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I recall being so pleased that I remembered to get a shot of this scene. Now I’m not sure why…

While in Myanmar in February, and on the trip home, I kept jotting things in the Notes app in my phone. I wanted to be sure and remember to mention them in my blog. I have waited so long that several of the notes don’t mean much to me anymore. What a loss.

But most of the photos I collected into a special folder, and the notes in my phone still remind me of thoughts that never made it into a blog post. Here are my notes, in the order I found them in my phone, which is the order they popped into my head:

  1. shower in toilet. Yes, this was a first for me, but I am told by friends it’s not that unusual. In Myanmar, at a hostel and at one of our hotels, the shower and toilet were the same room. I can’t imagine why. Real estate, you are thinking, and that would make sense, except that the places where this happened were not short on space and the rooms themselves were quite large. In our hotel toilet/shower, the space was as huge as a bedroom, and yet there is the shower head, mounted directly over the toilet, when it could have at least been installed on the other side of the room. There are the distinct disadvantages, such as soaking the toilet paper, filling the wastepaper basket, and dousing the toilet and sink every day so that water spots and soap scum need to be scrubbed off each day. What are the advantages?

    This elaborate box on side of house may hold a shrine? Other houses had a simple rectangle with no adornment.

  2. box thing on house. My guess is that it is a place for a shrine since many many homes had them, they were often decorated, and always in the exact same place on a house. My anthropologist mind tells me there is a ritual/spiritual/cultural reason to place the box in the same place on every home. The box is always on the right front corner of the house as you are facing the house, no matter what cardinal direction the house faces. I tried so many times to describe this to people so I could ask what it was for, but I failed to get anyone to understand. On my last day in Myanmar I remembered to get a photo, so at least YOU know what I’m talking about.
  3. power out. I’ll have to consider this one for awhile. No idea.
  4. chair conversation at restaurant. I remember the restaurant in Mandalay. But I simply cannot remember the context or the content.
  5. 1729 steps. I think this was not a story, but simply to remember how many steps there were from the street to the top of Mandalay Hill.
  6. Rohingya. I did already mention our conversation about the Rohingya with our trekking guide Hein. In a situation that reminds me of Palestinians, the Rohingya have lived in what is now western Myanmar for centuries, but are denied citizenship by the government. Recently, they have been slaughtered and their villages burned, for …apparently for …existing? Hearing about the brutality inflicted against this group of indigenous people by their own government, I expected the Myanmar military to be a constant presence, like police in Egypt. But for the most part, Margaret and I never saw military or police, and the whole country felt absolutely laid back and good-natured. I could never reconcile in my mind the idea that the criminal authorities responsible for mind-blowing violence are relatives of the loving, open, friendly people we met.
  7. honking. Erm, not sure what I wanted to say about this.
  8. recycling. Again, I don’t recall what was on my mind.

    Betel juice spit onto the U Bein Bridge. Betel nut is everywhere, like tobacco.

  9. crepe. For some reason, across the country the primary material chosen for napkins to use while eating is crepe paper. In the US we use it for decoration (think multi-coloured streamers at parties and dances). In Myanmar it was always a grey-blue colour and the rolls were placed at tables for you to tear off a piece and sop up grease from your sticky fingers and mouth. Except…yeah…it’s the worst possible material. Crepe falls apart instantly, and gets stuck to you rather than assists with cleaning. Honestly. Where did this idea come from and why is it so universally accepted?
  10. longyi is the sarong. I’d been calling the wrap worn by men and women a sarong, because I couldn’t remember the name of it. I finally looked it up.  A longyi is a hoop of fabric that is long enough to go from your waist to your toes. To wear it, you step inside the hoop, pull it up, and fold and tuck the fabric in. The tension holds it in place. Nearly everyone wears them in Myanmar. They are versatile. I saw a street person relieve herself in public for example, by loosening the tucked fabric, simultaneously squatting and pulling the fabric up around her shoulders, and doing her business behind the screen. When finished, she stood again, dropping the fabric back to her waist, and securing it once more. On Inle Lake, I saw a woman bathing out on the dock in front of the house using the same method of privacy. The longyi was up around her shoulders and she scooped water up inside the fabric and washed. No one passing by in a boat saw any skin but that on her face and feet.

    This piece of Thanaka wood and grinding stone were made available for my use at our hotel in Bagan. It is used as a cosmetic and sunscreen. One wets the stone with water, then takes the log in both hands and grind it in circles on the stone, till enough powder has been mixed with the water to make a lotion, as you see here. Use your fingers to scoop it up and spread it across your face. It is refreshingly cool for an hour or so, even in the sun. Then it dries up and flakes off.

  11. mingalaba. It turns out this greeting is relatively new (1960s), and introduced intentionally to replace the traditional English greeting by schoolchildren to their teacher each morning. Everyone happily calls Mingalaba! I guess it translates to “blessings upon you,” or “auspiciousness to you.” It can be used to say hello, or goodbye, but we only noticed it being used to say hello. Maybe because they knew we were tourists and would get confused. Ha!
  12. sewers under sidewalks. This one does make sense to me in terms of real estate. Waste water in cities is channeled away in narrow canals beside streets. Large, flat bricks with holes in them are placed over the sewage canals in order to use the space as a sidewalk and also to ventilate the sewage. It’s an efficient use of space and somehow both pedestrian-friendly and distinctly not. Yangon was not the only place I’ve seen this system, but it was certainly the stinkiest city I’ve ever been in.

    I have seen this sign in other countries before, but it still cracks me up. You know the sign was created after enough people fell off – or into – toilets that a demand for instructions was created.

  13. breast feeding. Possibly a remnant of a more isolated, often rural environment only recently opening up to the misplaced scorn of outsiders, women comfortably breast-fed their babies in public spaces. I am a huge fan of this, after having been a mother and became personally aware of how many challenges there are for parents with babies in public spaces where others believe that all the realities of babies (crying, diapers, feeding) must be hidden. So glad to see the open smiling faces of mothers proudly feeding their babies as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Hint: it is.)
  14. bus food stops. Arggh! So, so, so very annoying. Every single – I mean EVERY single bus ride we took in Myanmar included a mandatory stop at a roadside eatery. This means mandatory bus evacuation. Even if the bus is late. Even in the friggin middle of the night when you just took a sleeping pill to try and sleep on the bus despite the discomfort and the noise, yes, even then you have to drag yourself up out of slumber, put on your shoes, and stumble out into brilliantly-lit fluorescent highway stop with noise, people, and smells to which you are not accustomed. Your extreme squinting from the light is not intentional and only a reflex but since it matches your mood you allow the grimace to remain. Then you sit on a curb and shiver and grumble for half an hour to 40 minutes until the bus driver reopens the bus and lets you get back on.
  15. Buddha’s hair. All the pagodas and stupas have relics. A couple of times the relic was believed to be a hair, or multiple hairs from the head of the Buddha. It made me laugh at first because I always imagine the Buddha as bald. Once drawn to my attention, I realized all the Buddhas in Myanmar have hair. I guess the young Buddha was gifting his hairs out as sacred relics, and then eventually made himself bald. But …since it’s the Buddha… both the generosity to the point of baldness and the acceptance of an altered image seem to fit.

