Tag Archives: ice cream

Day 12 – Mons, Monks & Monkeys

23 Mar

For some reason, my mind thought that 5:30am was a good time to wake up … two days in a row, does not make a pattern.  As the real start was due at 8:00am, this meant plenty of time for breakfast!  The made to order waffles and honey were fantastic, and went nicely with the bacon and toast.  I couldn’t get more un-Burmese than that!

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The view from OK Kyaung

We headed first to the temple of Ok Kyaung, which afforded spectacular views of a large number of other stupas and temples, after climbing only a short flight of stairs.  George’s “cousin” from yesterday was nowhere to be seen, but plenty of others had filled her spot.  I started a photo taking competition (starring me and some bricks) in which Karen, Albery and Ethna all took part.  Results will be announced later.

A short hop to the Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda, which stood in front, saw us do the now traditional clockwise tour of the outside.  This one had a large golden dome, shrouded in bamboo scaffolding, and lots of smaller golden stupas sitting on strikingly red bricks.  Instead of having the traditional 4 Buddhas, this one had space for 5 – in preparation for the coming of the next Buddha – due in about 2,600 years time. (Every 5000 years – the last Buddha was born in 600BC).  Now that’s future planning!  Also around here were a camera crew and a French presenter practicing her English speech.  That doesn’t sound like a great combination.  And it wasn’t.  Inside, next to yet another Buddha shrine, was a glass object bejewelled with rubies and sapphires, which would normally shine at the very top of a pagoda.

We moved on to the local village of West Pwazaw and met with the former village chief who was obviously a wealthy farmer.  He employed 8 people and seemed to enjoy not having to do much himself!  They farmed sour plums and we witnessed how they crushed and separated the kernels which are then sold to the Chinese for £6/kilo for unknown reasons – they really don’t know what they do with them!  They also grow peanuts, sesame, beans, pumpkin, corn and cotton.  There was a demonstration of how to spin the cotton into yarn, and of course an opportunity to purchase the final product.  Despite the rest of the village owning enough cows to keep Tesco in beef burgers for months, this family only owned two cows – because they also owned a tractor!  With 5 children, 2 sons were still at home, two daughters are nurses (one still in the village) and the fifth was obviously not important (or I didn’t listen).   Lacquerware production was also on show.  It’s made from bamboo, horsehair and the sap of the lacquer tree.  I wondered why all the horses had short hair.  Funnily enough, it’s “lucky” to buy two, rather than one.

After being offered some rather tasteless tea (or maybe it was just my cold), we walked around the village – highlights included a man painting a wall without moving the bricks in his way, or indeed, finishing building the wall; a pen full of goats who wanted to like my hand – little do they know what I have in store for their friends on Saturday; a woman with the largest cigar on the planet; and a man who made bamboo cages that confuddle George – apparently they were rubbish bins.  We saw bamboo being split, some friendly cows and a cactus hedge.

Leaving the village behind, we attempted to document any remaining stupas that we’d not yet seen.  This started with the tallest (Thatbyinnyu Temple) and then Nanpaya Temple – with a very hot tiled floor outside, I was back to doing the Burmese Waltz across the ground in bare feet.  They should at least have a bucket of water on standby, if not a full first aid team. Inside were four columns with intricate Hindu inspired carvings and a missing Buddha on the raised middle platform.  This is different from most temples, in that they normally have four Buddhas facing every direction.

Outside the temple were some ogres and haspa (sp?) “curvings” (sic), as well as a good assortment of children trying to flog some postcards.  “Very nice, but I don’t need any” was a standard John2 response.  They’ve got to try refining their technique, as the bargaining reached $1million at one point.

In the next door temple, we had four large Buddhas, who looked like they had forgotten the dimensions of the building they were in.  As a result of their size, they look down on the visitors, apparently in reference to the sorrow of the king and queen that had them built.  Saving on the traders here, they had a large gold pot where you could just throw your money away.  Unfortunately, I was suckered in on the way out – another sand painting bought!

Back at the hotel, I had a chance to freshen up and eat (chicken and cheeseburger and fries) before heading off to Mount Popa with Tom and John.  We ducked the Explore version for a local taxi (saving $17 each!).  The journey took an hour, but it completed all possible methods of transport during this trip.  And it had working air con!

