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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.

 

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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.

{We have WiFi again! Ok, to those who have been traveling with me, I want to say I have skipped a few days. I’ll write about today, and catch you up on the days I missed later.}

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.

The Golden Rock from a distance.

Our day was primarily travel. We are aimed for the Golden Rock, or Kyaikityo Pagoda, well outside of Yangon. We are planning a trip up the mountain to see the balanced rock at sunrise. In the meantime, our goal was simply to get here. From what I read prior to the trip, there is little else to do out here aside from visit the rock.

From the hostel this morning, we walked 10 minutes to a travel agency and bought bus tickets for the day. To get there we passed through a marvelous market just steps from the hostel that we had no idea was there. I just LOVE these markets. They are so crammed with activity. People, food, rickshaws, trucks, and dogs, all jumbled together in this kind and warm environment where everyone is looking out for each other and ready to laugh together in a shared experience. I believe this loving community must be how no one dies amidst the ruckus.

Unlike my previous experience of east Asia, in Japan, here people stare directly at you and fully engage in acknowledging your presence on the street. A truck honks from behind, one of us yelps in surprise, and three or four people nearby laugh with us. A woman carrying a large tray of fried shrimp and spinach cakes tells me she likes my sarong. Her face is covered in the yellowish-white Thanaka lotion that most women and many men wear. Children, beautiful beautiful children – I can’t even express how beautiful they are to me with their dark hair and enormous eyes and trusting, open stares – wave and smile. These people are loving toward each other, often laughing, often with their arms around each other: men, women, adults, children, makes no difference. I have relaxed my own careful observance of others’ personal bubbles and reach out and touch people when I speak to them here, the same way I would with my friends at home. Only these are strangers, and they are completely comfortable with physical closeness.

Woman prepares betel leaf with Areca nut.

I haven’t mentioned the betel leaf that we see constantly. I have read about it often enough that when I saw it for the first time, I guessed right. Among the vendors of toys and food is always someone with a tray of leaves. They lay out the leaves, spread a thick white creamy liquid across them, sprinkle some kind of spice, then drop some chopped crumbles of the Areca nut. The leaves are wrapped up into a little packet. I haven’t seen anyone put one in their mouth, but I assume the whole thing goes into the mouth. Betel nut is a mild stimulant, like tobacco, and people keep it in their mouths and spit out the red juice. People who chew it have bright red mouths and teeth. Sidewalks are stained with great red splashes. The walls in toilet stalls are stained with red. Nearly all of our taxi drivers have opened the door and spit during a pause in traffic.

After we purchased tickets, we said goodbye to our lovely hosts at the hostel and walked out to the main road. We knew we were headed north, so we crossed the street to catch a taxi northbound vs. southbound. Crossing streets here is always an adventure, but we are getting used to it. Rarely are there crosswalks, and always there is congestion. In Yangon there are so many large vehicles that it catches our attention. Large, like USA large, and not something I’m used to seeing outside of the US. Very few motorbikes or bicycles, and way more vehicles than the infrastructure is prepared for. It’s always bumper to bumper and painted lanes are more of a suggestion than a rule. Someone tired of waiting might pull out into the oncoming traffic lane if no one is coming, in order to pass several vehicles and then cut back into the proper lane when oncoming traffic shows up.

Anyway, crossing a road is an adventure because one must walk right into the street and make a path. Just wait for a bit of a space between cars and go. People tend to wait and cross in clusters (safety in numbers!). It’s best when the cars have come to a halt because of a light, or simply because of congestion. Then people walk with no fear at all, bicycles, women holding hands of toddlers, weaving in between vehicles to get through. At first it’s unnerving, but after only three days, I’m so relaxed about it. Just step right into moving traffic, and everything kind of flows around. No one gets concerned. And voila! Soon enough you’re on the other side.

A taxi pulled over immediately and we asked him to take us to the bus station. It’s supposed to be a two hour drive. This man got us there in an hour and 15 minutes. Margaret was having a heart attack and I finally told her to stop watching! Me, I was having so much fun. The driving is simply astounding, the way vehicles swerve and merge and slow and speed up. I was constantly delighted. Our driver took multiple shortcuts, such as through the University of Yangon campus, to get around stalled traffic.

This wins the prize for craziest bus station.

Market behind busses.

You can see Margaret in there, waiting for the bus.

Thus, we arrived at our bus station with two hours to kill. This is the craziest bus station I have ever seen, and I’m guessing it will hold that top spot for years. It looks as though many bus companies all have their offices side by side in a big square, all facing the center. As we had already seen in Yangon, vendors set up their stalls anywhere people might walk, which is an excellent business plan you have to admit. People walk through, busses occasionally drive through, honking to warn the people to get out of the way. So imagine a giant “U” of shop fronts that belong to a menagerie of bus companies. Then imagine a bus parked in front of them all, making a smaller U. And out at the front of the busses are some vendors, but between the busses and the buildings is a regular market. There are kiosks set up, and walking vendors carrying their wares will thread their way through.

