Leaving Inle Lake, a gambling table had been set up on the station platform by some bored men to see off the approaching rainy day. We’d traded in our previously bouncing train for a lumbering side to side one with luggage falling out of the racks taking more than 3.5 hours to get up to Kalaw a former British hill station/town not much more than 20 miles away?! The approach to our destination looked pretty dismal despite the greenery, the outskirts unkempt, rotting vegetation and plastic bags lining the track. We walked to our hotel getting there literally 2 seconds into a full on downpour. In a brief lull between showers we borrowed umbrellas and marched up the road for lunch, on our return we got caught in what felt like a pre cyclonic belter of a rain storm (believe me I was in Queensland 24 hours before Cyclone Yasi hit) Welcome to Kalaw, the ex colonial retreat now very basic pit stop for trekking the countryside and visiting hill tribes.
Properly chilly and attempting to dry my wet clothes in my cold hotel room (no heater and ice cold water in the shower) I set up a temporary Hibiscus workshop and spent the rest of the afternoon piecing together Summer 2014 listening to dance music so as not to focus on my lack lustre surroundings. Think thin green carpet a la pool table green held together in some spots with gaffer tape, greige polyester bedspread and strip lighting. Somewhere between an old aunt’s spare room and crack den chic. The problem in Myanmar right now is hotel rooms are double the price of last year’s due to inflation and the general growing tourist influx. We were paying $50 for this drear!
I won’t dress it up – waking up feeling a little deflated at the prospect of spending the day in a fairly filthy town 1320 feet above sea level, under clothed was not igniting my sense of adventure but I opened the (avocado nylon) curtains to find blue sky, which retuned my good sprits and after a bonkers Burmese breakfast of fruit, odd looking dark brown sticky rice, boiled eggs, sweet toast and doughnuts we decided to go walking around the outskirts of town following a half day’s circuit in the Lonely Planet. This was the antidote needed to our arrival here.
Out of town past heavenly scented tall pine trees and ramshackle wooden houses, some fantastic in their random 40’s,50’s and 60’s styling others inadvertently convincing as a mid 19 century pioneer’s shack complete veg garden and abandoned farm junk, Tyrolean alpine pointy roofs here and there, a handful of Surrey country houses. Next, keeping up with the general Myanmar weirdness the road ran through a ‘Restricted Area’ within an army base ‘Warmly welcoming tourists’ quite creepy really to a pagoda with caves packed to the ceiling with Buddhas of all sizes. Cut to Antonia and I getting our knickers in a real twist thinking we were going to end up lost in the caves which in our defence were getting smaller, darker and most definitely not for the claustrophobic, plus wet and slippery under foot (we were in bare feet being in a part of the pagoda compound) Andy kept pressing on forward to the next pitch black ‘room’ with his torch while we desperately wanted to turn back only to find we had walked in a circle and were not deep into the mountain as we feared but only meters from the way out all along. Antonia thinks Buddha would have loved that.
Andy demonstrated food bravery on our last night here, in a local café that had what looked like a few of the neighbours cat pelts nailed to the wall (ok, probably a lesser spotted Asian racoon or something) along with a selection of other animal parts that had met a grisly end. The part glimpse of the kitchen was enough to confirm my vegetarianism until my departure. Andy partook of a plate of fried chicken bits and pieces (cat rissoles) and survived the night. I was really worried about him because I heard a man being violently sick in the night at the hotel. I have to say at this point I don’t know what Antonia and I would have done if Andy passed away, we’d surrendered all travel responsibilities to him, had even stopped asking where we were, what hotel we would be staying at, we just walked annoyingly slowly behind him while he led the way.
Definitely time to head to the warmth. Someone get one a gin and tonic!