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No lake for me

I am scheduled to leave Inle today for Yangon; that is to say, I was scheduled to leave to Yangon on a noon-time flight, and despite confirmation yesterday, this morning the flight was cancelled. Fortunately, I managed to get one in the late afternoon, but instead of a direct flight, I have to go via Mandalay, Bagan, and then Yangon instead. Fun fun fun.

This also means my stay here at Inle Lake is almost over, and I have not even seen the lake. That was a conscious decision, simply the weather is quite bad, rain in the morning, and a drizzle most of the afternoon, and without a view of the surrounding mountains, there really was little incentive to subject yourself to tourist treatment on a loud boat, while unable to move and getting soaked.

Despite the weather, I did pass a rather pleasant day yesterday. I joined the crowd at my hotel on a trip to Taunggyi, from where they continued to Kalak; I didn't have much interest in seeing this place, so I was to stay in Taunggyi and catch a bus back. Before we got there, though, we stopped over at a vineyard run by a German, which serves three "okay" wines made from French Shiraz and Italian Musquat grapes, which they grow here in Myanmar. After a wine tasting at 8:00 o'clock in the morning, we continued to Taunggyi, where is was raining unpleasantly, so I had only a short stroll across the huge market, then set off to find the cheroot factory (cheroots are a local type of cigarettes; see below), as well as the Shan museum and library. Unfortunately, all three were closed for the day, it being Saturday and market day and all.

If it hadn't been for a short encounter with the military, I would have to admit that my trip to Taunggyi was pointless. I have yet to find out what actually went on in Taunggyi, but it seems that some important government people got together, while the police and military secured the area around it. My bus was about to leave, so I insisted to go the direct route and found myself accompanied by five armed soldiers, walking in a pentagonal shape around me. As we passed the Pagoda with the convention, I dared to take a peek but was immediately commanded to keep my head straight and not look.

I caught the bus in time and enjoyed a one and a half hour ride back to Nyaungshwe, the town in which I am staying, perched on a rather small pickup truck with 31 other passengers. I guess you have to see it to believe it, but this sort of mass transport is common in most Asian parts, especially India.

I got back in time to run some errands (like post a little present to Eddy back in Pyin Oo Lwin) and met a canoe driver around 15:30 for a three hour ride among the canals running virtually everywhere in the town and through the rice fields. The first stop was another cheroot factory, where I was introduced to the art of rolling these local cigarettes. They use some rather coarse tobacco, roll it up in a bamboo leave, which is glued in place with glutinous rice. As filter, thin bamboo wood is rolled up tight and rolled together with the tobacco. It takes the women working at the factory around 15 seconds to make one cheroot; it took me almost 15 minutes to make one. :)

We continued, and my driver was all too keen about showing off the peculiar rowing style developed by the Intha people (those who inhabit the lake and surroundings) to decrease the strain on their arms: they stand on one leg, hold the padel in the arm on the other side, wrap the other leg around it, and then kick the padel in and through the water, while keeping a good balance. I wanted to try, but the driver would not let me, and it's probably better that way or else I would have most likely gotten really wet.

Returning from three hours of canoeing, my arms and back ached, and I was dreaming of a shower and a massage when I ran into the Portuguese globetrotter from Bagan by chance and we decided to have dinner instead. Ending a lengthy discussion with whiskey at around midnight, I struggled to find my way back home, the streets being completely unlit (we've been without power for a while), my torch back in the hotel, and the whiskey skewing my sense of direction. I did eventually find the hotel, must have passed it several times looking for the sign, and was all too ashamed to wake the owner to let me in.

My plan for this morning was simply to sleep in, eat breakfast, then go to the airport, but the couple next door to my room forgot to take the snooze function off their alarm clock before going to breakfast at 6:00, and with bamboo walls, the sound carried perfectly well. But I considered it no biggie, got up, ate, headed for a massage, and then was lucky to have some time to make arrangements for my next flight, after discovering the one I was supposed to take had been cancelled.

So now, with four hours to eat, I am happy to sample another serving of Shan delicacies, undecided between rice noodles with a semi-sweet seasoning of green tea leaves and peanuts, or a pumpkin curry with ginger.

Tonight, I'll be in Yangon, and I am looking forward to this city, having heard many great stories, and with some good references in my pocket. As always, stay tuned.