walked along the road, we were met by other foreigners with their guides coming behind us. Because our group was five people, we were moving slowly, which I realized later. The first group who passed us was a couple, not the German couple we met the day prior. They quickly passed us. The next couple, and yes, they were the Germans from the previous day. Their guide was friend of our guide and they greeted. The couple, however, just said hello and moved on without passing much words. Marta concluded that they did not like us and avoided us.
The fog, as he has promised, was gone after the sun came out. It was beautiful sight. We saw a couple of straw rolls (I didn’t know what they were) and these huge sized rolls laid across rice paddies. I quickly took pictures and walked along. There was a farm truck (or road truck?) along the way and Mitch asked one of us to take photo of him sitting on the vehicle. It was funny that the guide asked his guests to take photo of him, eh? I loved it how he just did it without second thought.
The view was similar as we gained elevation slowly over time. Our pace was quite slow, but we made a good pace since it was only our first day and we were not in hurry. Right before noon, at around 11-11:30AM, we stopped at a little tea hut for little rest. We had tea made from locally grown tea leaves and crushed tea leaves. We had handmade bamboo cups for tea. Geoffrey was delighted by this, and he insisted buying the cups. We followed him and bought as well, including me, which was awkward since I am Asian. It was a very nice memory to be remembered. There were others trekkers before us and the German couple came after us, which in turn, surprising us – they apparently took time taking photos along the way. We talked for a very long time and relaxed and we ended up being the last group to leave the rest place.
Mitch told us that there was a wedding ceremony at the next village we arrived for lunch. It was a very good coincidence that we happened to be there at the right time. By the time we reached the gate of the remote village, there was a brightly colored landmark indicating the name of the village welcoming the visitors. We quickly posed for a picture and happily took photo.
We followed Mitch into the village and were amazed by how the village was well structured in a way that local people still lived in their own traditional living style. Houses were primitively designed and decorated with some livestock – cattle tied to the column supporting the house and chicken running around. We did not immediately spot the wedding ceremony as it was held inside a housing unit. It seemed that everyone in the village was there, since I was sure everyone knew each other. Running children stared us with lots of curiosity. They were definitely intrigued by us and let us give them candies. We were greeted by the parents, mostly mothers, who stayed with their children, although many children were running on their own.
There was a traditionally dressed woman right outside the house where the wedding was held, and both Rita and I quickly took photo of and with her before we lost sight of her. We ‘legally trespassed’ into the gate and everyone greeted us. Mitch told them that he will bring visitors so they were expecting us. They were eating lunch when we arrived. Children were playing in the yard, or around the tables, and we played with them, until it was time for us to meet Mitch and eat our own lunch.
Children loved Marta. I was sure that it was because she is like an angel – she has very blond, almost white, hair and very pale skin. She is Polish, but most like of Scandinavian. People rarely saw someone so pale skinned; even we foreigners who are not from Scandinavia rarely meet them. No surprise there.
While all of us happily engaged with the children and locals taking photos here and there while playing with children, Mitch called us to have lunch as we forgot our time. We went to a house nearby and walked up the stairs, quickly settling in a room where its air was much cooler than the temperature outside. It had very good heat insulation as I would imagine the materials made for the house helped blocking heat. The room was quite traditional; it had one table in the middle and it was meant for people to sit on the floor. There was an open kitchen and some shelves, and that was about it – very simple and no waste.
The table was already set with dishes when we reached the entrance. Dishes were rich with different types of pumpkin and the same crushed tea leaves we had during the little break. It was very delicious. There was no meat so vegetable-haters would not have survived the trek (one of my friends here in Japan – at the time I am writing this – said that he hated vegetables because of the texture and he would throw up if he was forced to have the vegetables pushed into his mouth – like how I want to throw up when organs come into touch with my mouth). I felt very bad for the food preparers as the food was too much for us and we had quite a bit of food leftovers. We said goodbye and continued our journey, after I took photo with the food preparer.
The trek after this lunch break was similar to the rest. Landscape changed gradually as we moved deeper into the remote terrain. Over time, I was uncomfortable with my group because I could not enjoy the nature as much as I wanted, since my group was talking loudly with each other on random topics that I did not really want to talk about or enjoyed talking.
During first day, the terrain was flat to Mitch and his Burmese fellows but it was definitely not flat to us. It had some steepness but not so much. The environment consisted of open forest, dirt roads, with lightly dense trees surrounding us. I would call them Asian forest, but not rainforest nor jungle. After about 8 hours of walking the first day, we finally got to the last destination of the day and slept early after having dinner. I certainly felt great because my body survived and it was my first trekking experience.