Hsi-paw Trek & Kalow. / by Mark Boyd

The following morning, with a hostel breakfast of Shan noodles in my belly, I walked down to Mr Charles Hostel where the trek would begin. Ax sai (pronounced Ah sigh) would be our guide.

It wasn't long before we were being treated to some natural delights (sometimes) from the bushes and trees. I wanted to taste everything. Most folks seemed pretty reluctant. In fact my willingness to taste anything non-toxic became a standing joke even with our guide. Ax-sai pulled a leaf from a bush that ran alongside the track. He snapped the stem just below the leaf and proceeded to blow bubbles! Nice job. Obviously we all wanted a go at that.

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We dipped in to a rice processor where they prepared rice as flour and noodles.

                                                                    Heavy Work!

                                                                   Heavy Work!

                                                                       Rice Sheets

                                                                      Rice Sheets

                                                                     Rice Laundry

                                                                    Rice Laundry

We walked seven hours with a stop for lunch. Sometimes I walked ahead of the group sometimes I lagged behind. Both allowed me to capture some pretty decent images. Then I'd dip back in to the group to get to know everyone.

                   No longer by hand scythe, the trusty strimmer now saves the local backs.

                  No longer by hand scythe, the trusty strimmer now saves the local backs.

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A couple of hours in to the afternoon the sky went dark, large spots of rain began to fall. Laura and I had hung back to capture a few more images of 'boys at play'.

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We were literally 3 minutes from where we could lay our bags for the remainder of the afternoon. Then the heavens opened. We took a bit of a wetting, but at least it was in the final minutes of the day. We had climbed 700 metres to a 'Shan' village, our home for the night.

Ax-sai mentioned that there maybe a village wedding this evening, and we may be able to attend. I was excited!

                                                                School sucks eh?

                                                               School sucks eh?

                                                                     Distracted....

                                                                    Distracted....

Mattresses on the floor with a stack of blankets would be our beds. Mosquito nets would provide protection from the blood suckers. Toilet and washing facilities were outdoor and very basic at best. The rain continued to hammer down. The family we stayed with had prepared a vegetable based feast of many dishes. It really was tremendous. We shared a beer each and then followed Ax-sai to the wedding celebration.

The bride and groom were both 17 years old. Young. Very young. There were biscuits, tea and some disastrous tasting tea leaf based foodstuff. My face was enough to put everyone else off. Apparently this stuff was akin to drinking about five cups of coffee!

                                                                    Don't do it!!!!

                                                                   Don't do it!!!!

It was a serious affair. There seemed to be family discussions going on. Ax-sai did his best to explain the situation. It was something to do with a disagreement surrounding the goom's family and their reluctance to pull their weight in the village. Eventually all was good.

                                                                          The locals...

                                                                         The locals...

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They spotted my Olympus OMD camera and asked if I would take a family shot. I told Ax-sai that Laura's iPhone 7 would probably do just as good a job in this low light. We both took images. The iPhone 7 is a bloody impressive piece of kit!

                                                       Happy Family.... ish.... Maybe...

                                                      Happy Family.... ish.... Maybe...

                                                                There's always one!

                                                               There's always one!

We were there for no more than 90 minutes. When we came out of local wooden house in to the night the stars were bright. It was beautiful. I considered some astro photography, but having only my Olympus with me along with the Panasonic lens, which doesn't have the infinity focus point marked on it, this would be a thankless task. I did give it a try for half an hour.... But finding pin point focus on the stars proved impossible.

By 10.30pm we were all on our mattresses, prepared for sleep.

At midnight I found myself lying wide awake under my mosquito net. Maybe it had been that local dish I'd tried. The rain had stopped many hours ago. I decided to head outside for a midnight yoga session. I pulled on my trousers and quietly slipped out of the room, down the stairs and out in to the night. The sky was incredible.

I had one of my favourite yoga sessions ever with the milky way stretching across the night sky over head and every constellation visible with the naked eye piercing the blackness. As I held a range of various poses, drawing my breath in slowly and deeply I counted seven shooting stars. Seven! It was a joy. After the session I just stood there and stared at the sky. As I stood there in the darkness, topless, just trousers, a torch light illuminated my body. A local village man decided on night time jaunt to the toilet. No doubt he wondered what the hell I was doing. I wandered quietly back up the stairs and slipped under my mosquito net.

After a hearty breakfast we headed out. It would be mostly down hill today. A little slippery and muddy in places. I became distracted by the landscape and dropped behind the group. After 10 minutes I began catching up.

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By 2pm we had reached Hsi-paw.

That evening Laura, Judith and I had a Hsi-paw bar crawl.... A beer in the first, cake and tea in the second and a beer in the third.... That's it for Hsi-paw...

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 I really needed a hammock.... and then one appeared.  Laura & Judith in the background.

I really needed a hammock.... and then one appeared.  Laura & Judith in the background.

The following day we took an overnight bus to Kalow which arrived at 5am.

We found a little cafe serving deep fried pastries and sweet tea. We sat and chatted whilst the sun slowly rose casting an orange glow over the town, and a warm glow to our bodies.

We were offered a three bed room with a private bathroom for $10 each... Or a three bed dormitory with a shared bathrooms for $7.00 each. Weird but true. We'd be sharing a bathroom between three of us anyway!?

We wandered down in to town. As with most Myamar towns there was a market, a few little pagaodas and one large one. Plus various eateries and hostel style hotels.

Our intention was to book on to a two night three day trek which would take us to Lake Inle, so later that morning that's just what we did. Ever Smile guiding confirmed our booking for the following morning whilst we went in search of a laundrette.

Whilst asking yet another local, who happened to be working on an engine with his friends and possibly his mother, where we could find a laundrette the lady, with oily hands, offered us a good price to wash and dry everything by 7pm. This worked for us. So we handed the unknown lady our clothing and wandered off to grab coffee.

Imagine dropping into a car workshop to enquire about laundry and one of the folks offering to wash your clothes.... Ha ha ha ha! I don't think it would happen in Europe or the US.

 

Kalow is nice, and it also has a laundry lady masquerading as a 'grease monkey'.

 

Tomorrow we trek.