Even though I ate all of my breakfast at the hostel, I was hungry. I wandered around and bought some cookies at a small shop, then bought some more green mango with chili powder. Out here the chili powder is coarser and you can identify the chili seeds, unlike downtown where it really is just powder. Yesterday we had purchased some avocados on the train, and I put the leftover chili powder on the avocado, which was delicious. I ate some roasted peanuts. Finally I felt full.

Our bus took off at noon. Another nice thing about a super friendly country: they look after you. At one point a kid came up to Margaret and me and told us it was time to get on the bus. He took my bag and stowed it, then asked for our ticket, which I showed him (written in Burmese so the information it held was lost to me). The boy led us to our seats on the bus. I was oblivious the whole time, but this kid was not an employee, just an entrepreneur. He wanted a tip and Margaret was at least savvy enough to figure that out. She gave him a few hundred Kyats (which is mere coins in US dollars).

The plane ticket to get to Myanmar was expensive. But balancing that out is that everything is unbelievably inexpensive once you arrive. Our rooms are cheap, food is cheap, transportation is cheap. Each day Margaret and I settle up the day’s expenses. We are splitting costs, but often in the moment it makes sense for one or the other of us to pay for both, like a taxi ride. It inevitably arrives at something like this, “Ok, I owe you 2500 kyats, let’s call it $2.”

Kin Pun is small and clean, with mountains in the background!

The bus ride was comfortable and clean and not that adventurous other than vendors selling stuff during stops. It’s still a bit weird for me: a guy hawking boiled eggs, for example. Chicken eggs and quail eggs, going down the cramped bus, selling eggs to people for a snack. At one point the bus stopped and everyone got off. We had to ask other tourists what was going on. “Lunch stop!” we were told by the Germans. “How was Yangon?” asks Simon, from Denmark. BTW, every tourist seems to speak English. It makes me embarrassed.

We arrived, and Margaret carried her backpacks while I dragged my bag (I am clearly not as cool as the other tourists) less than a mile to our hotel. The town of Kin Pun is small and clean with red dirt. It feels more like home than the big stinky city of Yangon.

The Golden Sunrise Hotel is gorgeous. Landscaped and classy, with no trash in sight. The staff is all fluent in English. This is more English than I’ve heard since I arrived. I’m feeling distinctly spoiled.

Our rooms are here, on the second floor.

View from my room.

Restaurant on the grounds

Entrance lit up at night.

We are going to meet in the lobby at 5:30 am to pick up a boxed breakfast and then we will walk into town and find the “truck station,” where we will get a ride up the mountain to the balanced rock in time for 6:30 am sunrise. It’s a lot of time, effort, and expense to see a rock. Margaret likened it to Mount Rushmore, which I think is apt. The attraction itself is amazing. But the time, effort, and expense to get there is significant. And once you’ve seen the display, there is nothing left but to go home.

Who am I to turn down a willing Valentine on Valentine’s Day?

I like what I did with yesterday’s theme: boiled it down to two highlights. Today I’ll do the same. While the day was long and filled with adventure, the two things we will remember the most are running after a train (and the 30 minute stop at a tiny town) and camel affection at the zoo.

The Circle Train in Yangon gets its name because the tracks circle the city, with a few little branches of tracks leading off from the circle. You can get on and off at any point, but if you choose to remain for the entire loop, it’s a three-hour journey. The draw of the train is that it is old (character!) and that you get a good look at the area. It costs a whopping 15 cents. We knew our hostel friends, S and A (the two guys who recommended Chinatown yesterday) were planning to ride the train today so we asked them at breakfast, and they graciously welcomed us along.

We found the train station without too much trouble, and settled down to wait for the right train. Rickety old trains passed through every few minutes. One of the local people waiting asked if we were taking the circle train and we said yes. As one train approached, the same person stood up to board the train and told us, while pointing, “circle train!” indicating that we should board it as well.

“This is it?” we asked, not sure if we had waited long enough for the right one. “Oh yes,” we were assured. We asked a couple of others, and got enthusiastic nods and smiles.

Ok, here’s one thing I’ve learned in Myanmar so far: the people nod and smile and say yes even when they have no idea what you’re talking about. So, the train slows down and the four of us get up, a little hesitantly. We asked a few more people “Circle train?” “Yes, yes,” we were assured. Someone spotted some Western-looking tourists getting off the train, and asked them. English was not their first language, but it seemed like they understood the question because they also smiled and nodded and said “yes!” So we came to the consensus that it was the correct train as the train was pulling away from the stop.

Obviously the next thing to do was start running!

Margaret and I had the best shoes. Holding our backpack and camera and water bottles to keep them from bouncing away, we ran and leapt onto the high steps. Friendly hands already on board reached down and pulled us up and into the train. I was SO grateful! With joy at having made it, we glanced down the car to find our companions. S had made it, but outside the train, we saw A still running, in his flip-flops, beside the train. He had tossed his water bottle on board, and ran to catch up with the doorway. He, too, had to leap toward the arms outstretched, and was pulled on board as the train continued gathering speed.

