The minivan to Inle Lake was super late, but packed full of super fun people! We met Hugo, Jose, and Andrea from Columbia who packed their own beers and hilarious conversation. Hugo even gave us our very own Spanish/Asian fusion names :) And then Freddy from Ecuador. The Columbians got off at Kalaw to begin a 3 days trek, and we traveled on to Nyaungshwe, a small town near the lake. We scoped out some potential treks to do from the lake up to Kalaw in the mountains, but decided against it once we realized the number of assembly line tourists they shuttle on the treks, and opted to rent bicycles instead and cruise around the countryside around the lake.
The lake itself is pretty large, but very shallow so you could never quite get to it or definitely not swim in it (all the chemical run off from farming has been killing the fish so we opted not to swim or eat fish). While on our ride, we happened upon a really weird random subdivision of streets, equipped with large street lights, but no houses. Very eerie. Food was great at some of the local eateries and we took a couple trips out to one of the only 2 wineries in all of Myanmar, where we met a cool couple from Seattle, Kristen and Jeff. (See you guys soon on the bike trip!) Wine was as good as the ice hockey in Kenya, but a fun experience all the same. We spent a couple fun dinners with Freddy hearing all his exciting stories about guiding trips all over South America and even his harrowing experience hiking Mt. Mckinley in Alaska.
After a few days in Nyaungshwe, we headed up to Kalaw by bus to get a couple days in the mountains. It was much cooler in Kalaw and it made for some fun hikes up to surrounding hills and hilltop temples. We had a tasty local rum in a tiny local bar and met some really fun locals. While wandering in the hills, we stumbled upon a great family run restaurant in the hills where we chatted with a sweet old lady who grew up in those hills and told us of what it was like before anyone else was there. Also of when the military moved in and began taking the houses they wanted and even the wells. Her knowledge of the local elections was very impressive and the last day we were there Aung San Suu Kyi (or her partner was swarn into office) and began work in the actual capitol of Naypyidaw. If you don't know the history around this, it's worth a read. Also the old government decided that the capitol would be moved from Yangon in the south, up to the middle of the country to be more centrally located. They dumped tons of money into building a giant capitol, chalked full of large hotels and freeways, and once finished, most dug in their heels and refused to move to Yangon so the capitol has sat mostly vacant and resembling much of a ghost town for years. Only now, the new government is moving there and the guess is that slowly the rest will follow.
With only a couple days left in Myanmar, we got a posh nigh bus back to Yangon where low and behold, who do we see on it but Andrea and Freddy! Always fun to see people you know again on the travelers trail. Once in Yangon, Ville got bulldozed by his 3rd and worst bought of food poisoning and hardly left the hotel room. We had met a great couple in Inle Lake who were from Germany and we spent a couple days sightseeing together while Ville hugged the toilet.
Reflections on Myanmar. Even though the country is large, restrictions of travel for tourists (and ever changing as I'm writing this) has made the country feel much like a tourist attraction. You really have to spend quite a bit of money and a lot of work to get off the tourist path. But even the Lonely Planet can't keep up with how quickly even restaurants and hotels are constantly changing, so it's worth a visit before it's all commercialized like everywhere else. The people are incredibly kind, the food is amazing (but plan on getting sick at least once, it really is just part of the fun), set aside a decent budget, it's not very cheap, and go!
K.G. & Ville
Crossing into Argentina! The final frontier.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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