On the morning of my trek I woke up a little before eight in the morning. At the end I would not be returning to the hotel, so I collected my stuff and packed my bags. With not much time to sit down for breakfast, I ate pastries and snacks I had left over from the bus and what I bought at convenient stores. All trekkers had to meet at Sam’s family at nine, so I definitely gave myself little time before wake-up and departure. I left the hotel at around 8:40 because it was around a twenty-minute walk if I took my time, and I needed to withdraw cash from the ATM.
When I arrived at Sam’s Family there was a considerable amount of people. But as time went out, the building became extremely packed with foreigners ready to trek. Some time after nine they began calling groups to depart. There was one French guy who I recognized from the first day who sat near me during the explanation of the various treks. He asked me if I were still going on the trek alone, and I said unless someone came in late in the evening right before the place closed to sign up, I’m pretty sure I am. And sure enough, when my ‘group’ was called, it was only me on the list.
My Tour Guide who will Forever go Unnamed
My guide was a young man who began trekking because he heard he could talk to a lot of foreigners. Eager to learn English, and not wanting to work in a stricter position, he became a trekking guide. During our time in the hills of Kalaw, he told me his friends had suggested that he work in a hotel. After all, the pay was good, and you get to work in fancy air-conditioned buildings. However, blonde at the time, he didn’t want to give up his trendy hairstyle and wear a suit everyday.
I am quite upset with myself for not being able to remember his name. However, in our nine hours together, the only time we exchanged names was in the beginning. It was kind of unnecessary afterwards to refer to each other by name. So in the end, I came to know many things about him such as his family, his educational career, his childhood and, even some of his political stances. Just not his name.
My guide shared with me in the beginning that being solo and young was an advantage. I could set my own pace and we could take some more difficult routes. As a result of his confidence in me, I found myself literally in bush, blazing new trails. Or I guess I found myself following my guide as he blazed new trails. What he didn’t know was that I didn’t work out regularly. If I had to guess, my fitness age was probably that of a forty year old. However, after going through with it, I did pretty well. I only kind of broke down during the last quarter of the trek.
The trek itself was a series of uphills and downhills, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. I felt like I was generally going uphill most of the trek as opposed to downhill. When we reached a milestone in our trek, we sat down for a break at the top of a hill. My guide carried fruits in his bag and cut some up for us to eat. I think his whole bag was just fruits and water, because every time we took a break he’d reach in for some fresh fruit to share. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of bringing snacks, but it’s a good idea for any future trekkers.
Our first stop was a village that was in the middle of a wedding celebration. We could hear music in the distance blaring from loud speakers, which apparently had not been there a few months before. My guide noticed it as a song primarily played during weddings and followed the song. I ended up becoming a guest at the wedding and feasting with the bride, groom, and village.
Weddings are conducted in two parts. The first-half, which I participated in, is open to all surrounding villages who belong to the same tribe. It consists of a feast, and the bride and groom greeting each guest. There is then like an intermission before the festivities continue at night where there is dancing and drinking. This part is only open to those who live in the village.
I’m pretty sure everything I ate went against what was advised in our pre-departure meetings on the ship, but it was so delicious. They provided us with a full table, and then kept offering more. I gave some Kyat as a wedding guest, and wrote my village as the USA in the registry. Everyone laughed. Afterwards we moved to a tent where guests chatted over tea, snacks, and watermelon. We mingled for a little bit and then continued on the trek joyous and full.
Tea over Coffee
There is a lot of scenery you pass through in route to the next village. I admired the fact that people lived in such distance and isolation. That there were people who climbed these hills on a daily basis. We passed cabbage farms, stupas dipped in gold, and churches in construction. In-between, we arrived at our second village who were roughly paving their roads and had recently gained electricity. I was brought to the house of a tea farmer and where him, his son, and adorable daughter dressed in the traditional garb welcomed me in. They poured me tea and showed me items like the oldest text in the village that only like two people could read.
Sam’s Family splits the price of the trek ($25) with all the villages that are visited. This price also pays for the food that the village makes for the trekkers who come through. I think I was supposed to eat dinner in this village, but because of the unexpected wedding, I already had a full meal. So we kind of just chilled at this mans house and chatted a little over tea. He didn’t speak much English so my guide acted as a translator. There was a point where my guide left for the bathroom and that became a bit awkward.
The daughter though was such a ball of energy. She used every English phrase that she knew on me and even sang me a song. Her mother, who I didn’t meet, made longyis. She tried to imitate her mother and show me how to weave a longyi, but she couldn’t quite figure it out. I still got the gist though.
The Approaching End
I’m not sure the if the third village we passed through was just en route, or a village that was on the itinerary. But we passed through it pretty quickly. As a result of trekking for quite some time, my guide was friendly various people in each village. So walking through this village there were a number of times where we stopped to play catch-up. One lady had given us a dramatic reenactment of when she cut down her coffee plants in order to switch to tea. Coffee doesn’t sell well in Myanmar, plus the market price does not match the amount of labor that goes in to growing the plant. So she made the leap in to a new market.
From here it felt like a straight uphill walk to Kalaw’s town center. There’s something about reaching the end that always gets to you. When I used to run track, the last 100 meters in my 400 meter sprint were the deadliest. I began to feel the Myanmar heat a little stronger and my hands began to shake. I had to take more breaks than in the beginning, all the while my guide was patient and continued conversing with me.
When we reached the end, he asked what I was going to do now. I said probably stop for a cold soda and something to eat–at Red House of course. He then said I was probably excited to get back to the hotel and take a shower. Little did he know I had already checked out and would not take a shower till nearly 13 hours later. Covered in sweat and fine dust, I said my goodbyes and went to eat. I changed into less damp clothes and open-toed shoes in Red House and then left to catch my overnight bus back to Yangon. Upon my return to Yangon, there would actually be quite some time before I made it back to the ship. So in that remaining time, I used up some wi-fi at the Shangri-La, bought snacks, and searched for bubble tea.