My Christmas in the hills

It’s Christmas time and what better thing to do than to get away from it all by joining a trekking trip through the countryside. When you’re travelling, Christmas can be a quite depressing period, even if you aren’t that much into it. Everyone is visiting family and you are just stuck by yourself. That you are in some exotic place doesn’t seem to matter. So this year I found myself a replacement family of other travellers. I had the best Christmas! I already knew a few people that went on the three-day hike from Kalaw to Inle lake. So in the morning we all made our way to the trekking company and made sure that we were all in the same group. We ended up in a group of 13, with amazing, fun, social and active travellers. Our guide Tampe led the way in our adventure. We first needed to get out of Kalaw and after some walking we found ourselves in the hills. The path was definitely more up and down than I’d expected.

Leaving Kalaw behind us

Leaving Kalaw behind us

We walked past villages with colourful houses. They were spread out over the hills, with plantations in between. There were fields with oranges and fields with tea. Tea is quite a big thing here, so we had some stops at tea houses or just at someone’s house to have a cuppa. At one house, one of our group started taking photos of the children. Then they discovered the funny things you can create with snapchat. One of the boys seemed to be the leader, pointing the phone cheekily at people from our group. Then the whole bunch of kids would be laughing, looking at one of us transformed into Santa.

Children in the village

Children in the village

Surprisingly a big part of the afternoon was spent following the railway lines. It was very awkward to walk on. Was it dangerous? “No. The train does not come until 5pm” said our guide Tampe. After some more tea at the train station, we made our way to our first homestay. It was located on the side of a hill with water buffalo’s grazing around it. This was my first taste of a Burmese home. We had a big room filled with matrasses and blankets to sleep in upstairs. Downstairs was a big table where we could eat and hang out at night. Outside were squat toilets without paper and you could take a bucket shower if you felt like it.

Our first homestay

Our first homestay

It was pretty chilly in Kalaw and that had continued all morning. Our maximum elevation was at 1500m and it was a little cloudy with a steady breeze. The sun was still strong though and at the end of the day we had the first victims of sunburn. Even though it could get pretty hot during the day, the nights around here are very chilly. We all had two blankets, which was enough since our big group was already warming up the room anyway. A nice sweater for the evening is definitely a must-bring item though.

And on and on we go

And on and on we go

For some reason we all thought we’d had the worst of the climbing, but the next morning started with a steep road to wake us all up. A car with hay sputtered past us. This trekking was certainly no walk in the park. It was already hot and we found some shade under a tree to recover after only minutes of walking. A few hundred meters later we met another group and sang a song while one of them was playing guitar. It was Christmas day, but we sang ‘hit the road Jack’ in between the dry fields with some green scrubs.

 A woman at work

A woman at work

We saw a lot of people at work in the fields today. We even crossed a big road and saw a glimpse of civilization. Then we arrived in a village that was well known for chili. Everywhere you looked were plastic tarps with drying chilies on it, but there were also still plenty of chilies waiting to be picked. I loved the color. It was such a contrast with the yellow and green in the landscape. What an amazing sight! As we continued we walked through the fields, literally. I would never have found this path on my own. It really felt like we were away from it all.

Literally walking through the fields

Literally walking through the fields

This was also the moment where I started to feel a blister on my little toe. I think many people started to feel a bit tired and were done with all the walking. After lunch we could choose to take the long, medium or short route to the next homestay. The long one was quickly rejected and a lot of people were happy to take the short one. However, the medium route went past an old temple area and that seemed rather interesting. In the end we were all happy we chose this option, since we arrived at a tiny Bagan. These pagodas were old, taken over by nature. It was unlike anything I’d seen before.

Ruins

Ruins

For our second homestay you could opt to sleep in the monastery, but since that would mean a 4AM wakeup call by singing monks, everyone decided to stay in the homestay itself. Again we played games until the crazy bed time of anywhere between 9 and 10PM, which really felt like the middle of the night out here. This night was crazy cold though. We still had two blankets, but I could only shiver and turn. I was so cold I couldn’t sleep. Unfortunately I also got sick here. I don’t know what caused it, but in the morning I felt empty and had no appetite. Stubborn as I am, I did start walking.

Getting some cookies at the local shop

Getting some cookies at the local shop

It was the last day of our hike and only half a day of walking. It was cold and the ground was covered in fog. It gave the town and the fields a mysterious look. The many spider webs had drops of water hanging on them and looked really cool in the green bushes. After an hour or so, the fog made way for the sun and it got really hot. Even though there were a lot of groups out there doing the same hike, you barely saw them until today. We had to pass the checkpoint where you pay the Inle lake area fee and from there you saw many groups making their way along the big road towards the lake.

Our guide is explaining about tea

Our guide is explaining about tea

The last little bit of the hike went into the bush, over small paths of orange sand. We could already hear the music from the town and were eager to arrive, so we kept up the pace. The last 350m until the restaurant where we would have lunch seemed like the longest meters of the whole trek. I was so happy we were there. The whole morning my stomach had felt funky and I felt like I had a fever. I sat in a chair and tried to eat some of the fried noodles.

Pretty soon after sitting down I started to feel dizzy. My vision left me and my ears started ringing. I quickly sat on the ground so I wouldn’t hurt myself if I would faint, but it didn’t happen. I found a lounge chair to sit in, but things didn’t improve. Before I could even feel it was coming, I vomited all over myself! Then I started crying. When I opened my eyes three of the girls in my groups were standing around me, taking my dirty plate and grabbing my bag, directing me to a shower to freshen up. Ok, so I am really ill.

One of the villages we passed on the first day

One of the villages we passed on the first day

I was so embarrassed about what had happened, but everybody in the group seemed to understand. By that time we were more like a sickbay. I was ill, others had stomach issues and diarrhoea, some had bad sunburn and most of us had blisters, some worse than others. We still had a boat ride of over an hour to go and luckily there was room for me to lay down. I didn’t see much of the beautiful Inle lake, but I had a good rest. My Christmas family took such good care of me. I was really lucky. Even though it didn’t end well, I am glad I got to spend my Christmas trekking with such incredible people.

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