That’s all my notes, and the random photos that I also kept for some reason. I am hoping that some of the forgotten things will come back to me now that I’m thinking about them again. If so, I’ll come back here and edit.

Here is the final day I skipped when I had no Internet while traveling in Myanmar. Please click the image to go to the post.

An irresistible smile.

 

24-hour tea shop in Kalaw. See the full post: https://crystaltrulove.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/trekking-from-kalaw/

The reason I skipped a few days in posting my daily blog while in Myanmar (Burma) was because Margaret and I were hiking through the hills from Kalaw to Inle Lake. I’ve posted days 1 and 2 in their proper place with the proper date stamp, but here I’ve included a link so you can get to the post easily. Click the image to go to the post.

 

I skipped three days while I was in Burma – called Myanmar by the locals and much of the world. This was because I was hiking across country, and had no Internet. I’ll post the next two missed days when I get to them. Click the image to reach the blog post.

Our first view of the Golden Rock from a distance.

https://crystaltrulove.wordpress.com/2018/02/16/the-golden-rock-at-kyaiktiyo-pagoda/

A monk feeds some pigeons on the bridge/hotel/train station.

At breakfast we decided to try to find anything but temples, pagodas, and Buddha. Mandalay is a big city; there must be other things to see. After reviewing pamphlets, Trip Advisor, the front desk…we decided it would be a crafts day.

First though, we walked over to the train station to buy a ticket for Margaret’s departure to Hsipaw the next day. It was a little confusing to find where to go, but we eventually discovered the ticket offices in the open air second floor of a hotel, on a bridge over the train tracks. (Yeah, get your head around that) We explained what we wanted at the counter, and the man shook his head and pointed for us to go somewhere else. We didn’t see anywhere else to go, but he seemed insistent, so we walked away and stumbled upon an identical ticket office on the other side of the building. After much discussion behind the windows, someone finally said “sixteen,” which we realized was window #16, and once we got there, everything was rather self-explanatory. Language is really not so much of a barrier when you look at it practically: two tourists show up at a ticket window at a train station. It doesn’t take language to realize they are most likely hoping to buy a ticket. All the tourists have to say is “Hsipaw,” and all the counter agent has to convey is the price. Except…. there was a little more to say, and thank goodness our agent was able to convey it. First class was sold out, and the only seats available were coach, it was a 12-hour journey, and it departed at 4:00 am. Margaret decided to take the bus instead.

On 78th Street near the train station.

Blur of the hammer as a man pounds thin gold into very thin gold. In the bowl of water is half a coconut shell with a small hole drilled into it. The coconut fills with water in 3 minutes, then the pounders know to flip their packet and beat the other side of it.

Woman applies gold flakes

Then we walked to the gold leaf craft shop. We arrived soon after two tour busses arrived, so the small place was filled with tourists from England. It was noisy the whole time we were there, while two men banged away at their tiny pieces of gold flake, making them molecule-thin. An employee came up to me with a bunch of samples and explained the whole process of making gold leaf and also of making bamboo paper (which is made exactly the same as other paper, as far as I could tell). The gold flakes are pressed between layers of bamboo paper, then bound into a packet. The packet is then pounded for hours, periodically opened to split the flakes into smaller pieces, then bound up again and pounded some more. Eight hours total for each final flake of about 2 inches squared. Inside the show room I found a few lacquered bamboo boxes, embellished in gold designs. Continuing to test what I had been told (look, I just don’t trust that the stories told to tourists are always accurate), I asked if they made the lacquered boxes here in Mandalay. “No, the boxes are made in Bagan.” This pleased me, since I had purchased a box in Bagan, believing it to be a local product. From my casual investigation, it appears to be true.

Margaret and I were sitting on a bench in a corner, looking at the map and trying to figure out where to go next, when the buses pulled away. The banging of the men with hammers ceased immediately. Ha ha ha!

Our next stop was miles away so we hired a taxi. The hotel front desk had told us that the wood craft shops were near the Mahamuni Buddha Temple, so we asked the taxi driver to take us there, just to give him and easy landmark to aim for. We had no plan to visit the temple at first. But our driver brought us to a quiet street with a less popular entrance, and the quiet was inviting. We decided to step inside and check it out, since we were there anyway. It was a good decision.

A wooden Buddha sheltered by a cobra.

The entrances to many temples have people selling things on both sides, and this place was no different. Small Buddha statues, jade jewelry, textiles, and paintings were offered. This one held multiple palmists, which we had not seen previously. Margaret bought jade bracelets and I browsed.

The temple proper was surrounded by pillars encased in jade in myriad mosaics. It was specatacular, all green and glistening in the sun. Just inside, we found the Mahamuni Buddha. Like we saw at the Golden Rock, worshipers bought gold flake and applied it to the Buddha while praying. Again, only men were allowed to do this. Women sat in rows outside, praying. And for the benefit of the people outside, there was a livecam going the whole time, so we could watch our men apply the gold. We continued on and realized this was a large complex with museums and other holy sites. We explored bronze sculptures on display, magnificent art, artifacts, a giant gong, several giant bells, and additional pagodas. There were at least four separate museums with different categories of collections. One appeared to hold manuscripts, and looked something like a library, with books, parchments, and even dusty old cassette tapes.

Interestingly, very few foreigners were there, which could have explained the amped up excitement of the local visitors. Many more group photos were taken. We were delighted when a super happy monk begged us for a photo with him, then demanded (with a sly smile) that his shy, blushing sister also get a photo with us. (Margaret has the photos of this, or I would show you.) Twice more we bumped into the same monk and his sister, and it felt like we were old friends after awhile.

Jade pillars of the Mahamuni Buddha temple.

Mahamuni Buddha in the background, with livecam out front for the women.

Golden hall around the Mahamuni Buddha.

Margaret loves to get people to be goofy in photos. Here she begged them all to hold their fingers up, which made them laugh. Look, I’m tall and thick like an Amazon next to them. It was something M and I were always conscious of.