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Not the real Mount Popa

On arrival at Mount Popa we faced a 777 step covered climb – 1/3 in shoes, and 2/3 in bare feet.  The steps were full of local tourists and macaques (monkeys).  Fortunately the tourists had been toilet trained.  The macaques had not.  The monkeys were scavengers and would happily grab any food from your hand.   They also didn’t respect the Buddhas.  A team of cleaners managed to mostly keep the tiled steps clean and a group were feeding the monkeys at the bottom to try and encourage them to stay there, rather than pester tourists all the way up.  This didn’t work.  There were two sections of steep metal steps which had obviously been frequented by the monkeys more than the cleaners.  Razor wire was used to try to keep the monkeys away from key areas, but they didn’t seem bothered with it at all, using it to climb up and through.

At the top, it was a bit confusing, as there was a collection of shrines, no open space, lots of plaques and lots of people.  We worked our way around, admiring the views from all sides and were asked to star in a few photos by a monk.  We then persuaded a monk to take part in the photos as well.  Fair’s fair.  Anyone can sponsor anything for any reason – a few restaurants had plaques – from Beijing and San Francisco!

As a side note, we didn’t actually climb Mount Popa, but the rocky outcrop, half its height, officially called Popa Taung Kalat.  But known to the casual tourist as Mount Popa.

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Monks slapping monkeys

Descending and using all the available wet wipes to clean the monkey pee and monkey poo off our feet, we rejoined the taxi driver for the trip back to the hotel in Bagan.  My Pringles and Haribo were cracked open and eagerly finished off by traveller Tom.  I may have helped a bit.  The road back had some roadworks, the men making the tar and the women carrying it to the road for it to be applied by hand by more men.  Time consuming work!  In the middle of nowhere, we also ran the gauntlet of some people, mostly young, begging along the road.  They did this by trying to run in front of the cars to get them to slow down.  We sped up.

After dressing for dinner (well everyone else did – I put clean socks on), we met in the hotel foyer and the group flag photo was done.  Hotel staff are better photo takers than I am!  Disappointed to find that I’d been sold a dirty flag though!  George seemed to have a problem knowing which way up it went!

For our final group meal, we headed to the Star Beam restaurant, and after the meal Graham led the group thanks with a speech he’d spent all afternoon preparing for.  George replied.  “Yes. Yes.”  I hadn’t appreciated this was his catchphrase until this moment.

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Cassandra then led us on an ice cream hunt ending, very easily, with a peach and guava variety.  Delice. An early night as we all have planes to catch tomorrow – some of the group are heading to the beach extension option, and the rest of us have a couple of days in Yangon before our flight home.

Still plenty to come from me …

Day 6 – In Kalaw : Walking, Animals, and 20 Ways to Die

17 Mar

Breakfast started the day as normal, but without a buffet selection.  We had waiter service for a change!  Papaya and watermelon to start, followed by pancake and honey, toast and jam and a choice of eggs.  As usual, I avoided the eggs.  And the watermelon.  And the coffee.

We set off on the bus for a planned 4 hour trek in the hills.  We passed many army trucks.  Perhaps they were keeping an eye on us?

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We started the walk with an assistant guide who led us along a dirt track, constantly filled with motorbikes – most with at least 2 people on – and only one of them wearing a helmet (mostly the man!)  The fields were neatly laid out and farmers were tending their crops together with the help of some oxen (or horned cattle).

George explained that over 70 different types of bamboo are available – it’s strong and fast growing, making it ideal for all sorts of things e.g. houses, mats, fences etc…

Even out here, the golden stupas and monasteries were still evident. George introduced us to many of the plants and trees growing along the way, including teak – a much used hardwood that takes 50 years to grow, and a tree from which castor oil can be made.  A government project to plant lots of these and use them to produce electricity failed miserably.  Also worth noting was a blue plant locally called the “dog pee” plant.  No further explanation necessary.

 

We next came across a lady planting ginger into furrows.  The ginger was the size that we would generally buy it, but we were assured that it should grow up to 10 times larger in roughly 7-8 months.  The fields next door were overflowing with cabbages, as far as the eye could see.  An amazing sight!  We were led through narrow raised paths through the fields and up past more ginger planters.  The youngest kids sit in the shade whilst the parents work.

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Roadside petrol station

Walking on, we stopped occasionally at shady spots.  Passing jackfruit, orange and pear trees, as well as a rudimentary petrol station selling whisky bottles full of petrol, we arrived at a hill top village  called Lu Pyi after 2 hours of walking.

