It’s 4:00 AM and I am reeling from the effects of the alcohol but mostly I am concerned there is an initiation ceremony going on in the distance and the tribes are coming to get me for the offering. I hear a beating drum, a man howling like Tarzan of the jungle and I feel mostly hungover but a little scared so I duck further under my covers and heated blanket and pray this bamboo hut wards off their advances. The sun finally rises over the mountains and I see a shimmer of light dancing from underneath the drapes and I undress the covers and move – slowly – to see what the day brings. The cows outside my window are dawdling if you can call it that and the farmer’s heads peak out from the crops. The night fog is crowning the mountaintops but that too is lifting. It’s going to be a glorious day and I am free of scheduled programming to lose myself in the villages of Inle Lake but first a breakfast of champions to cure my aching head – Myanmar’s finest French toast and some scrambled eggs.
Stuffed, I readied myself for my 90-minute massage courtesy of Jill and Steve. My masseuse, “Eee Eee” introduced herself and I immediately asked where she learned massage before subjecting myself to any further “foreign” techniques. She momentarily calmed my fears when she told me a European woman taught her but when I probed further I learned the European woman was actually an Israeli and my mind flashed to the rigorous military training all Israeli citizens undergo but I figured a five star hotel catering to entitled people like me would probably not allow for scaring and I closed my eyes and let the beating commence.
Feeling re-energized and wanting to make the most of my day, I rented a bike and decided the best way to explore would be rolling on two wheels. It seems the massage may have awakened my hunger or the alcohol lingered in my system because I only biked for 40 minutes before I detected sweat pouring out of me at a record rate and gnawing pains in my stomach. I guess it’s time for lunch and lacking any “foreign” approved restaurants I took a chance on a place that called to my very cravings…”Ice Cream” flashed on it’s fence and doorway. My menu listed items in English but the waitress spoke nothing so I ordered a banana lassi and vermicelli noodles with fried veggies and crossed my fingers my Walt Whitman moment would not come back to haunt me.
Exhausted, swarmed by flies and regretting my feeding frenzy, I pushed myself along the dusty, rocky, path to my next destination, Main Tauk Village and Forest Monastery, a monastery set deep in the hills. My map indicated it would be a 45-minute walk from the village to the monastery but it failed to taken into account the altitude and my current weakened state. I peddled as far as I could before I parked the bike and let my two feet move me through the suffering. There are a number of orphanages in this area and I passed by a boy and girl center. It’s my understanding many of the parents cannot provide for their children so at least at the orphanages they are fed and clothed.
I turned the corner to begin the steepest part of the walk and found a flurry of activity. The local villagers seemed to be constructing some sort of cement path to the monastery. A team of 20 people in as assembly line pulled rocks from the side of the mountain and piled them in square like fashion and then poured concrete over the box. This went on for about a mile before I then discovered packs of monks digging into the hillside for larger rocks. The younger monks aged 10 and under seemed to be enjoying the playtime by jumping off the hills and into the gravel. The teenage monks who worked feverishly in the heat did not seem amused. They appeared disheveled and exhausted from the manual labor. Staying focused on the rules, “do not take pictures of monks (especially ones hardly dressed) I pushed ahead only snapping photos of those fully robbed. What surprised me most is the workers in the field, roads, lake etc. who all worked barefoot or in flip flops with absolutely no regard or concern for safety.
When I paused for a break and debated whether or not this hike was worth my energy, a woman came bobbing down the trail. I asked her how much further and she replied in a British accent, “You are nearly just there.” I always hated the British and their chirpiness. Her nearly and my nearly are about 15 minutes and a few pounding heartbeats away.
I arrived at the top and promptly took a seat on the monastery steps where I inhaled the sweet air, sipped my water and enjoyed the panoramic views of the lush trees and blooming flowers, Inle Lake and its surrounding villages. I admired the view as much as my perseverance. It was a clear day and resting my eyes on the geography of the area gave me a perspective much different than sitting low on the lake. High in the mountains, you can see a pyramid of crops, the layout of the villages some close together and others quite distant and then the varying colors of the lake from syrupy brown to a dirty mud caramel and the vegetation plotting it’s take over of the lake.
Tired from my bike and hike combination, I decided to head back to my hotel dodging motorbikes, construction trucks and potholes along the way. I know as a traveler I am supposed to be fully aware of my surroundings at all times but I was meandering along daydreaming about my lovely life and guessing the name of each crop or gawking at the farmers in the field when suddenly I looked up and came face to face with two cows and a man on a cart. I screamed, swerved to the side and then took a very unhappy spill in the dirt. It happened so fast that I couldn’t even process it. I turned around to see if the man stopped. Without hesitation, he continued rolling along while smoking his cigar completely unfazed about my accident.
I escaped with a few scrapes on my ankle and decided to save the trip to the winery for another day. My stomach reminded me it needed more tofu and veggies and my body cried out for a hot shower.