The final two parts of my Burma story are all about hiking. Where we left off, I traveled ahead of my Chilean friend, to scout for a hostel and hiking opportunities.
The bus arrived in Kalaw in the middle of the night – maybe at 3 or 4 am. Upon arrival, I immediately started looking for a hostel. Most places were either unstaffed at this hour or too expensive, but I eventually found a kind hostel-owner who gave me a free bed, in return for my assurance that I would book the hike with her.
The next morning, I booked my first full night at the hostel, reserved a spot for my Chilean friend who was now on his way and investigated the hiking options. They had a wide range of hikes on offer, ranging from single-day to almost week-long ones. I had just settled on a three-day hike when it dawned on me that I did not have any hiking shoes with me.
Next, I realized that I didn’t have any way to carry my stuff during the hike. The only bag I had was my big backpack, but that was delivered directly to our destination by car. I solved that problem by buying a small sports bag that I could sling over my shoulders, and a Tupper box to keep my essentials safe from bumps and moisture. Since it was the rainy season, I got a cheap raincoat as well.
After sharing my problem with the lady from the hostel, she told me that the local market was selling hiking gear for tourists and that I could probably just get a pair there. As it turned out, though, they didn’t have any shoes in my size (I think mine is 14 in US measurements?). Since I still wanted to hike, I decided to just brave it in my Adidas slippers. Blisters were my biggest concern, so I bought a couple of bandage-rolls from a local drug store to pre-emptively wrap my feet and considered it a problem solved.
Once my Chilean friend arrived, we returned to the market together. He had no problem finding shoes and got a raincoat as well. He liked the hike I had picked, so we booked it and he checked into the hostel. By that time it was late, so we just went for an early night – the hike would begin in the early morning on the next day.
We were picked up by a friendly local, who greeted us by suspiciously eyeing my slippers and bandage-wrapped feet. I assured him it was OK, and he probably didn’t want to argue, so we headed off. The weather was great – no rain, but cooler temperatures due to the season – but the ground was still moist, which immediately presented a challenge for me in my Adidas slippers.
I quickly learned that wet mud turned the insides of my slippers incredibly slick and the ground incredibly sticky. As a result, I very nearly face-planted right into the ankle-deep mud/cow droppings we were wading through, and almost lost one slipper to the mud entirely. I soon found a suitable hiking stick, which made things a lot easier. Before long we had passed beyond the muddy paths and got close to our first stop: It was time for lunch.
Lunch was at a local farmhouse. We had noodles, egg and the obligatory tea in a large thermos can. It rained a bit while we were eating but stopped again once we were done. So far, everything had worked out really well.
Post-lunch, we spent the rest of the day conquering the Burmese countryside. The views were spectacular, and I was particularly impressed by the diversity of the landscapes. Needle forests, clay earth, all manner of agriculture, they truly had it all. I was even more impressed by the fact that there, in the middle of nowhere, my phone showed a solid 4G satellite internet connection. Germany is doing well with a lot of things, but we are a long way behind Burma when it comes to the internet.
With dusk settling in, we arrived at our first homestay: a farming village without electricity or running water. Everything that required water, such as washing, cleaning, and brushing teeth, was done around a giant well in the center of the village (I avoided taking photos). It was certainly a relief to finally get the thick crust of mud off my feet. Then, it was quickly time for dinner.
And what a dinner it was. Rice, freshly baked bread, fish, several types of curries – maybe it was us having hiked through the wilderness all day, but everything was utterly delicious, and we devoured it all greedily. Then we fell asleep on some incredibly comfy mattresses in one of the farmhouses, knowing that the next day would begin just as early as the first one had.