Posing for us.

Here, Margaret demonstrates that she is also willing to goof off in photos.

One of the paintings in the art museum.

Bronze figures on display were originally from Angkor Wat in Cambodia and were taken to Thailand. After winning a battle in 1599 when the Thai king attacked Taungoo (in the Bago region of Myanmar), the Taungoo king presented these bronze figures to the Rakhine king in gratitude for his assistance, and thus they came to live in Myanmar.

Bronze elephants

Bronze men. One 8 feet tall and the other 7 feet tall.

We were both so glad we randomly decided to tour that temple. It was one of our best stops of the trip!

Outside we went to a wood crafters shop, which held some pretty cool wood carvings but was not really set up for tourists like the gold flake place. No craftsman was around, no evidence of the work being done, just a very dusty showroom with one young woman and a baby on site. I found it amusing that the baby’s blanket, crib, and diaper pack were in the center of the showroom.

Across the street we found marble crafts, which weren’t even mentioned by the hotel front desk or in any of the lists of things to do that we found during our morning search. There were many shops selling marble statues (mostly of Buddha), crowding each other on both sides of the street. This is clearly a major craft in the area and I’m surprised that we hadn’t heard of it before stumbling onto this part of town.

Baby blanket and crib in the middle of the wood craft showroom.

Thousands of Buddha statues sit, in various stages of completion, in this section of town.

One crafter at work.

Near the marble Buddhas, a dove guards her nest in a very protected place. Can you see it?

We were hot and tired at this stage. Our plan had been to grab a taxi to our next stop, but there were none in sight. I can’t understand why, but there are simply very few tourists here, among all the marble and wood and the wonderful Mahamuni Buddha complex. That explains why there were no taxis. We thought to start walking to the bridge. Why not? But soon we had to stop for a rest. We picked one of the millions of tiny little shops beside the road to sit under an awning in the shade. There was a woman rolling up betel leaf packets in the front. A dirty little boy in the back sat on the floor beside a cooler. I went to the back and tapped on the side of the cooler, and the boy opened it for me. I bought a soda for 500 kyats (38 cents), and we sat there while the women and children from other nearby stalls drew close and chatted happily around us, though we couldn’t speak to each other. I gave some of my mandarin oranges to the kids. Would you believe it? While we sat there, the happy monk and his sister showed up and stopped at the stall next to us. We all laughed at seeing each other again.

The soda was finished and we were ready to go when a taxi pulled up. The woman had laid down for a nap, and the taxi driver obviously knew her, because he went right to her betel stand, grabbed what he wanted, and said a few things to her and she nodded. M and I asked him “Taxi?” he nodded, and we asked “U Bein bridge?” and he sort of hesitated, then nodded. So we climbed into the back.

The driver turned the taxi around and began heading north, and we were pretty sure the bridge was south. We found the photo of the bridge in our itinerary, and tapped on the window to show one of the men in the cab where we wanted to go. The driver nodded with great assuredness, but did not change course. We waited until we were confident again that we were going the wrong way. We tapped on the window to get the driver to pull over, which he did. We showed him U Bein bridge on the GPS. He nodded – clearly no hesitation that he knew what we wanted. He spoke quite a bit, but obviously we didn’t understand anything until he began pointing to the bags of goods in the back with us. OH! He needed to make another trip first! The man in the front was a passenger, not his buddy. We dropped the man off at the hospital, with all of his goods, then turned and headed due south.

It was a rather long trip and Margaret and I realized we would never have made it walking. It was a good 5 miles south of where we stopped to rest. Once we arrived, the driver would not accept payment, which puzzled us. We tried multiple times to pay him, but he wouldn’t accept it. We thought maybe his plan was to wait for us and then get a larger payment by returning us home, so we used sign language to say we would be back and we would meet him at that spot. We hoped he understood.

U Bein bridge was packed with tourists, both local and foreigners.

The piles of food for sale always looks delicious though we often won’t eat it: like these fried crabs.

The bridge is built in a curve shape to withstand the current of the water when the lake is higher.

I saw these men trying to pull down a piling.

They seemed amused that I wanted a photo.

The U Bein Bridge is 3/4 mile long and believed to be the longest teak wood bridge in the world. Tilapia are farmed in the lake, but due to recent growth in industry along the shores and tributaries, there is a wastewater pollution problem. Thousands of fish are dying, impacting the fishermen and causing a rotten fish smell that we noticed along portions of the bridge. In 2016, the government of Myanmar designated Taungthaman Lake an environmental conservation area and began making plans to clean it up.

The popular thing is to see the bridge at sunrise, but we were there at midday. Still, there were plenty of tourists. This, unlike the Mahamuni Buddha temple, draws the masses. People hawked their wares all over the parking lot and the roads up to the bridge, and for a good portion along the bridge as we walked it. I was very excited to see my favourite snack of Myanmar – sliced green mango in chili powder – sold here, and I bought some within minutes. M’s tummy was still upset and she didn’t share the spicy treat with me. In fact, she was still feeling poorly when we had walked all the way to the end of the bridge and back, so we bought a coconut to drink the milk and fill up on natural electrolytes.

Crunchy spicy goodness!

Natural health food drink.

We searched and searched for our taxi driver, but he was nowhere to be seen. We were disappointed because we wanted to pay him for that very long ride earlier. We couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t accept payment – he was a taxi driver after all. Maybe it was because the shop owner said good things about us. Maybe they appreciated that we had befriended the monk. Maybe he regretted the confusion about delivering the guy to the hospital before taking us to the bridge. Finally we hired another family that was thrilled to get our business. There was a man sleeping in the back of the taxi and the son thumped his leg to wake him up. We showed them our map of where the hotel was, and they happily carried us north again through the entertaining streets of Mandalay.

People on the streets of Mandalay.

They look much more gruff than they really are. Takes two seconds to get them to smile.

Uh…cattle? Ok.

Map of the Mandalay Palace Complex

The seven-tiered tower at the entrance commands the view.

Margaret was feeling much better this morning – Yay!! We were picked up by the JJ Tours bus company (for Joyous Journey, M told me) and we took a bus from Bagan to Mandalay. The bus asked us for the address of our hotel and dropped us as close as they could. We had only nine blocks to walk. Still, it’s in the 90s here every day. Personally, I love the heat (not humidity), and after a couple days I was used to it. We also didn’t know the city, and had to cross the railroad tracks which took a while because we had to find a bridge first, then figure out the street signs till we were sure we were headed in the right direction. Dragging luggage nine blocks on busy streets with no sidewalks felt hotter than the 90s though. We were so relieved to find our hotel finally.

