After two full days of trekking from Kalaw, we finally arrived, muddy and exhausted, to Inle Lake. We had a lunch break and washed off as much as we could, and then caught a little wooden boat across the lake to our hostel.
We stayed at Ostello Bello, after an enjoyable stay at the same hostel in Bagan. I definitely recommend Ostello Bello if you are traveling alone and looking to meet people, as both locations are very social! The hostel was located in the Nyaungshwe Township - we had a little adventuring across a very sketchy "bridge" to get there, due to some construction going on. Also, I had to laugh at the "security" here - just as in Honduras, people will sit shards of broken glass on the top of their walls for protection.
After checking in to our hostel, Gaby and I went out for some exploring. We got pedicures at a cute little salon nearby, called Lavendar Spa and Beauty Center. It was SO nice after days of trekking, as well as extremely cheap! The women who worked there were all so kind. Afterwards, we got dinner at a restaurant called Paw Paw's, run by a sweet woman named Zizi. The restaurant also serves as a community development project. All of the employees are marginalized women from remote areas of Myanmar. Zizi takes them in, giving them a place to live, a job, life skills training, and empowering them emotionally. The project accepts volunteers - contact Zizi if you are interested. She is such a big-hearted woman, and sat with us for several hours to share about Myanmar's history, current political conflict, and her personal life experiences. Time with her was such a blessing and encouragement!
The next day, Leah, Gaby, Rafael, Laura, and I met up with Ooh Ooh and took a boat tour around Inle. Our first stop was the silversmith workshop, where we learned how silver jewelry is made, and were able to watch the process first-hand.
Next, we stopped to learn about the tradition of wearing brass neck rings. Apparently, this is for protection against tigers. Women begin wearing 7 rings as children, and then increase to 25 rings as an adult. They also wear rings around their knees to counter-balance the weight on their neck.
Ooh Ooh took us to the market, where we sampled so many delicious foods!
Hpaung Daw U Pagoda
We visited this pagoda and Ooh Ooh told us about the Buddhist religion. The 5 stupas in the center of the temple are apparently buddhas, but they are so covered in gold now that they look like snowmen!
Outside of the temple were some shops, and of course - more food!
We got to see how the traditional wooden boats are made here in Inle.
We also saw how cigarettes here are made. The women working here were really friendly and talkative - great company as we watched them work!
Lotus and Silk Weaving
Here we learned about the processes for lotus and silk weaving. In Myanmar, they make (a very expensive) fabric using only lotus (the flower). It was so interesting to see how the traditional longye skirts are made from start to finish.
Inle has a unique way of life, with many homes right on the lake itself. The primary mode of transportation here is by wooden boat.
Meeting Ooh Ooh's Family
On the evening of our last day here, Ooh Ooh invited us all to her family's home in a village just outside of Inle. We took a "taxi" (aka back of a pickup) up through the hills and were warmly greeted by her smiling family.
We shared a delicious meal and lots of laughs, before heading back to our hostel in time for Gaby and I to catch a night bus back to Yangon.
Return to Myanmar
After spending a month in Indonesia, I returned to Myanmar with plans to visit some Burmese friends that I made during my first visit - Ooh Ooh in her village near Inle Lake, Shin in Pyay, and Emi in Yangon. Visiting Ooh Ooh was so wonderful. I got to meet and spend time with her family, and the entire village welcomed me with open arms.
Community and sharing meals are a big part of Burmese culture. Ooh Ooh's mother (pictured below) walked me around the entire village. Everyone invited us into their homes and offered us tea, snacks, and often times even a full meal. I love the beautiful traditional bamboo homes here.
One of the families that we met made their living by drying cigarette leaves and selling them in bulk. The husband and wife took turns in 12-hour shifts. The wife would work all day, and the husband all night, as to not waste the fire. Their work was repetitive - they laid fresh leaves on the clay top of the fire stove in a special way and then set homemade paperweights of cloth filled with rocks on top of the leaves. They worked their way across the top of the stove until they had all ~16 stacks of leaves covered, and by then it would be time to start taking the paperweights off, taking away the now dried leaves, and replacing them with fresh ones. They would take "breaks" only occasionally to peel the stems off of the hundreds of leaves. They did this nonstop for 12 hours at a time. When I first met this family, the wife was in the middle of her 12-hour shift, as it was daytime. I curiously asked if I could learn about what she was doing and help out, and she said yes. I hadn't even completed one cycle of leaf-drying before my back was aching from constantly bending over and lifting the heavy paperweights. I was sweating and miserably hot from crouching over the fire, and frustrated at how much slower I was than her. I cannot imagine doing this nonstop, 12 hours a day, every single day.
Despite the work that seemed so difficult to me, the Burmese people that I met, especially in this village, had the most joyful spirits. Always smiling, always generous. It was such a privilege to spend time in this community.
After my second visit to Inle Lake and the surrounding villages, Ooh Ooh and I traveled by bus to visit another Burmese friend in the city of Pyay.
-- The best stories are found between the pages of a passport --