Its 9pm and dark. The small town of Hsipaw look like its shut down for the night. No lights on, no activity. A taxi dude truthfully points us in the direction of Mr Charles Guest House, who give us their last double room for the night. Guy and I are relatively pleased with this. Über friendly staff and a cheap-ish but comfortable room. No mattress in the corridor job here. There’s even WiFi. Slow to the extreme but its available. And in the morning a trekking guide will be at reception. At this point it all looked a bit too easy.
The cold was closing in and sleep beckoned. Early night with the Dalai Lama’s ‘The Art of Happiness’ and I slept well, really well.
We woke to some hardcore Monsoon style rain. This is the dry season so everyone was a little surprised, the locals blamed a storm from China. They always seemed to blame China. They reckoned it could last three days. Trekking was in doubt. I spoke to the guide. He was a knob. He obviously had rich pickings from the older, unfit and extremely wealthy middle class contingent next door in the more expensive part of the hotel. He didn’t want my money and didn’t want to give me any information.
I walked down to Lily’s Guest House. Here I found a charming Dr Aung. He too was unsure about trekking as numbers were low. However he did say to pop back later on as something may be arranged with a guide called Momo. He was happy to help. At this point I remembered Richard, the tall Swiss guy who asked me to pose for a fine art nude photo shoot in Hpa-an, recommending Momo as he’d used him for the three day trek from Namshan back to Hsipaw. I decided to wait. Hoping Momo would come good.
Before Guy and I rented out a motorbike, I went and exchanged my dollars for an extremely poor rate. As Hsipaw is a relatively small town the rates drop. Bummer. Lesson learned.
There’s good decisions and poor decisions. Back packers rarely know whether the decision they’ve made will be good or bad until afterwards. New places, different rules, forever changing goalposts make decisions difficult to make. Guy had to make a choice, does he go for a bicycle or a motorbike, with gears. We’d only driven automatic scooters before, so delving into the world of motorbikes with gears, in Myanmar, where they drive on the right, that’s the wrong side of the road, it was one of these decisions that either goes great or we crash, break a leg, permanently scar our beautiful skin and end up having to pay some gangster dude mega money to replace the bike we just ruined. Luckily for us, the day was a success. On that day in particular, decision making was Guy’s and my forte.
The rain magically stopped and the sun had his time. We drove around the town and surrounding villages, visiting ancient pagodas, monasteries and huge Buddha statues in what they called ‘Little Bagan’.
A tall European needs to be on his guard when in Myanmar. Asians are small, we are not. Walking over a wonky wooden bridge I again whacked my head full pelt on a wooden beam which most Burmese folk pass underneath. Guy laughed. I held back the tears and laughed along with him. Because I’m tough like that. My hair would have once protected me from such a forceful blow to the head but my new skinhead was useless. The longer I stay here, the more damage I do to my already declining number of brain cells.
We stopped at Mrs Popcorn’s organic farm and sipped on passion fruit juice and freshly made coffee that she’d grown herself. Nice.
The town was relaxed and the roads were easy to navigate. We drove along dirt tracks by the railway line and went over ancient decrepit wooden bridges. Kids waved and smiled as we cruised past, stopping sometimes to high five and exchange minglabba’s with the locals. We passed through villages, with bamboo houses rather than wood or concrete that they use in the town center. We drove down back alleys, through games of football, through valleys and rice paddy fields, stopping to talk to a lovely local midget lady who spoke no English but smiled and posed in pictures with us.
No other tourists were driving around on motor bikes. Maybe that’s why we got so much attention. We felt like celebrities. Being foreign was a good thing, everybody loved the white and the brown guy on motorbikes, a far cry from the reputation foreigners in Thailand’s southern islands conjure up. Boozed up scooter dickheads we were not.
We were drifting through normal peoples lives, observing and discovering the houses they live in, the clothes they wore, the jobs they did, the games the children and the gambling fathers played. The bike gave us freedom.
We stopped by a small river with a bridge for the railway line. Men were casually sitting and talking on the track, drinking a bottle of whiskey. They waved and smiled at us. There were children playing in the river. Sheets of soon to be noodles were hanging to dry. Women carried pots of water on their heads.
Parking up outside the railway station we make friends with some non English speaking locals working at what looked like an orange factory. The girl, picking the oranges by hand from the back of the lorry (that’s a truck for you Americans out there), took an instant liking to Guy. His beard pulling in the ladies. She threw him a couple of oranges. Then I got in on the action. Result. Before we knew it, Guy was helping lift the baskets of oranges from the lorry to the factory, we were being introduced to the boss and our bags were heavy with a dozen or so oranges. No common language was spoken, just an exchange of smiles and some free oranges, they were just bloody charming Myanmar folks. We ate a couple of oranges, expressed our gratitude and sped off towards the sunset hill.
As we drove up the hill, we bumped into Josh and Gilly, an English couple we met in Moulamyine. During the sunset and eating oranges and poppy seed biscuits I discovered that they too had been in contact with Momo and booked the trekking from Namshan for the following day. The back packing Gods again looking after me.
I immediately went to Lily’s Guest House, talked to the extremely friendly and loveable Dr Aung (who is a real doctor with a real surgery in the guest house) and booked up my place to go trekking the next morning. I was set. A 6 hour truck drive through the mountains to Namshan, one nights sleep there and 45,000 kyat for three days of hardcore trekking through tribal villages. It seemed like a tough one to get on, one that not many did. I was game. Adventure in my eyes, exploration in my heart, I was proper excited.
In Myanmar, this would be the first time I would be away from my team of traveler buddies, Guy and Nourdes. Guy was not coming on the trek, he was aiming to go down south to find a beach and Nourdes would be on the other side of the world, throwing shapes at the Mardi Gras in Brazil. Then, as we entered Mr Food’s diner for a bit of Chinese pork and vegetable stir fry we bumped into Isabel. How very strange this back packing circuit can be sometimes. Myanmar is a small place.
Early rise. I packed my shit, ate some breakfast, hugged Guy, slapped his arse and waddled my way down the road to Lily’s ready to be whisked away by a truck up through the mountains to a remote village called Namshan. Game on.