We dropped our bags, freshened up, and met in the lobby by 3:30 pm. There was a lot of day left. We caught a taxi to the Mandalay Palace. It was $4.50. I’m getting used to taxis for everything when it’s so inexpensive.

Entrance to the main palace building.

Detail in wood on all the buildings is elaborate.

The palace was built from 1857 to 1859 and the monarchy was in place when it was built. It was designed to be the center of the new capital city of Mandalay. The complex is an enormous square in the middle of the city, and surrounded by a fortified wall and a moat. There were cannons out front. The security is more rigid than anything we’ve experienced so far, with police/military meeting us at the front gate and asking us to turn over our passports and name our hotel before we could go in. Also, no photos were allowed in the grounds outside the palace area.

I included the map at the top to show how many buildings are here. The grounds are extensive and well-kept, and visitors are allowed to wander through all of it. The larger buildings are more decorated. Inside they contain several old thrones for different kings and queens. One building holds artifacts such as the royal betel spittoon, royal sandals, and a royal pot.

The royal sandals, Yak tail whisk, the royal dagger.

Inside one of the buildings at the palace.

More mirror adornment.

Life size replicas of king and queen on their throne.

More carved wood detail.

The buildings near the rear of the complex.

Fiery red in the setting sun.

We walked through many of the buildings, and came out again near the spiral watchtower. We collected our shoes and went back to our taxi, where two young swindlers tried to cheat us by trying to talk us into having them drive us to our other destinations. They were so sneaky, and so bad at it, we lost our patience and told them to forget it. For example, they quoted us 20,000 kyats at one point. So then one says, “Ok, I’ll give you a discount of 2,000. So the price will be 22,000 kyats.” Margaret said, laughing, “That’s going the wrong direction!” A fair price for what we wanted would have been more like 8000 kyats anyway. When they took us back out to the front gate, I handed over my 2000 kyats that we had agreed to in the beginning. “No, it’s four!” the tall one says. “You told me two,” I said. “But there are two people,” he counters, “Two thousand kyats for each of you.” “No way! We discussed it, and we agreed to a price of 2000.” Well, we went back and forth with those scheisters, and I finally gave in and handed over another 2000. We have not had anyone try any kind of manipulation this whole trip until these two. It’s only $1.50. But still. Ugh.

Margaret and me in one of our taxis. You ride in the back and it’s open air.

Young monks at the palace, with cellphones and sunglasses.

Looking across the moat toward our next stop: Mandalay Hill.

We were so mad we walked to our next stop. It was only a mile to the base of the hill we were about to climb. On the top of the hill is the Su Taung Pyae Pagoda, and apparently the place to watch the sunset. Many people gleefully told us there were 1700 steps to the top, which is 755 feet above the rest of the city. So. We started up the steps.

It was a pretty long haul. That’s a lot of steps in 90+ degree heat. We stopped for breaks and took photos of the city on our way up. There are a few smaller pagodas on the way up. And finally, we came to an escalator to carry us the last few feet. Since we had to leave our shoes at the entrance, I remarked that stepping onto the escalator in bare feet did not seem like the safest thing to do. At the second level, we walked around spilled blood on the floor, then passed an older woman as she had her toes bandaged. Right. Not safe to ride escalators in bare feet. Just sayin.

There were a lot of steps.

You can see the rooftops over the steps as they continue up the hill.

A view on the way up.

Inside one of the pagodas on the way up.

At the top the pagoda is beautiful and mirrored (which by now you know I like). There were people everywhere and the sun was setting, making the light a little bit magical. We walked all around the pagoda and talked with people and took selfies and had a fun time till the sun set. The sky was rather hazy and obscured most of the view, but turned the sun a bright red as it dropped to the horizon.

People waiting for sunset.

All these vessels contained drinking water. Not sure what the signs say, or what difference it makes, drinking from one pot vs. another.

This dude was really into his shot.

Setting up a great shot.

There it is! Sunset over Mandalay.

We left just a bit before sunset in order to beat the crowd. We had to wait in line at the elevator, and the queue was growing so long (and sunset not quite happened), that they reversed the order on the escalator, and had both elevator and escalator going down. Finally we got to the bottom, paid a donation to get our shoes out of the locker, and went out into the parking lot to find a taxi. After our last experience, we were afraid of being taken advantage of. The guy who took us was totally no-nonsense, and practically rolled his eyes when we tried to bargain. “Look,” he says. “It’s 5000 to take people to the bottom of the hill. You want to go to your hotel. That’s 10,000 total.” We asked, “How about 6000?” He just looked at us. “8000?” He rolled his eyes and gestured to us to get into the taxi. “The price is 10,000,” he stated matter of factly. Ha ha ha!! So funny.

I can’t help myself. The street views are still so captivating to me.

We were passed by lots of fire engines on the way back to our hotel. We saw at least five of them. Note the man in back is wearing a sarong. Is that safe? Will he change to other clothing before fighting fire? He will certainly put shoes on.

This place was packed nearly the whole time we were there. You can always spot Margaret’s blonde hair in a crowd here. Just below and to the right of her, you can see where the curb of the sidewalk is. All the tables in front of that are in the street! (Curt- notice the plastic chairs)

Delicious buffet from Shan State, a large region on the east side of Myanmar.

We were hungry and ate dinner at a place recommended by the hotel staff as having authentic Shan State traditional food. When we arrived, there were only a couple people there, though tables from the place were spread out onto the street. We sat down and ordered and before our food came, people started arriving. In no time, the place was jammed with people, and more and more arrived to grab take-out meals. Margaret and I were seated at a large table, and the staff asked if we would mind having others seated at our table with us. Of course not. A lovely young French couple sat down and we told them what was delicious on the menu. They were getting ready to go – not on a three day trek as we had done – but on a six day trek! Out in the western part, I think they said. “Where women tattoo their faces,” they told us. “Not many tourists go out to that region.”

Finally we walked home to Home Hotel (aptly named). What a day! Bagan in the morning; Mandalay in the evening. Full belly and comfortable bed. Life is good.

 

One room in the Prince of Wales suite

We are sleeping in a historic room.

Our hotel is amazing once more. The place is enormous and also dated in a delightful way, such as the chairs upholstered in purple velvet. We are on the shores of the Irrawaddy River, that flows south past the dining patio.

Margaret and I had a nice easy 9 am start this morning, but there was a problem. Margaret’s supper last night included an amazingly spicy salad and it did a number on her in the night. Despite feeling off, we met our driver for the day. Ansel (I’m sure I’m spelling that wrong) met us at the airport last night and took us to our hotel. He offered to be our driver for today. At $35 for the whole day, split between the two of us, we quickly agreed to give up our motorbike rental idea for someone who knows the area and the traffic.

