Kalaw Trek - Day 1

CAUTION: Ninety-seven good photos ahead (a few of which are amazing).

We got an early start after an amazing breakfast of Bananas, Bacon, Toast, and Tea. We met our guides and graciously bestowed our non-essential gear upon our scooter champion porter service. Turns out we also had the honor of a personal chef to prepare three delightful meals each day. It was glorious. We did not fully fathom just how amazing that would be until the end of day one.

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With a wave to our Porters and the awesome-auntie hotel maven we started hoofing it across town towards the train station.

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It was at this time when I started the internal monologue of justification...I can do this right? Yes, I can do this. That's where I wished the monologue would have ended. It continued amidst friendly banter with Matt, Katie, and Jan...It's not too hot yet, we'll be in the shade most of the time. Granted I'm 20lbs heavier than when we hiked the The Great Glen Way, Scotland in 2016, oh wait it's cool, my pack is about 20lbs lighter so it's a wash. So my big-picture-logic based head saw that the overall weight was about the same so the ground felt the same pressure in both scenarios...you're good to go. The one minor detail that became immediately apparent as we made our first shady ascent...hefty grade...with switchbacks...yep, you guesses it...C.A.R.D.I.O!

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If you are 20lbs heavier and have not done any cardio let alone hiking in the past six months it's going to be a rough road. Kind of hard to argue against physiology. 

 Sounar and Leo giving the first of many nature talks.

Sounar and Leo giving the first of many nature talks.

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As we adjusted to the early morning heat and humidity we managed to make it up the first main climb through a thickening of trees and shrubs. Another item that we were treated to by Sounar and Leo were naturalist-style talks about the given flora and fauna unique to that area and how it is incorporated into everyday life in Myanmar.

 

 

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Up we wound and back down and up again along the shadowy treeline trail.

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The treeline soon revealed windows to the surrounding valleys that we would end up in after about another hour on foot.

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We leveled off in lush farmlands with fields of fertile soil. After some teaching points we encountered families of farmers were hard at work, and livestock pulling carts driven by their caretakers. Caretakers sporting smartphones. 

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 Two roads diverged in Kalaw and I...I took the one my guide was on because I was lagging behind taking photos (and catching my breath).   8_)

Two roads diverged in Kalaw and I...I took the one my guide was on because I was lagging behind taking photos (and catching my breath).   8_)

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 Typical Kalaw and/or Myanmar youth in general. Cool jackets/shirts, Longyi (unisex long skirt), and a friend with a Scooter. Good to go.

Typical Kalaw and/or Myanmar youth in general. Cool jackets/shirts, Longyi (unisex long skirt), and a friend with a Scooter. Good to go.

Below was the first official dwelling we saw all morning. It was also a sign that lunch was near.  We came upon a the edge of a small village, strolled though what seemed like the main local temple, then met up with our chef and had one of the best lunches thus far.

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Packs Off. Lunch. Time.

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After one of the most tasty, local, hearty lunches of ever we walked across the courtyard to a subterranean temple.  It was an experience to say the least. Plus we got to beat most of the heat of the day down below. It was a weird mix of stagnant humidity and cool air.

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 Down...down we go!

Down...down we go!

After descending down a guesstimate of about one hundred barefoot-feet we came to a hallway. The ceiling height in most places was fine if you are tiny. The slick rock walkway was covered with a hard plastic runner sporting a cross-hatched-pattern that was less than pleasant for anyone to take a step on if you consider yourself even remotely tender footed. By the time we resurfaced I was certain my feet were shredded to bits. It turns out my feet escaped unscathed. Myself and Matt being over 6-feet tall were bent over most of the time and still managed to bump our heads on several occasions despite being careful and rather aware.

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Narrow corridors lit by only one or two LED bulbs meandered to and from larger rooms displaying shrines from only a few inches to several feet high. The variety and intricacy with which these were crafted was jaw dropping.

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 This was one of the most smallest front-to-back, but the tallest. The main shrine there was close to twenty feet tall.

