Tag Archives: Hiking

Trekking in Shan State – Part 3

After the crazy festivities of the previous night, we were up bright and early February 10th to head out of Konhai and continue onward on our third leg of the journey. This is part of the village monastery:

And a view of the village as seen from the monastery:

Our walk in Shan State took us along, up, and down mountain roads and paths and through small Palaung villages where the locals would come out to stare and often try and feed us. Here’s a typical climbing turn around the side of a mountain:

And of course we encountered many Palaung villagers along the path, including a number of people with their animals:

In each village where we stopped for more than a few minutes, we were very lucky to quickly become acquainted with the one person who could speak a bit of broken English. In Om Tet, it was a monk who had spent time in Mandalay and had learned some English there. He was considerably shorter than Scott:

One generalisation that can be made honestly about Burma (and this applies not only to Burman areas, but also to minority areas and non-SPDC areas) is that almost everyone loves having their photo taken (at least, if us foreigners were the photographers). Old and young alike never said no to a photo when I asked, and many told me I don’t need to ask – I can just take pictures! I sometimes did this, and never had a bad reaction. Here’s one wonderful older woman heading to work on the hillside outside her village. She saw the camera and started modelling for me!

Cows and Burmese ponies are used to carry loads in many parts of Burma. Here in the mountains of northern Shan State, they seem to use cows more frequently.

This friendly lady was happy to stop for a photo with her heavy load, which was probably semi-compacted tea leaves:

We always catch the eye of small children who haven’t seen white-skinned people before, or are too young to remember.

And there were many instances where we could see that storied wisdom that comes with age, in the calm smile of an older man or woman who greeted us.

We saw men compacting tea leaves to be taken to the big cities too! They gather them and remove sticks and such, then one man jumps up and down barefoot on the leaves in the bag while the other puts handfuls of leaves into the bag every so often.

Some children were more photogenic than others, but they were all fun to interact with.

Sitting in small tea shops in tiny villages with only a few houses became a common theme on our trek, as the intensity of the sun was really tough and hydration was very important. We drank a LOT of tea! This is the view out of one such tea shop:

On rare occasions, a truck would trundle past us on a road that seems only barely navigable by a motorbike, let alone a loaded truck. And of course there were people all over the place, not concerned about the potential for the truck to roll off the road and down the mountainside.

In one village, while we sat across the path drinking tea, boys were playing make believe. The kid with the mask was my favourite, and in this photo is actually somewhat camouflaged it seems! Beer is very popular in Burma, and the pile of empties in the firewood area behind the boys attests to this.

That night I took some long exposure night shots and then we went to sleep, tired out from our long walk – those photos in the next post!

Trekking in Shan State – Part 2

On February 9th we woke up, freezing cold, in a Palaung village. The Palaung are an ethnic group, many members of which live in Shan State. We ate a big breakfast and quickly left the village to get in a longer day of walking than the previous day. As we left, this little child stared intently at us. Seems to be a ninja in training or something :-)

At one point as we walked up and up and up and up the steep hills/mountains, we came across a massive saw at the side of the road. Scott, a carpenter, assessed it as being ridiculously sharp.

A couple of valley views from hillsides:

In another village, one of the women brought out a ruler to measure Scott, who’s around 6’9″ or so. Apparently this happens to him on a regular basis.

We had tea with some locals, most of whom could not speak English but this guy was pretty photogenic:

In the evening, there was a big festival in the village. There was dancing, and a massive tug-of-war game. Here’s one man doing a traditional dance:

I handed my headlamp to a kid and told him to wave it around in circles for a bit, which they found highly amusing:

The tug-of-war was repeated a number of times, always men against women. The men won most of the time, but sometimes the women managed to win with a bit more organisation and less alcohol. Hundreds of people showed up from all the surrounding villages, it was really a huge deal. Women preparing to pull:

This shows the men ready to pull, and the big wooden ‘pyramid’ that was at the centre of the rope. To win, one side had to pull the pyramid past a line on the ground. A Buddhist monk would start the match by climbing up and ringing a bell, then both sides would pull as hard as possible to win.

Long exposures turned out quite interesting:

Many older Palaung women still wear the traditional dress of their villages:

Another long exposure showing a few spectators crouching on the left near me, and the men pulling to the right in the background:

This monk was standing alone in the distance in the dark, so I took a 30-second exposure to get the light as it appears here. He didn’t move much, and the camera sitting on the grass managed pretty well.

Some stupas at the village monastery:

We headed to bed after a fun-filled night at the festival, and soon we were up again and on our way. More on that in the next post.

Trekking in Shan State – Part 1

On February 8th, I went for a walk. Having spent two nights in Hsipaw, I had met some other travellers, including three Canadians (one from BC, two from Ontario). We decided to go trekking together, and after fruitless attempts to catch a bus to Namhsan to start the walk back to Hsipaw, we ended up changing our plan to walk from Hsipaw to Namhsan and then bus back.

