Day 13 – Mountain Biking Kalaw to Lake Popa

Today started with some good ol’ Burmese challenges:

1 – find reliable internet to repay housemate’s deposit

2 – find postcards / send back home

As has been typical of Myanmar to date, the hostel’s internet connection was up and down.  Just as I reached the final payment screen, the whole process would collapse and like a hooked Las Vegas slots addict, there I was – ‘one last attempt’.

With no maps marker and locals not being able to help, it took an hour or two to locate the local Internet cafe.  All in, half a day to make one bank payment.  The key here is to take it in your stride.  Time here in Myanmar follows a different path and sometimes it involves getting muddy.

Leaving at noon, I decided to take a bold route, entirely off-road.  Directed haphazardly by, with compass to hand, I navigated single track pathways, forest trails and rocky descents.

Eventually joining a road for 10kms, I was soon back on the trail, opting out of lunch and instead delving deep into my snack bag.

Overtaking motorcycles down dirt tracks is always fun.  An exchange with 3 of them lasting several kms, overtaking and then being overtaken once again as the trail rose.  Then, shortly after a tight left and hairpin right, the trail vanished altogether; soon evident this was a path for hikers rather than bikers.

Progressing down streams and rock gardens, crossing bamboo bridges and becoming entrenched in mud, sand and grit.  This was my kind of riding.

Passing farm workers and blissful riverside views, I turned a corner to reach a home stay, coming to a quick stop at the sight of a fridge containing fizzy things.

I chatted to the owner, who was preparing for 11 guests that night and had recently moved his family from Mandalay.  It turned out, I had found myself on one of the main guided trekking routes from Kalaw to Inle Lake.

Leaving reassured and calories reinstated, I soon passed a group of 10 or so trekkers, heading to he next village, hopping over tree roots to steer around them.  Despite many a polite call, an English man on a bicycle was the last thing any of them had been expecting.

Another 10kms down rough and rooty tracks with only cattle for company, I was, momentarily, lost. had handed in the towel and whilst I knew what direction to head toward, there was no obvious trail.

20 minutes of trial and error and I was back on track, only to get lost again.  Whilst a fantastic and beautiful antidote to yesterday’s busy truck-riddled roads, fatigue and the effects of the 35degree heat were creeping in.

Seeing the road c.1 mile above, I placed bike over shoulder and climbed to reach a deep, impassable ravine, trotting back down to discover a narrow bamboo bridge.  Once again climbing towards, then around a perimeter wall, I had no idea what led behind.  A village edge?  A small holding?  Neither – it was the most beautiful homestay, with mountain views and as yet no other customers for the night.

The price reasonable and restaurant onsite, ‘Myat Saytaman’ was poorly marketed, but brilliantly positioned.  The perfect place to spend the night.

After the briefest of moments thinking I was alone for the night, I was soon joined by Moe, a solo Burmese trekker, living in Yangon.  We soon became friends, laughed lots, drunk lots and ate flambé banana.

Another fantastic day here in this crazy, wonderful country.

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