“In retrospect,” says A later, “That was probably not a smart thing to do. But I never ran to catch a moving train before!” He grinned and we all grinned, agreeing that it was a first for all of us, and that it was the best adventure of the day already, and only 9 am.

Every train stop was lined on both sides with vendors like these.

Commerce at another train stop.

This young man (his mother sits there at the side) begged his mother for money to buy me a treat.

This effervescent hoodlum jumped off the train each time it slowed for a stop. The train would pass him, and then when it began to move again, he would jump back on, then come back to our car.

A scene from the train

While on the train, I was having a great time. Like yesterday, we were treated like celebrities, with many people smiling and saying “Hello! Hi!” and waving at us. Aside from that, the scenery was a constant delight. The places we saw were often dirty, smelly, structurally unstable, and I loved it all. Trash everywhere, napping dogs, flies buzzing, multicolored fabrics on men and women. Vendors on the train walked through selling avocados, strawberries, fried potatoes, bottled water, eggs, sliced mango with a kind of chili powder. Smiles and smiles. I can’t help myself. I don’t know where I got this vibe on this particular trip, but I am happy and relaxed and everything I see makes my smile wider.

One boy took a shine to me beginning before boarding the train. He continued to stare once on the train. We shared a few moments during the trip, while watching things happen on and off the train, though we couldn’t communicate much without a language between us. He ran over to his mother at one point and begged some money off her. He then went to a woman creating meals from the goods piled on a great tray, balanced on her head, that she had carried into our car. She prepared a dish for him and he brought it directly to me. I have been reluctant to eat the food on the street here, sticking mainly with fresh fruits and vegetables. I am not judging the food, I am only worried that if I eat too locally, I’ll get sick. I was torn. The boy held the dish up to me and I wouldn’t take it. I could see the disappointment in his eyes and I felt so bad. I really wanted to taste it. Heck, I wanted to eat it all up. But I’ve been sick in another country and I wasn’t willing to take the risk. So, I took one bite. It was *delicious!* Sort of a savory salad type dish with crunchy garbanzos on it. I handed it back to the boy and he sadly began to eat it himself.

The next adventure was an hour later, when we realized the train had not curved around the circle, but continued due north. Not knowing what to do, we jumped off the train at a stop that turned out to be someplace called Industrial Zone, almost to Shwepyitha. It’s a tiny little community with dirt streets and simple homes and businesses. After talking with the person at the train station, S informed us that the train we left would go all the way to the end of the track, then come directly back, and it would be the next train to come through. We would just pick it up again and head back to Yangon!

None of us wanted to go the full 3 hours on the train in any case, so this actually worked out perfectly. We had a 30 minute break from the train, so we wandered the industrial zone town. The towns people treated us very well. When I went to purchase a cucumber from a woman at one shop, she wouldn’t let me pay. At one spot we watched boys playing some kind of sport with a hard ball bounced off their bare feet and heads, played roughly like volleyball. Our walk was shady and pleasant, and we had a chance to chat about each others’ lives.

Train station where we disembarked

S, A, and Margaret walking from the train station into town.

Dirt streets of the town.

Friendly smiles when they see we are foreigners.

A young man returns the ball with a head shot.

We got back on the train without having to chase it this time, and rode the hour back to Yangon. From there, we parted ways with A and S, who had been a whole lot of fun and the perfect partners for chasing a train.

The main Yangon train station was close to the Shangri-La hotel, so we went back there and sat in the air conditioning and had lunch and some refreshing Myanmar beer. Then we walked to the zoo. Conscious that we may get pagoda’d out by the end of this trip, we have already been scanning the maps for things other than pagodas to see.

The beak on this bird was tremendous.

We decided this one looked prehistoric.

Margaret and the deer check each other out.

The zoo, like the rest of the town, was rather run down and had piles of trash in all the unused areas. But it was a pretty good zoo for all that, if you can overlook the fact that it’s a zoo, and the animals mostly lived on dirt and concrete. We were lucky and it was feeding time for many of the animals. I saw more animal activity than I’m used to seeing at zoos. They had a nice variety of big and small critters, and I appreciated that most of them were from the region.

Beautiful hippos, up close and personal.

White Tiger eating chicken for lunch.

Visitors fed the elephants.

I just loved this camel.

The sun began to drop in the sky and it was time to head back to the hostel. We were totally exhausted and conversation was quiet as we made our way home. We made bus plans for the following day’s pagoda trip, and dropped to sleep.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

We walked a good portion of Yangon today, but the highlights were the Shwedagon Pagoda complex and the street vendors in Chinatown.

This morning after a lovely breakfast at Ten Mile Hotel, we took a cab into the city from the area around the airport. It was a long drive and I was grateful that we had not tried to come all that way last night after our flights, and rather found a room near the airport. We only managed to get into our beds by 1:30 am local time as it was.