The locals were very friendly, with lots of shouts of “Hello” or “Mingalaba” from the kids.  The local monastery was preparing for the initiation ceremony for novice monks.  These were 8 or 9 year old children from the village who would spend 7-10 days being initiated into the Buddhist faith, and then return to their homes.  It’s only a short novitiate, but all (male) children take part at some point.  Decorations were being hung and ceremonial plastic seat carriages were prepared for carrying them to the monastery.  The children dress up as princes, and the ceremony lasts two days.  On the second day, their hair is shaved.  The parents are involved, and their pride is immense, apparently.

We were shown into a local house, where young women were making Shan tea (of various strengths), and we were invited to drink, together with some home cooked crisps.  Excellent!  George had also brought some biscuits for us, as well as medicines (such as paracetamol) for the village which he gave to the monks.  Ethna and I had the opportunity to try on the local traditional Palaung costumes.  Not sure they had any in my size though.

Leaving the house, we found a bike mounted ice cream seller, and challenged my stomach with a green thing on a stick.  Much coolness!

Continuing the walk, downhill, we passed piles of rubbish – they don’t really have a solution to this anywhere in the country.  More cheerily, we saw a huge stupa being built. It was still at the bare brick stage, with a bit of scaffolding around.  A pack of dogs stood guard and the growls made us quickly move on.

Passing further crops of bananas, onions and watercress, we arrived at the main road, and our lunch venue.  As it was included in the tour, we didn’t get a choice – but what arrived was avocado, watercress, chicken soup, rice, fried tofu and various other unidentified vegetables.  It was actually very nice, but my meat senses were somewhat underwhelmed.  The watercress in particular was excellent.

A short drive back to the hotel and we had free time to explore Kalaw further.  Whilst some who had explored the previous day visited further out to a bamboo buddha, I stayed with a visit to the market, climbed the hill to the monastery for a view over the town and walked out to see the tudor style train station.

The small market was quite quiet, but after several attempts at asking, I managed to purchase a Myanmar flag, and to the surprise of the seller, got her picture as well.  Ethna had broken her sunglasses, so I also helped her find a shop that sold RayBans for 3000 kyats (£1.80) or Lacoste for 18,000 kyats (£10.70).  She went for the more expensive option!

The monastery had a shaded walkway up the hill, and a view over Kalaw.  On the way back down, I encountered some red ants eating their way through a larger beastie.  Also on show was a teenager with a flying drone, rather randomly he appear to be sleeping with it on his face.

Wandering to the far end of town to the train station, a train had just arrived, and I enjoy the atmosphere of the various passengers asking the stations seller for food, sending her rushing up and down the platform dishing out polystyrene containers.  The passengers ate as much as they wanted, and then dropped the containers so that the dogs could finish off the rest.  Meanwhile the diesel engine appeared to have been turned off, and despite the attention of 3 policemen, a railway engineer, a man with a flag, 3 others and a monk, the engine had not been restarted after 40 minutes.  The tudor aspect of the building was underwhelming, although there were separate toilets for tourists and a very nice poster about how to behave in Myanmar – including not sitting on pillows!

Walking back to the hotel, I spied several groups of boys / young men playing keepie uppie with a rattan ball.  One was playing a guitar (not at the same time!)  Generally there was a café culture apparent, and not just the tourists.  Luckily I found the Poe Poe bakery was right next to our hotel, and did a mean line in doughnuts and cakes.

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That night, 10 of us headed back to the Everest Nepali restaurant, and I ordered exactly the same mutton curry (goat) but it somehow tasted different.  I think there was less garlic in the chapatti. Still one of the best restaurants on the trip so far though.  Finished it off with a banana and chocolate chapatti and a hot ginger, lime & honey drink.

Not satisfied, we headed to the smallest bar in the world – the “Hi Bar”.  Nelson, another patron, introduced himself in pretty good English, and commented that even though I was Scottish, my English wisnae bad either.  He worked at an elephant sanctuary to the south of Kalaw ($100 for a half day visit).  It was not the kind of place to ride elephants, or see them kicking footballs or drawing, but you were able to feed and wash them and see them in a more natural environment.  We were heading in the opposite direction, unfortunately.

The bar didn’t do beer, so rum sour was the order of the day.  The place could probably hold 20 people max, and by the time we left, there were 8 of us, 2 locals and the barman.  I think we might have caught something from the glasses!

Chamabasse (Your Good Health) …

Day 9 – Sucre

2 Apr

At one point (4:30am) I had the UK emergency number on my phone and ready to dial as the hotel didn’t have a night service and I didn’t know where Jo was. Pain in chest was terrible and constrictive. Padded down to the foyer, but no one was there.

Eventually full sleep due to exhaustion. Jo promised to leave her room and number in future.