Shwezigon Pagoda – major bling

The first pagoda stop was very touristy with lots of bling! By bling I mean plenty of gold, many colors, vendors set up everywhere, gaudy in every direction. M was still feeling poorly and stayed in the car. I made a quick trip through and headed back to the car with a plan to give instructions: no more bling, less people. I wanted to see all the gorgeous pagodas we had been passing to get to this one. Luckily, that was Ansel’s plan all along. He got what he said was the most famous pagoda out of the way first, and all the rest were much better.

There are 2600 pagodas in Bagan. At the most, there were 4000 of them, but many were destroyed in the 1975 earthquake. Unfortunately, in 2016 another big one hit north of Mandalay, which isn’t too far from here. It was 6.9 on the Richter scale, and damaged 400 of the local pagodas. Ansel said that until that time, tourists were allowed to climb the stairs inside many of the pagodas, and thus get on top for a great view. But now, for safety reasons, there is only one pagoda safe enough to climb. (I climbed it!) They were all built from the 11th through the 13th centuries. As we drove through the region, the renovation work could easily be seen on many of the larger pagodas.

At the next pagoda, M tried walking around a little and that only made her feel worse, so we dropped her off back at the hotel and she had a down day. Then Ansel and I continued our pagoda tour.

I’ll apologize right up front. I did not keep track of the names of all of the pagodas. I’m simply going to post the photos.

Inside most of the bigger pagodas are statues of Buddha.

One pagoda is still safe enough to climb and get a view of the incredible landscape.

Pagodas through an arch.

In this case, we climbed a monastery beside the pagoda, and then got a good shot of the pagoda. Note the bamboo scaffolding while repairs are made to the tower.

View from the top of the monastery.

The bougainvillea helps add interest to yet another pagoda.

Sometimes they were in clusters like this, and sometimes a lone pagoda beside the road.

Look at this exceptional architecture.

It’s just before the hot season here. I don’t know if these flowers bloom year round, but it was nice to see so much colour.

I loved scenes like this. Looking out across the land where so many beautiful towers rise up.

It’s hard to convey just how incredible it is to have pagodas in every direction. Our driver said to close our eyes and point, and we would be pointing at a pagoda. I often walked past several smaller ones to get to the one Ansel wanted me to see. They are in unexpectedly good shape for their age and being in an earthquake zone. They are gorgeous: that orange red brick, particularly in the morning and evening light against a blue sky.

I am most struck by the outer architecture of the pagodas, but several caught my interest for other qualities. In particular, I loved the murals painted inside many of them. Once Ansel found out I loved the murals, he took me to a few more very good ones with exceptional paintings inside.

The Old Gate to Old Bagan city.

Before entering any pagoda or temple, you remove your shoes.

These lovely ladies agreed to have their photo taken.

I love the attitude on this face!

Impressive large Buddha

Some were enormous inside

I couldn’t get enough of the murals.

A few pagodas had murals of great detail.

Some images, like this one, were repeated often. There was still quite a variety, owing to the different artists, maybe?

Inside this pagoda, this huge mural is covered from floor to ceiling in activity. People of all sorts are acting out some legend(s) possibly. I stood and gaped a long time.

This boat scene made me think immediately of the murals on the tombs in Egypt that also depict boats.

Here’s a nice simple elephant that I particularly like.

One pagoda had carvings instead of murals. There was damage in this one and I talked with a crew of people doing some work on a crack inside.

This is Payn Payn, one of the three resident kitties where I stopped for a beer.

At lunchtime my driver took me to a lovely little café with delicious and affordable food. (Who am I kidding? Everything is affordable here.) Later in the day, after several pagodas in the hot sun, he found me a super tiny café so I could chill with a Myanmar beer. While I drank the beer I played with one of the cats lounging around. An older woman came out from the back and brought me some fried bread after I had been sitting there awhile, complimentary.

There are hopeful vendors at every big pagoda, hoping to catch your eye. The people selling handmade goods in Myanmar have been the most laid back I have ever known in a country I am visiting. Until Bagan, they barely called out to us. Here they may be the most aggressive in the country, because they will actually call out to you, and some will follow you. Compared to other countries, it’s still very manageable and they give up quickly and leave you alone.

The street scenes in between pagodas are often this beautiful.

Visitors are allowed to ring the bells found at some sites.

I had my new friend P step in to add a little perspective for this ginormous reclining Buddha.

I thought this sign was a total crack up. Signs in English are rare, but appreciated. I read this one twice and I’m still pretty sure I don’t know what’s going on. {click the image to get a larger version}

Something about that magical morning and evening sunshine makes these places even more spectacular.

At one pagoda, I stopped to watch a man work on his sand painting. He began explaining what he was doing, and how he made the sand paintings. It’s pretty cool: he glues river sand to cotton fabric, then paints over the top. It’s a neat look. He began explaining a few of his paintings, spending the most time explaining the days of the week calendar (includes Morning Wednesday – elephant with tusk, and Evening Wednesday – elephant without tusk). I decided I wanted to buy the week calendar. Unfortunately, I did not have enough money on me. He let me take the painting with me and pay only a part of the cost, and I came back a few hours later with the rest.

The artist had assured me that the sand painting can only be found in Bagan. When I got back to the car I asked my driver if that was true. He said it was. He said there are two crafts unique to Bagan. The other is lacquered bamboo. Ansel took me to a workshop where women were busy scratching designs into black lacquered bowls. A man explained what they were doing, and also how the lacquered crafts are made. They begin with bamboo. Then they are covered in layers of thick black sap from a tree I can’t remember the name of. If I remember correctly, the sap is baked on in layers. Then the patterns are either painted or etched onto the final layer. I really enjoyed the stop and when he ushered me into the showroom as I was expecting, I was happy to go look for what I wanted: a ramen bowl. I found one that looked the most like what the women had been working on. I also found a square box I liked and negotiated them down almost 30% on the price, since the original price was way over my budget.

Women etch designs into lacquered bamboo bowls.

Seven stages from bamboo to finished lacquered product.

Finally it was 40 minutes to sunset and Ansel took me to a mound of some sort to watch the sun go down. To my chagrin it was packed with people and more poured in after I arrived. *sigh* But the tourists were picking up the “love” vibe from the locals, and it was actually very pleasant with much chatter back and forth between people who didn’t know each other but were sharing a moment.

The sunset over the pagodas was spectacular.