Anyhow, now we have two nights at the Pickled Tea Hostel. It is very close to the Shwedagon Pagoda, and that was our first stop after checking in and unloading our bags. Margaret brought along a lightweight sarong to wrap around when it was pagoda time and otherwise wore a sort of tennis skirt. I decided to wear one of the sarongs that I brought, since it is heavy fabric and would be bulky to carry. I am not used to wearing sarongs, and while it was comfortable enough, seriously restricted my stride – that long skirt. And it was much more fabric than I needed, so it wrapped around twice and kept me toasty warm on this 90 degree day.

The road to our hostel.

Entrance to the pagoda. There are a few shrines on the complex built of mosaic mirrors, like the one on the right.

The mirror tiles kept fascinating me.

Yeah. No, seriously. I could not get enough of the mirror buildings.

A view of the many pointy tops surrounding the pagoda.

Again, shoe problems like last year. It’s hot so I’m not in my boots, and boots are practically all I wear at home. So I went with flip flops instead, but soon my feet were rubbed raw. Flip flops are not good for miles and miles of walking. So I stopped at a vendor’s shop and bought different sandals, that didn’t rub between my toes like the flip flops. But by the end of the day (we guessed we walked six miles or so), my feet have blisters from those too. So, despite the heat and the wardrobe of skirts, I am going to stick to hiking shoes. They won’t match my clothes but I’ll be able to walk. Wish me luck on the blisters healing somewhat before our three-day hike to Inle Lake coming up.

Green dude.

The Buddha

Burmese people are so excited to see us! They ask for photos with us.

Once we agree to have our photos taken with someone, others notice and come and get in line. Hilarious.

Ok! So what did we walk to, if we did so much walking?

First of all, the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s a huge complex with multiple pagodas and tons of little shrines and some big shrines and statues and holy places and bells. Enormous place. We could have spent the entire day there if we had wanted to see every single Buddha statue and every piece of fascinating architecture. The main pagoda houses eight hairs from Siddhartha Buddha, along with relics from the previous three buddhas as well. Presently it is 326 feet high, and apparently grows a little bit more each time someone restores and re-guilds it.

We had to cover up our legs and remove shoes (and socks!) to enter the pagoda. Under the beating sun, we were quick learners, and I can now tell at a glance which tiles will scald bare feet, and which are better to walk on.

Lots of very hot tiles and no shade.

A look down at the entrance while we were up on top.

Brand new monks

Bang a gong

The architecture of the temples and shrines and pagodas is remarkable.

Love that deep red against the gold.

Here there be dragons

Then we walked into the center part of the city of Yangon. We stopped at several markets. The BoGyoke Market is a main attraction, so we visited there and were less than impressed after the fun markets in Santiago we visited last winter. Next to it was the “new market,” so we visited that one as well. Both were well-organized, serious places to shop. You could purchase calendars, rolls of fabric, eyeglasses, batteries, prescription drugs, bras, shoes. Sure, you could get anything there, and it was all under one roof, but …eh, we were bored. There was also a classy modern mall, that we went into, and it was no different from a mall in the states. We mostly went into that one for the air conditioning.

By this time we were suffering from heat and fatigue, so we went into the Shangri La, a high-end hotel and dropped into the bar for some cocktails and more air conditioning. To our surprise, other visitors at our same hostel came in a few minutes after we were settled. They had just come from chinatown and recommended it. So after our rest, we headed that direction.

Pigeons loaded the wires here, interested in the food below.

Some of the food looked so good it was hard to walk past without sampling.

Lanterns strung in the sky in Chinatown for New Year’s celebrations.

Crowded is maybe an understatement. Yes, that is a vehicle driving through.

Vegetables

Meat

Your choice of tasties. (Look at the little kid behind the vendor. Can you believe I missed that shot?!)

Not much capitol investment required to get this small business up and running.

It was an excellent choice. The decorations are going up for Chinese New Year’s celebrations. The place was swarming, but I get the impression that it’s business as usual. Margaret and I wandered up and down narrow, canyon-like streets crammed with vendors until dusk. The food vendors were the most interesting.

Finally we walked our long walk home. We passed the Shwedagon pagoda again, this time lit up at night, but we photographed it from a distance since we were not going to pay the entrance fee again.

Fountain lit up at night.

Killing time in the Hong Kong airport.

Margaret and me in San Francisco

I just checked into my room in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) with my girlfriend Margaret. You’ll remember her from the trip to Chile last winter.

I’ve been traveling since yesterday, and I’m exhausted and it’s 1:35am Tuesday local time and 11:05am (what’s with the different minutes?) Monday back home and I’ll try to keep this short.

Margaret and I flew different flights on different airlines, so it was a delight to bump into her in the San Francisco airport! We had enough time to share some chatter and hugs and lunch and then we went our separate ways. She arrived in Yangon before I did, and sat on the other side of the glass, periodically waving at me while I stood in line for a half an hour to get through customs.