This was one of the most smallest front-to-back, but the tallest. The main shrine there was close to twenty feet tall.

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 Sounar giving us the low-down on this specific shrine's significance as he did throughout the entire underground tour.

Sounar giving us the low-down on this specific shrine's significance as he did throughout the entire underground tour.

 Katie giving Matt some Thanaka.

Katie giving Matt some Thanaka.

We headed toward the end and encountered a large room with shrines of staggering size.

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 Statues in this room were close to 40 feet high and 20 feet across.

Statues in this room were close to 40 feet high and 20 feet across.

 Leo grabbed the prayer stone and showed us how it's done at this specific shrine.

Leo grabbed the prayer stone and showed us how it's done at this specific shrine.

 I gave it my best shot and Jan captured it perfectly.

I gave it my best shot and Jan captured it perfectly.

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 Luckily they don't take you here first. In the exit of the large room's ceiling Sounar regaled us with the stories of the multi-ton chunks of rock that seem to perilously float directly overhead.

Luckily they don't take you here first. In the exit of the large room's ceiling Sounar regaled us with the stories of the multi-ton chunks of rock that seem to perilously float directly overhead.

We joined the rest of the world above ground and found our way to the main temple's market area.

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With the majority of the heat of the day dissipated we collected our gear and headed back out on the trail. We were only half way to our destination after all.

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 Myanmar the magical land of ...Agave?  Yeah pretty much anything grows here it seems. 

Myanmar the magical land of ...Agave?  Yeah pretty much anything grows here it seems. 

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After passing through seemingly endless highland fields and sprawling multi-tiered farmland we encountered livestock. Where there is livestock those responsible for caring for said beasts of burden are not too far off. We encountered families at work and play. 

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At about two hours worth of distance remaining we came upon a small village. Sounar was greeted by a local woman who more-or-less said, "Hey you said next time you brought a trek through here you would stop by our house for a chat..." He and we obviously obliged. She first showed us the village school which I did not take photos at out of respect for the children (approx grade 2 through 7) and the instructor as we were technically interrupting their school day but Leo was allowed to get some video of us handing out various hygienic items like soap, toothbrushes, and combs.  Some of the children were a bit shy while others were polite and quite receptive. All were extremely thankful for the visit, let alone the gifts. It was truly a remarkable experience connecting with them even though we did not speak a word. Smiles, pointing, gestures, and some translation by the instructor did the trick. We left after about 20 minutes in the school house and met our local lady who led us to her home and introduced us to her family. Sounar translated for us and we were welcomed with tea and small snacks. We returned the exchange by taking photos with the family and telling stories of our travels and daily lives. At a break in the conversation the late-teens/early-twenties daughter offered to give Jan and Katie a bit of a local makeover.

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We graciously parted ways with the family and headed back to the trail. It was back through the faceted hills and valleys until we came to a larger village. 

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 The view from the larger village back towards where we started earlier in the day. 

The view from the larger village back towards where we started earlier in the day. 

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More livestock on the edge of the town and it was here that I managed to capture one of my favorite compositions of the entire Myanmar experience. I am sure most people have seen the image of the buffalo or bull with little stow-away birds on their backs or heads.  Now, have you ever seen a Buffalo with a tiny Buffalo on their head? I don't think so!  You're welcome.  ;_) 

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 Yup...on the smart phone tending livestock. Not a cell tower in sight yet somehow the reception in even the most remote regions was decent.  They must use different transmission frequencies than more populated areas. 

Yup...on the smart phone tending livestock. Not a cell tower in sight yet somehow the reception in even the most remote regions was decent.  They must use different transmission frequencies than more populated areas. 

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The last view from the atop the last ridge of what seemed like an endless day of heat, humidity, exhaustion, wonder, and amazement. We arrived at our first night's family village house that was rather large compared to the house we had visited mid-day. That first bucket bath and dinner was something I will never forget, or any future bucket bath for that matter. Refreshing does not begin to describe the relief. 

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Below is a gallery of over 200 images from the first day. Please dig through them at your leisure. Thanks for your time!   8_)

-Ryan