Lake behind the mound where we watched the sunset.

The Londoner standing behind me said this scene was worth his whole trip to Myanmar.

The beds at our room on Inle Lake.

I wanted to say a little bit more about the luxurious Inle Resort. I guess that’s because it was such a change in accommodation after two nights of homestays in the mountains around Inle.

The living room

Our cabin from the outside

A patio near the dining hall

The dining hall.

Guests arriving by boat, as we did last night.

Same view, at sunrise this morning.

outlet cover

Our arrival was by boat, though the resort is on the shores of Inle Lake and was not on stilts but upon land. The service was excellent and the grounds were exquisite. We stayed in an individual cabin with two large rooms – living room and bedroom, with a spacious sink area, and additional rooms for the toilet and a generous shower room. (Did I mention hot water? Hot water is so great.) The dining facility was a separate huge building and the breakfast buffet was included with our room.

After checking out we had breakfast then waited for our driver. Before leaving Hein yesterday, we had asked him to help us arrange for a driver. It was a great decision by Margaret to have someone handle the driving for us today because we covered a lot of territory and trying to navigate it all by bus would have been maybe crazy, maybe impossible. If we had rented a car, we never would have found the stupas at Kakku.

I had to look up the word. “Stupa” simply means heap, or pile. The word in this case refers to a small pagoda built over a relic. At Kakku there are 2,478 stupas together. The Internet site we referenced to find this place says, “some are simple and unadorned while others are covered in a riot of stucco deities and mythical beasts.” It’s a great description.

Stupas at Kakku

Row upon row of stupas

a riot of deities

elephant

love the colours

more riotous colours

crossed foot turned down

A more open area between stupas.

There is a temple on the grounds, but since Margaret and I did not wear a long skirt and had our shoulders exposed, we could not go in. But the woman who took the entrance fee assured us that we were dressed appropriately enough to wander the stupas. We did remove our shoes, of course.

Each stupa is itself fascinating. Though we passed thousands of them, they continued to catch our attention. The many styles we saw are attributed to the changing styles of architecture through the years as more were constructed. We didn’t see any new stupas going up, but many of them were undergoing renovation. Some were shaped like buildings, mausoleum style we thought, and housed multiple Buddhas typically.

After the stupas we wandered the little market out there. Kakku is very rural, and there didn’t appear to be a town. The market held about thirty stalls, all selling the exact same things. These included sunflower seeds, rice cakes, fava beans, dried corn, garlic, ginger, and a bunch of stuff we couldn’t identify. There were a couple of textile stalls as well, and a couple of small convenience stores.

Photo is poor quality due to shooting through a dirty windshield.

This kind of sight is not unusual.

Farmers working the fields

Side saddle is necessary due to the long skirts.

Interesting trees along the highway.

We returned to our driver, Aung Ku Zin, who had been waiting in the shade for us the whole time. He is a friendly man and a remarkably safe driver. He also used some English to explain some of the sights we passed such as garlic fields and the Taunggyi University. Our trip from the resort to Kakku was 1 ½ hours, and the trip from Kakku to the Heho airport was two hours. We had the opportunity to see much more of the Myanmar countryside, this time Shan State in particular. We particularly enjoyed seeing the people we passed on the road, women often riding side saddle on bikes, bikes loaded down with incomprehensibly large loads, a truckload of ducks, trucks filled with people and more people on top. There are no lanes, and there is a natural flow of faster vehicle passing slower vehicles while looking out for oncoming traffic on the single lane strip of pavement.

The road was always in pretty good shape. A single lane of blacktop down the middle is flanked by the red dirt of this area. Most of the time there was enough room for automobiles to creep past each other and not leave the pavement. Most of the vehicles in this area are motorbikes, unlike Yangon, where we were surprised not to see many bicycles or motorbikes in the three days we were in the massively congested city. We agreed that motorbikes made a lot more sense in Yangon than their huge American-sized trucks and SUVs. In the city of Taunggyi we were impressed with the wide roads in good repair, often bordered by attractive roadside landscaping. We were also impressed with how clean and organized everything appeared. After the chaos of Yangon, I admit we were surprised to find a city like this in Myanmar.

Taunggyi is a clean, organized, and apparently economically sound city.

Typical roadside view.

The tiny little Heho airport runs smoothly, and it was a piece of cake to get our boarding passes. We have a short flight to Bagan. I suspect that once the flight lands, and we get to our hotel, and then find a place to eat dinner, that will be the extent of our adventures today.

Watching the sun set beyond a plane at the Heho airport.

Valleys of agricultural activity spread out beside us as we walked.

Today was day three of our trek through the countryside from Kalaw to Inle Lake. We woke at 6 am to a beautiful sunrise in the home of a local village family along the way. Our cook prepared another fabulous breakfast and by 8 am we were walking again. Anna, Lukas, Fumi, and Hein and we are all friends by now, having spent so much time together. We have slept in the same room and eaten every meal together. We’ve learned each others’ personalities and can joke together with insider knowledge. It’s fun and comfortable.

Morning sky across the rooftops from our homestay.

Looking the other direction at the pink clouds of morning.

Today was the shortest hike, but with the highest elevation gain. We saw more stunning vistas and interacted with more generous, loving, local people. We laughed and talked and asked a hundred questions of each other.

When we first met our guide at A1 Trekking in Kalaw, we had the option of choosing a private tour. This would be me and Margaret traveling with our own guide. We chose to hike with others and I am so glad. The price drops for more people, but that was not our reason. We thought with two weeks of being together, day in day out, that it would be nice to interact with some new personalities. It was the perfect decision and we were lucky to join a group of good people.

Our guide, Hein, has been a resource for every question we have. He is constantly in good spirits and helps us avoid embarrassing circumstances. He said his smile solves all difficulty, based on his four years’ experience trekking.  I began referring to that as his super power. Hein smiles and we are all immediately ready to comply with any request.

A man carries a single bamboo pole. I wish I had been better positioned to show the entire pole. It was enormous and must have been difficult to carry.

Small boy entertaining himself while his mother worked in the field.

A bike loaded down with goods.

Our view near the highest point of our trek.

These women were selling crafts near the fee station. We all had to pay a $10 fee to enter the Inle Lake region.

Entering a bamboo forest.

Some of our cook’s incredible creations in fruit, for our last lunch together.

The whole gang! Left to right: Cook (can’t remember his name, gah!), Lukas, Anna, Hein, me, Margaret, Fumi.