Saw a lot of this today. A lot a lot. One flight was over 15 hours long. Ugggggg

…but luckily modern planes have tons of media to help kill the time. I just love this feature that tells me where I am. And also, you can see I’m charging my phone at my seat. SO convenient!

Our hotel is wonderful. It’s warm here but not miserable. I’ll certainly be able to sleep. And honestly. Sleep is the main thing on my mind. Our plan is to explore Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and then slowly make our way northward. I’ll fly home from Mandalay in a couple weeks. Margaret will be traveling for 90 days! I can hardly wait to see this country and bring you along with me!! I’ll blog when I can.

The approach to San Francisco early in my trip.

In a hub terminal of the Hong Kong airport.

My favourite volcano of them all was back home in Oregon. Here, Mt. Hood rises from the clouds as we approach Portland.

My favourite volcano of them all was back home in Oregon. Here, Mt. Hood rises from the clouds as we approach Portland.

Margaret and I got up early with intent to blast out of the Barn and Puerto Varas by 7am. Vicki had insisted she would be up to wave goodbye, and sure enough she greeted me on my last scramble down the stairs. Hugs and kisses (Chileans kiss once, on the right cheek) and I found Margaret waiting in the rental car with the motor already running.

It had been a stressful night for her. For some unexplained reason, her phone access to Internet had stopped working. This was bad news for a person who was planning to be in South America for another month. She has an Android, and I don’t know how those work, so I was no help at all. Everything looked fine. It just wasn’t connecting to the Internet. So, while there was the initial stress of trying to get M to the bus on time (the next bus would leave 12 hours later, so we really had to make the right bus), there was the pervasive stress of how to communicate during the remainder of the trip.

We had poured over maps the night before, and also asked directions of Vicki, because in Chile our phone GPS was not working. Roads looked easy to identify on the map, and intersections looked distinct. As we zoomed through the countryside past a little green sign with a “590” and an arrow, a quiet voice in me said that was our road. Bless Margaret for being able to have faith in her navigator. She was already turning around by the time I located the road directions I had jotted down and confirmed that 590 was the road I wanted. The way we remembered directions was different, and this time we were in such a hurry that it made us doubt ourselves. But viola! Out we popped right at the aeropuerto.

Bust of O'Higgins I couldn't resist because his is the most popular and wholly unexpected name we saw during our trip in Chile.

Bust of O’Higgins: the most popular and wholly unexpected name we saw during our trip in Chile.

A Toyota auto parts store made me think of my brother, who visited me in Japan, mostly to see the cars.

A Toyota auto parts store made me think of my brother, who visited me in Japan, mostly to see the cars.

We dropped the keys at the car rental counter at 7:30am, this time more used to the circadian rhythms of Chileans, so we didn’t expect that a car rental employee would even show up for two more hours. We then looked for a taxi, and realized…it’s 7:30 am in Chile. There are no taxis, even at the airport. I went to check my bag at the LATAM counter while Margaret summoned a taxi. My plan was to go play in Puerto Montt until my flight left, 7 hours later. By the time I got my boarding passes, Margaret and the driver were waiting for me.

We had a hard time explaining where we wanted to go. “bus estación” was apparently not enough information. We tried and tried to get the message through, and finally Margaret said she was trying to get to Chiloé. The taxi driver immediately brightened up. “Ah, Chiloé?!” With total confidence he drove us half an hour into Puerto Montt, and out to a remote, industrial part of town. The minutes were ticking to get Margaret into place in her itinerary, and I was relieved to see a row of busses parked at this interesting and very very quiet building. We stopped, and the taxi driver checked in with us one more time “Vas a Chiloé?” and we replied yes. So he proudly gestured to the building. We paid and went inside, and our transportation drove away. Inside was quiet, and clean, and attendants stood in uniforms. What kind of bus station was this? We stood in line and watched the clock inch ahead. Margaret eventually absorbed enough visual cues to become convinced there was a problem. She showed her already-purchased bus ticket to one of the uniformed attendants, and he assured her that all was well and to get back in line. When we finally reached the counter, the woman looked at the ticket and said, “No, no, no. You have a ticket for the municipal bus line. This is a tour company.”

A wooden church in Puerto Montt.

A wooden church in Puerto Montt.

The empty morning streets of Puerto Montt.

The empty morning streets of Puerto Montt.

A home I would readily expect to find in Portland.

A home I would readily expect to find in Portland.

While M frantically tried to ask the woman to place a call for a taxi for us (the woman had to ask a co-worker for a number, and the first number didn’t work, and…), I glanced outside and saw a miracle: a lone taxi was pulling up to the tour building. I went outside, armed with the proper words this time “estación de bus municipal?” Si, he answered, and I grabbed M and jumped in. She managed to express that we were in a hurry, and the sweet man understood immediately and got us to the right bus station pronto. M checked in and had her ticket confirmed and we were pointed to the right bus. We went outside of the (disheveled, loud, busy, confusing…i.e. a proper) bus station, found the driver of our bus and loaded M’s bag. Success! With 14 minutes to spare.