Not really recovered, we headed off on a city tour – appoint off at the Judiciary – the only capital element not lost in the battle with La Paz. Climbed a rather smaller version of the Eiffel Tower.

We headed to the top of the hill overlooking Sucre for a great view and a convent museum, where Franciscan monks were still in residence. Hugged a giant tree in the orangery (oranges are only orange in Europe/Tesco).

Negotiated a small artisan market before finding the artisan museum which had doubled the prices. Some very nice stuff but £40 was the cheapest, so no. Lots of red and black designs.

We then had some free time, which we made use of by buying ice creams – which Paul then promptly dropped on the floor. Ten minute rule applied. A tour of the square to find a place to eat lunch, via the chocolate shop, resulted in a very nice burger and chips.

Yvonne, Maxine, Penny and I  then headed to MUSEF – a folklore museum. It had some interesting masks on the ground floor and some other rooms upstairs with details of language development and other stuff in Spanish!

Moving on, we charged into a supermarket for water, missing the large red arrows on the floor and trying to go the wrong way around a one way system. I never knew supermarkets could be so complicated!

The cathedral was next on the list – housing the Virgin of Guadaloupe (the Spanish one, NOT the Mexican one – oh no) no photos were allowed.

Got back to the hotel about 4pm to discover that Judy had left a note to say that she was going to the dinosaur tracks exhibition on the bus at 2pm – did I want to go. Oops.

Started taking Diamox pills that Yvonne’s GP had given her. At least that what she says they are – if they are something else, this may be my last blog post.

Taking Jo’s advice and using extra pillows to prop me up at night. Hopefully, this should allow a better sleep tonight, if that brass band ever shuts up.

Day 2 – Valparaiso

26 Mar

After a long lie, and a good breakfast, 8 of us left at 9am for our day trip to the seaside. No buckets and spades were provided.

We stopped at a vineyard on the way. The harvest was about to start. No time for a drink and everyone was complaining that it was too early anyway. Don’t understand that concept as the pubs were open at home!

First bus accident – Michael opened a bottle of water “con gas” – and promptly decorated both me and the seat with it. Hugo, the driver, passed the paper towels!

We drove on and ended up with a morning walking tour of Valparaiso – dog mines, ascensores (not funicular), Yugoslavian promenade, naval hq, dogs, new buildings inside old buildings, graffiti and more dogs.

The dogs are apparently territorial and will escort you as you walk around until they reach the boundaries of their territory.

The ascensores date from the mid 1800’s and are lifts that take people up the hills in minutes, saving on the equivalent 20 minute car journey. They are a form of public transport!

Saw the Lord Cochrane – statue and house. The first admiral of the Chilean Navy!

Valparaiso is built on 43 hills – it was 45, but they blew up two to let you get there on a motorway!

Chileans like shortening everything -“Valpo” it is. Santiago likes building new, whereas Valpo likes to keep things as they were!

Fernando also put me right on some Chilean misconceptions that I had – I thought they didn’t like the Argentinians, but they do – they even have a common army and air force. He wasn’t going to be drawn on the Falkland Islands situation though.

Back in the minibus and we drove on to have lunch in Viña de Mar – tried to go for a local speciality –  Pacific tuna & “smashed” potatoes, with Yvonne, Maxine, Penny & Paul. Michael tried to have a Chinese lunch, but it was closed and so had to suffer pizza instead. Roger and Jennifer tried to find a vegetarian restaurant.

Persuaded Fernando to take us to the ocean – I was quite Pacific about that.

Michael snored on the way back.

Shakespeare stop. (To go or not to go!) Met a dog. It wanted to stay. Jo invited it on the minibus and it wouldn’t leave. So sad that it literally had to be dragged off.

Finally found time to write a little bit of this blog!

Jo had warned us that it might be cold today as we were on the coast. I have now redefined cold for her as less than 10°C, not the 24°C, she was obviously thinking! Forecast was for 31°C today!

Stuffed and not really needing any more food, but I will fit some in before our early morning plane journey to Calama in the Atacama desert.

When we got off the bus, Paul, Yvonne, Maxine and I, hit the local ice cream shop and managed to order by number. Paying for it was another challenge entirely.

After that, we were too full to need a meal and so we wandered back to the hotel, passing done others who had refound the bar.

I packed my bag ready for leaving in the morning, but the hunger pangs hit, so I caved in and headed out. Found the river, not that it was very big at all, and took some photos of the night scene.

Early start tomorrow – only 4 hours sleep likely, as the alarm is set and it is now 10:30pm.