At long last, but also too soon, our trek was over and we had to say goodbye to Hein and our cook, who traveled with us the entire way. They handed us over to a boat man on the shores of Inle Lake. We had left our heaviest luggage with A1 the day we left, and only carried what we would need for three days. Our luggage was on the boat when we arrived. We climbed into a long, narrow boat and I spoke up and asked that Fumi sit in front. He is an artist with his photography; making more of the sights with his camera than any of us could. I wanted him to have an unmarred view because he had promised to share photos later.

The five of us had three different destinations. We traveled north to drop Anna and Lukas off at their homestay first. A homestay is like Air BnB. The boatman took us through the shore communities to their homestay. They were staying with a local family.

The journey was through a community entirely on the water. Crops of beans, squash, lotus, and many other things we couldn’t identify were grown on the shores of the lake. Houses and workshops were on stilts, and everyone travels by boat. There were restaurants, pagodas, cultural sites, and homes, all on stilts above the water. I think this is the first time I have ever seen such a community. It is fascinating to me. Rather than try to describe it, I’ll include a bunch of photos and let you see it.

Making our way through the channels between crops in Inle Lake.

This is what the view looked like from where I sat in the back of the boat.

Heading under a bridge.

Our boatman.

Woman working the crops. Here I am guessing they mostly harvested lotus root.

Convenience store on the water – so funny!

Other boats blasted past us on a water highway.

I like the yellow windows.

I also love buildings that are falling down.

I still can’t believe all these places are built on stilts.

What seemed like neighborhoods cluster along the shores of the lake.

After our goodbyes to Anna and Lukas, we took a long, long ride south to our stop, Inle Resort and Spa, where we had to say goodbye to Fumi. It was unexpectedly sad, to leave the boat and leave our connection with our new friend. When Margaret and I stepped out of the boat, it brought home the realization that our friends were all gone and we were on our own again.

Our boat pulled up to Inle Resort and it was a whole new world. Our luggage was carried for us, and we were greeted with hot towels and juice. Our room is exquisite. The toilet is indoors AND you can sit on it instead of squatting. Yay!!! There is a shower with our first hot water in three days. Hell, our first non-ice water in three days.

The dock up to our resort hotel.

The dock from the other direction.

Me, sunburned, bathed, and really happy not to have to hike anymore. Oh, look: I’m blogging. Always thinking of you guys.

Sunset across Inle Lake.

Sunrise reflects off the home of the village Chief.

We woke at 6am in the Chief’s home after a good night’s sleep to a lovely dawn sky. As anticipated, it was cold cold cold that morning. After the ice-baths in the cistern the evening before, I assumed the nights must get very cold to keep the water at that temperature despite the consistent hot days.

Outside at the table in front of the house, we sat and mixed up our coffees. In two weeks in the country, I didn’t see brewed coffee offered anywhere in Myanmar. Nestle instant coffee packets were proffered everywhere we went. At the outdoor table in the frosty air were bowls with packets of coffee, packets of instant creamer, and packets of sweetener. *sigh* But it was around 30 degrees and all those packets came with a thermos of hot water, so we considered ourselves fortunate.

By 8am we said goodbye to the family and walked out into the red dirt streets of Ywar Pu. Today we walked 26 km, continuing through the lands of the Dannu people and then into Yaung Yoe country.

A group of young women heading for the fields. The silver cans are their lunchboxes.

A man and his beast.

Terraced rice paddies

We walked through low mountains and valleys. It’s agricultural country, and the activities we witnessed were in support of the economy there. Field stubble was being burned, as well as slash and burn activities to clear more land. It made the skies hazy but we rarely smelled the smoke because we didn’t come close to the active burning. Most of the cattle and oxen were tied to trees singly or in pairs, and were clearly used to pull carts or to plow. Occasionally there were more cattle in a field, so I could see there were at least a few ranches.

Though we had seen it the day before, I am still impressed with the terraced hillsides of rice paddies. We were in-between seasons and did not see any rice still growing. Everything had been harvested, the dirt was dry and hard, and often cattle were out grazing on what was left of the rice plants before it was burned. We also saw chilies and ginger harvested. The chilies would be in great heaps in the shade beneath a house (houses and storage buildings were often two story, with the living quarters above and storage beneath). Ginger was spread out on tarps beside the fields, drying in the sun. Crops are harvested by hand, and though it is late in the season, we saw people all day long in the fields, still bringing in the last of the crops.

Workers harvesting ginger, most likely.

The baby had been sleeping in the shade while its mother worked, but we must have disturbed it. The baby cried and cried until Momma laughed and went to soothe it.

I didn’t see any parents around, just these kids watching us walk by.

A huge, beautiful heap of chilies.

Remember the blisters I developed on my first day in Yangon? No problem! I had protected my feet in every way I could in the few days before this trip, and now on day two of my hike, they still felt fine. I definitely could still feel the blisters, since they were there between my toes (from the flip flops) and on my heels, but in my hiking shoes it was manageable and I didn’t give them a thought. I had, however, begun to sport a sunburn on my face and after the fact remembered to start using the sunscreen I had in my pack. Ha ha. I’ll never ever learn about the sun. I just love heat and sun so much, I can never remember that it’s supposed to be dangerous.

At our morning break we stopped for tea in a big open hut with an older woman on one side weaving cloth. She had a stack of completed scarves and bags beside her. Much of it was garish lime green and orange and cobalt blue, but I found a subtler and tasteful weave of white, black, gold, and purple. The scarf cost me 4000 Kyats – exactly $3. If I had more cash on me I would have paid her more for the lovely scarf woven by hand by a lovely country woman.

This woman weaved stacks of lovely scarves.

She graciously posed for a photo.

Our lunch stop couldn’t have come soon enough. It was hot and there was no getting around it. By noon it was 96 degrees and we were hiking in a lot of direct sunlight. We literally dropped to the floor in the large village home, half of us going prone right away after gulping warm water from our packs. People at the house sold us liter bottles of water all around, and we gulped at those too. Hein came in at one point to check on us, and immediately asked Fumi to change his position. Not knowing the customs, he had accidentally laid down with his feet pointed at the shrine to Buddha – very disrespectful.

Hein allowed us a very long stop. I wondered why we had to get up so blasted early if we had a 2 ½ hour lunch stop. After our brilliant cook prepared another delicious multi-course meal, we were offered the opportunity to go explore the town as we had yesterday. Every one of us stayed put and either rested or fell clean asleep. But I had to trust the Company. A1 Trekking had been around for years and was likely well-beyond a learning curve. The long rest did me so much good.

Our wonderful cook, hard at work in the kitchen.

Two courses from our amazing lunch.

The incorrigible Hein.

A boy in the village where we stopped for lunch.

Cattle pulling carts were a common sight.