The view of the sea from the municipal bus station in Puerto Montt.

The view of the sea from the municipal bus station in Puerto Montt.

“Should we just wait here?” I asked her. “No, I saw a phone store,” she answered, heading back into the building.

Get a load of that woman! In all the craziness, of taxis and hauling our bags and running through the madness of the municipal bus station, Margaret had another part of her brain still working on the broken phone problem. We found the phone store, and an employee that spoke English! (angels singing) He poked around with the phone for 5 minutes and said, “It’s fine. There’s no problem.” M tried a few things, sent and received some email, and confirmed that her phone was indeed working perfectly. We don’t know if the man fixed it, or if it fixed itself, but it didn’t matter.

We shared hugs and kisses and many thanks to each other for the companionship of the past 10 days, and M boarded the bus and off she went.

Birds roost on the pilings beneath a restaurant on the water.

Birds roost on the pilings beneath a restaurant on the water.

Looking downhill to the sea. Nope, nothing interesting up here either.

Looking downhill to the sea. Nope, nothing interesting up here either. But check out the bike-and-pedestrian friendly paths.

The municipal bus station in Puerto Montt is in the city, and not in some remote warehouse industrial area, like the tourist office. It’s right on the shores of a bay in the Pacific Ocean, so my hopes were high for a lovely diversion until it was time to go back to the airport. Instead, the skies were grey, and it was cold and windy. So cold my fingers were frozen. I walked up and down the streets briskly – partly to try and get warm, partly to look for something interesting – and found very little that captured my attention compared to the wonderful places I have been in Chile. I had to keep my head bowed to avoid the blasts of wind, even along the backstreets away from the waterfront. I did take photos on my phone (the broken camera was packed in my luggage), and those are what you see in this post. Tip for travelers: spend as little time as possible in Puerto Montt.

A memorial in Puerto Montt recognizing the German families welcomed to settle by the Chileans in this area.

A memorial in Puerto Montt recognizing the German families welcomed to settle by the Chileans in this area. I see two interesting things: the dog is obviously patted more than any other part of it, and the height of the people is proportionate: Margaret and I have found ourselves distinctly taller than most of the people here.

It was still too early in the morning for commerce or activity, but I chanced upon a bakery with the lights on, and bought the best cheese empanada outside of the fish market in Santiago. It was warm and flaky and perfect, and gone too fast. I threw in the towel, went back to the bus station, and bought a ticket back to the airport. I paid $23 to get onto an earlier flight to Santiago. In two hours, I was sweating in Santiago. What a difference!

I found the same bus Margaret and I used on November 30th, paid for a ticket, and hopped on. We had been on the red line subway so many times, I was pretty sure I would remember the name of the stop. I watched out the windows, and easily got off at the right place, where the bus station is co-located with the metro. I went underground, bought a subway pass (using up handfuls of 10 peso coins, in an effort to get rid of them), and popped up above ground again in downtown Santiago at the stop for Universidad Católica. I was warm and knew my way around. It had been the correct decision to leave Puerto Montt.

A week earlier I had left my book at Angelo’s place, and used that as an excuse to come back into town on my long layover. I arrived at the apartment building and was buzzed through the gate into the reception area on the ground floor. Though Margaret and I had seen the same attendant every single time we passed through the foyer, for three days straight, wouldn’t you know it that a totally new person would be there this time, ensuring that her building was safe. I had such a poor grasp of Spanish I knew there was no possible way for me to explain the situation. This does not come up in English-Spanish phrase books: Hi, I’m an American, yes, but I do know Angelo and Evelyn on the 22nd floor, and they know me. I’m here to pick up my book, that I left here last week. I’ll be gone soon and I do not pose a threat to the tenants.

I opted for confidence. I waved “Hola!” at the desk attendant and headed for the elevators. The woman asked me something I didn’t understand, and even stood up behind the counter, trying to get me to come back and engage. “Ventidós,” Twenty-two, I said with a comfortable smile, and pointed at the elevator, “Es bueno.” She said something else to me, and again I pretended all was well. The elevator opened and I stepped on, punched a button and waved at her, saying once more, “Es bueno!” I watched out for security in the halls when I stepped out, but apparently my ploy had worked and there were no carabineros waiting there to take me down.

Evelyn let me into the apartment with a gracious smile and hugs and kisses and she made me feel genuinely welcomed. Oh how I wish I had this skill of grace and hospitality that comes naturally to some nations. She asked me to sit down and poured me a drink of water right away because I was parched. Imagine that, after a morning of frozen, shaking fingers numbly pawing at an empanada to get at its warmth. I offered to leave a couple times, but Evelyn seemed confused, and again I admired her hospitality. In the US, so many of us would be eager to extricate ourselves from a meeting with an AirBnb client who spoke another language and only stopped by to get her book. I know that some of us are able to genuinely put strangers at ease, but many of us would be looking forward to the end of it. What a lovely lovely human being she is. I stayed for an hour. Neither of us speaking the other’s language, but knowing a few words and supplementing with pantomime.

I pulled up photos of Tara to show off, and she showed me her sister and parents. Evelyn pulled up a translator app and we were able to ask each other more complicated questions. I asked if there were tensions with Indigenous people, as there are in the US. She said yes, especially in the south (as I had noticed) “they fight for their land.” Wow. It really is the same story all over the world. I thought it would be a good time to talk about the recent success of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe – with the help of so many other Nations – in preventing the oil pipeline crossing their land. But that was too many words, and I kept it to myself.

I tried to leave as graciously as I could, and I hope I didn’t cause offense. Evelyn insisted that I wish a happy journey to Margaret and I said I would, and completely forgot to do the same for Angelo. (Evelyn, if you’re reading this: tell Angelo I send my love and hugs and thanks!!) ❤

One of my many tickets to get somewhere today.

One of my many tickets to get somewhere today.

Right below the apartment is a supermarket, and I went in for some miel (honey). I had counted and recounted my pesos, and had enough to get gifts for someone back home. In the store I found a jar of the exact same miel I had tried on the day of the rafting trip! I was very excited and spent all my surplus pesos to get it. Thus, I could not do any more shopping. I walked across the street to the base of Castillo Hidalgo (mentioned in a previous post, and one of my favourite places in Santiago already). The park is landscaped with both grass for lounging, and with flowers and bushes to appease my love of plants. The stone walls and arches are pleasing, there is lots of shade, and benches. Though an afternoon on a Thursday, there were many people in the park, skateboarding through, smoking on the grass, napping, talking and laughing. I stripped off my outer layers of clothing (it was so warm!), and laid on the grass with my head on my backpack for an hour and a half reading my newly-retrieved book, and most of the people there when I arrived were still there when I left. It was a comforting and happy atmosphere.

I walked back to the metro, bought another ticket to the bus station. At the bus station, bought another ticket to the aeropuerto. (You may be wondering, with all these tickets I was buying, traveling back and forth all over the place, how much I was spending. I spent about $6 total in all my trips for the day, with the exception of the flight and the $23 changed ticket fee. Tip for travelers: use public transportation.)

Many uncomfortable hours in a coach seat in a couple of airplanes later, I emerged from my vacation world to a startlingly snowy Portland.

This is panoramic view from my phone shows Lake Todos los Santos with pumice gravel in the foreground from a 2015 eruption.

This is panoramic view from my phone shows Lake Todos los Santos with pumice gravel in the foreground from a 2015 eruption. Click to get a better image.

At long last the rain dried up and the clouds parted. I woke up feeling great despite having food poisoning the previous afternoon. We were on our way around the south side of Lake Llanquihue by 8:30am. Our first foray off the main road was in search of Vicki’s other farmhouse. She had described the location and thought it might be fun for us to try to find it. Her farmhouse is on the slopes below volcano Calbuco. That one erupted April 22, 2015 and is responsible for all the pumice gravel and sand that we had been seeing in the area. Locals enthusiastically described how the area looked like a moonscape just after the eruption, and are amazed at how green and lush everything is already. We got very close, but the place we finally decided was probably hers, turned out not to be hers in the end. We did see some of the clearest evidence of the recent eruption, with wide swaths covered in volcanic gravel. We also saw fenceposts buried about two feet in the gravel, and we could see where snowplows had plowed the gravel off roads, and today the red and black pumice rock berms remain.

Volcano Calbuco behind flourishing foxglove.

Volcano Calbuco behind flourishing foxglove.

Volcano Orsorno from the foothills of volcano Calbuco.

Volcano Orsorno and volcano Puntiagudo from the foothills of volcano Calbuco.

We drove through Ensenada and closer to volcano Orsorno, which we could finally see in its full glory now that the clouds had cleared. From multiple angles the peak is close to symmetrical, and rises to 8,730 feet. We made our first real stop at the waterfalls called Saltos del Petrohué. These falls are on the very river that we rafted on two days before! So look at the lovely aqua colour and you can imagine what a pleasure it was to have that water smash you in the face. 😉

This view of the waterfalls is truly beautiful. After I posted on facebook, a friend asked me "Are you in Eden?!"

This view of the waterfalls is truly beautiful. After I posted on facebook, a friend asked me “Are you in Eden?!”

In the video, you can see Margaret with her black coat draped over her shoulders, in front of volcano Osorno. Behind the falls is Cerro la Picada. Cerro means “hill,” but in this case it’s a 4100 foot hill.

On the short walking trail we found a tiny lake where we stopped for a picnic lunch. There were trout in the lake, which connects to the river. I took tons of what should have been great photos, but… more camera problems. Everything from the moment when we entered the park – and for the rest of the day – is dreadfully overexposed. I must have accidentally changed the settings to make all the photos totally washed out to almost uselessness. The photos I have posted are a result of drastic photo editing. I just don’t know what happened and I’m really disappointed, because it was so great to have a sunny day again and all the photo advantages that come of that. Drat.