Boys rolling tires with sticks.

Kids twirling and giggling and falling down

Off we went again, into the sun, over the hills, past the water buffalo. At our afternoon snack stop we finally came close to one of the fires. I heard a rushing, snapping sound in the distance and asked Hein what it was. He didn’t hear it. We sat down on the grass to rest in the shade of a tree, and everyone’s ears adjusted to the sound of our chosen spot. Chatter died down. And Margaret popped up to her feet! “Hein, what is that sound?” she pressed. He listened and finally heard it, “oh, that’s fire.” Typical, easy-going Hein. Margaret’s ears tuned in while I slowly got used to it and tuned it out. She periodically walked out away from our tree to watch the fire burn.

Margaret was still triggered by recent memories of having to run for her life from wildfire, and I didn’t grudge her a moment of that worry. While house-sitting for a friend in northern California last fall she was awake by coincidence in the night and glanced out a window to see flames on the hills, moving toward the homes! She only had time to grab her keys and her purse and run. From the car she called another friend nearby and woke him up. He did not have a car so she drove through the thickening smoke to pick him up. She called another neighbor who was already awake and told them to call everyone they knew. In an unknown neighborhood, in the smoke, in the middle of the night, chased by fire, she and her friend got away to her house, which for that night was safe. The home she was house-sitting burned to the ground. Whoah. In fact, the whole reason she is on vacation at the moment is because the owners of the ruined home are staying in her home (Margaret rents her house frequently on Air BnB).

Mud steps

Bamboo forest

We walked into a more forested section that provided some shade and saw our first bamboo forests of the trip. Hein took us past a courtyard of extremely derelict pagodas. There was a single shiny gold pagoda among them, but most were ancient and crumbling. I was eager to wander through them, as I am always drawn to the ancient stuff and less excited about the sparkly gold paint. Call it the anthropologist in me. Hein explained that this site was going to be demolished and brand new pagodas built. He said that upset him because people would come and steal the relics. I asked what the relics were, and he said they are often gold and jewels. I asked a few questions but wasn’t exactly clear on the cause and effect of the future crimes. He discussed the pagodas in the moment as though he assumed the relics were inside, but he talked as though the dismantling of them would result in theft. I didn’t understand whether he thought the workers would be the thieves. Hein took me to a particularly decrepit pagoda and showed me the section of bricks that showed where the relic had been placed – I could easily see the area outlined. Have you seen an old brick building where a hole that was previously a window has been subsequently bricked in? It looked like that. Only, this was a hundred years old and falling apart. I could have pulled the bricks out with my fingers. I wondered why the thieves wouldn’t have done their work now, before the workers showed up. But I am sure additional information was lost due to my inability to understand fluent Burmese.

Crumbing pagodas… and one shiny one!

I loved the tree growing from the umbrella on this one.

Up close they are so beautiful. It pains me to think this thing of beauty will be torn down and replaced with a shiny gold one.

We entered the town of Pattu Pauk and came across a monastery. We had passed several monasteries on our trip and I asked Hein if they were abandoned. They never had a soul about. Hein explained that the monks go out into the communities and do good works and collect donations during the day, but sleep there every night. I had overheard him talking the day before with Anna and Lukas about being both Buddhist and Muslim. His father was Muslim, and his mother was Buddhist, and each of the children in the family had chosen which religion they preferred and had the family’s support. Hein said that he had chosen to be Muslim, but had not given up the Buddhist practices taught to him by his mother. So he laughed and said he was both, since he observed both whenever he could. Anyway, Hein expressed his disgust with monks that he called “fake monks.” In explanation, he used percentages, saying that 85% of monks were fake monks and of those left only 5% of those were truly following the religion devoutly. I asked him to explain more. He said that most people joined the monastic life “because it’s easier. You don’t have to work, you don’t have to have a skill. You can do nothing and still have a place to sleep and food to eat.” He said those people did the bare minimum to escape scrutiny, and lived off donations.

Hein brought up the Rohingya. NONE of us tourists were about to be the first one to speak the word. I swear, before this trip, Myanmar was in my BBC podcast Every. Single. Day. For the heinous crimes of genocide – whole villages burned and the Muslim Rohingya people slaughtered by the Christian military – and leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s adamant denial that anything unpleasant is happening in her country. An outsider listening to the news gets the picture real quick that Myanmar’s military is NOT a group you want to interact with. Since we had been here, we had seen nothing but peaceful, happy people and not so much as a glimpse of military personnel. And here is Hein, laughing and saying out loud that he is Muslim! Hein just shrugged and said he didn’t really know what was going on with the oppressed people of Rakine State. It’s never on the news and no one talks about it. He said he had heard much more about it from his tour groups.

Not an abandoned monastery.

Hein talks to Fumi, Lukas, and Anna beside the monastery’s bell.

Pattu Pauk was our destination for the evening, so we only had a few steps to go beyond the monastery to find our home for the night. But before we got there, we got distracted by a group of women sitting together on blankets in the street doing some kind of work. We asked Hein if it would be ok with the women if we got close and watched them, and he said it would be fine. They were so beautiful, and seemed to be having so much fun, we had a hard time leaving them. In fact, the owner of the home we would be sleeping in came trotting down the street, asking Hein where we were going – concerned that his houseful of renters might change plans at the last minute. Hein assured him that we would be coming, but we wanted to watch the sight in the street. They were separating the white fluffy parts of popped corn from the hard shells and seeds. It was wedding preparations, which must have explained the buoyant atmosphere among them. I didn’t ask, but the popcorn could be for throwing at the newlyweds.

Women working with popcorn in the village.

An irresistible smile.

They were so fun to watch, chattering and laughing while they worked.

One woman empties her popcorn into the bag.

Margaret recorded them, then showed them the video.

The owner of the home was happy to have us stay.

Tonight I had had enough of the sun, sweat, and red dirt. The set-up at both our homestays is this: cistern in the back yard full of ice water, empty pan floating in ice water, platform of boards beside cistern. You pull up the curtain, so everything from your shoulders down is covered (ok, I’m just hoping that everything from my shoulders down was hidden from the passersby…), then reach over and fill the pan with water and dump it over yourself, trying to keep your whoops of frozen astonishment to a minimum. Grab a bar of soap, lather up to the best of your ability, then pour several more pans of ice water onto your body to try and wash off the soap. Then if you are me, grit your teeth, take a deep breath, and dump another pan of water onto your head. I did it! I washed my hair. The others cheered and clapped when I arrived at the outdoor table with wet hair. And well they should have.

The sun sets at the end of a long and wonderful day.

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