Me in front of volcanoes and waterfalls.

Me in front of volcanoes and waterfalls.

Cascadas (waterfalls) on the Rio Petrohue

Cascadas (waterfalls) on the Rio Petrohué

Small pond near the waterfalls where we ate our picnic lunch.

Small pond near the waterfalls where we ate our picnic lunch. On the ridge are Coihue trees, the most common found in Chile.

Our destination was Lagos Todos los Santos, which the previous day I had read on two different websites is purported to be the most lovely lake in all of Chile. I thought it had to be at least pretty nice, considering all the lakes in the running. We had not witnessed an unlovely Chilean lake yet.

One arrives at the town of Petrohué on the lake in something of a madhouse, with tour busses clogging up every artery and troops of tour employees standing in lanes and parking areas, directing every single vehicle where to park without taking the time to figure out what your intentions are. An attendant waved us to a spot, and as we were about to pull in, another attendant frantically waved us to his area, so we continued on, shrugging apology to the first guy. It didn’t dawn on us till later that the attendants belong to competing tour companies, and want us to park close to their company so they can have the first crack at selling us a ticket to a boat tour. Margaret and I were as yet oblivious, however, and happily continued along the sandy lane, focused first on avoiding the gigantic double-decker tour busses, and second on finding a place to park now that we had left the attendants in our rear view mirror. First other vehicles followed us, then we followed them, all in search of elusive parking, but the trick was to go all the way to beach for copious free parking (estacionamiento gratis). We hailed a bus attendant and asked where “trekking” was (Strangely, this is the word the park officials have been using, so I did too.  Possibly another German holdover, since I am pretty sure trekking is not a Spanish word), and were pointed to the trailhead we sought.

At the trailhead we saw that Desolación Trail (named desolation for the effects left in the wake of volcanic eruptions in the past, so it was particularly apt after 2015) had two routes at the beginning: one along the lakeshore, and one that was inland. The two routes meet up at a single trail partway up the mountain. We liked the idea of the no-elevation-gain beach route, and struck out that way.

Walking along the beach at Todos los Santos.

Walking along the beach at Todos los Santos.

Todos los Santos with Cerro Tronador in the distance.

Todos los Santos with Cerro Tronador in the distance.

Pumice rocks on the beach.

Pumice rocks on the beach.

Scotch broom bursting in bloom at the lakeshore.

Scotch broom bursting in bloom at the lakeshore.

Volcano Puntiagudo

Volcano Puntiagudo

We went along the west shore until we could see that soon we would have to turn along the north shore, and with the map in our mind’s eye, we knew that would not connect us to the trail. We had not seen the trail since we hit the beach, but we had seen enough of the beach. We turned around and decided to go back to town and hire a kayak. In town, the only place that rented kayaks was down to one, and said if we came back in two hours he would have another one for us. In that tiny town there really was nothing else to do but go back to the trail and take the inland route.

It was a tough slog because the trail was entirely deep, soft, sand. Every step was work. But Margaret and I are determined women and we kept a good pace and trudged a couple of miles. Trudge, trudge, trudge and had gained about 20 feet in elevation after two hours. We were in the midst of a conversation about whether to keep going when we ran into some other Americans sitting in the shade of a tree having the same discussion. After we talked to them we went ahead on the trail for another half an hour and then gave up. The trail is 11.5 kilometers and we were hoping to get some elevation and get a view, at the very least, but it was not happening any time soon. After all that hiking, I took a final panoramic shot that is at the top of this post. We gave up and went back to Petrohué. By this time I was fully sunburnt, and our hamstrings and quadriceps were hollering complaints about the sandy trail. We did not go back to the kayak place, but headed back to Puerto Varas.

A final look at the volcano before we turned around on the trail and headed back.

A final look at the volcano before we turned around on the trail and headed back.

This time it was Margaret’s turn to relax. I still had energy (possibly due to sleeping an extra three hours the day before), and took off to explore the town for the first time while M stayed at the hostel and rested. I was in search of something woven from alpaca or llama, but it was late in the day and I had a hard time finding anything open. I decided instead to just explore the town, and struck out for the top of a hill across from our hostel. On the way up, a happy stray dog bounded my way and took up my pace, right at my heels. I walked and walked, and the dog stayed with me. As I climbed the hill, I realized that I could not get down to the lakefront again because there was a cliff between it and me, and no egress. I would have to go back the way I came, or go forward far enough for the ground to slope back toward the shore again. Forward it was, and with my trusting companion, I hoofed it through Puerto Varas. I must have walked three miles, and at a really quick pace because I was trying to get back to my room eventually. The dog finally ditched me in a park once I made it downtown again, and I climbed a long long set of stairs up a pedestrian path back to the Galpon Aire Puro, and bed.

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