Crossing a bridge:

Crazily large parasite plant living in a tree:

Strange inedible berry:

My three trekking companions:

At the end of our first day of walking, we had reached a small village. We arranged to stay above a small shop, and eat food there too. A bunch of little children were interested in us, and they loved having their photos taken.

Having some tea:

Moonrise:

Children playing around for the camera:

This is the room we slept in, which wasn’t very comfortable and was extremely cold at night:

We covered only 13 km that day, as we started quite late. It was a good day of walking, though, and the next day we had a big breakfast before continuing on our journey.

Motorcycle Jungle Adventure!

On August 5th we woke up in our beach side guesthouse and soon set off on our day’s mission: finding our way into the jungle.

We didn’t eat breakfast, as there wasn’t really any place open so early to buy food. We both rode on one motorcycle (me in the middle) to the office where the officials organize permits and WWF-certified guides to take people into the bush. We were told to arrive at 7 or 730am and they showed up a bit after 8 to talk to us. While we waited, we noticed the hundreds of dead bugs around on the veranda. I blew one large moth into the gutter, and it turns out it was still alive! In a lightning-fast blur of motion, a huge black ant had attacked the newly arrived moth in the gutter. The two of them battled for at least 10 minutes before the ant finally pulled the moth into some hole where I presume it finished the moth off.

After organizing our trip with the officials and working out how we would get by on the very small amount of money we had, we set off on two motorcycles for the bush. We drove for about an hour at breakneck speeds up and down huge hills, around and at times into potholes, and became airborne more than once. By the end of that ride I had probably doubled the muscle mass of my hands and arms from holding onto the motorbike frame! After finding a local villager to accompany us (required by law), we set out by foot. As we officially entered the reserve we saw this map, which appeared in the surfing magazine Sam had, and was actually our inspiration for making the trip!

Unfortunately, after about an hour of walking in the heat, the local villager started asking us how much we were going to give him at the end of the trip. Having already negotiated a price before setting off, we told him there was no bonus, we were flat broke and had not even enough to get home to Buea, which was in fact the truth. We argued for a while but he refused to change his mind and decided to head back to his village. Our official guide also headed back and told us to stay put there in the jungle. While we waited and worried about the crazy noises we kept hearing, I almost bumped into a massive spiderweb, so I took a photo of the beast that lived there:

Our guide returned after about an hour, alone and on his motorcycle, which he had amazingly been able to drive along the old disused path. We all climbed on and our plan changed: our “hike” through the jungle became a motorcycle adventure!

At one point, we ran into a little trouble as one of the spiked tree leeches happened to fall on Sam. I managed to get a photo with my point and shoot before our guide carefully pried the little creature off Sam’s chest with a small tree branch.

Eventually we hid the motorcycle in the jungle and began actually trekking. We passed a bunch of neat termite nests, like this one:

When it was time to sleep we set up camp by a small brooke of water. Sam really enjoyed drinking the barely moving water out of his leaf cup.

We managed to get the tent set up without too much hassle, and after eating a granola bar for supper (we really had no food) we went to bed not long after 6pm as dark descended and the mosquitoes came out.

We managed to keep most of the mosquitoes out of the tent, but in the middle of the very uncomfortable night I woke up with a strange itchy pain on my calf. I also noticed that our guide was awake and working at something. It turns out I had a red ant biting into my leg and he had a few dozen of them attacking him as they filed through a small hole in the tent in his corner. We spent half an hour killing as many as we could and eventually fell back asleep.

The next day we were up again looking for animals and such. We saw a number of monkeys throughout the days, and a gorilla that was hidden from view but identifiable by its slow climbing and escape, and a few tiny forest antelopes. We also saw tonnes of destruction left by a herd of elephants, and tonnes of elephant faeces and huge footprints in the mud.

Seeing as how we had no food, I kept asking our guide about every single berry type thing I saw, and always the answer was that we could not eat it. Finally on this second day of our little adventure, he found a kola nut tree and used his machete to open up a few for us to eat.

We had become quite thirsty as well as hungry, and eventually we came to an area where some woody vines grew. Our guide chopped sections off the bines and we could drink tonnes of water that poured right out of these vines like tap water. We filled my 1L Nalgene bottle no problem!

We eventually arrived back at our hidden motorcycle and removed all of our camouflage, managed to haul it back to the road, and our guide hooked up the electrical connections again (he had immobilized it manually just in case).

We had become very accustomed to this semi-offroad motorcycle riding by this point, so on our multi-hour trip back out of the jungle I took a few photos while moving, such as this self-portrait:

At one point we stopped suddenly as our guide spotted some chimpanzees eating wild mangoes. We scared off the chimps and feasted on the wild mangoes, yum!

The road, as I said, was disused and no longer fit for a motorcycle. In addition, the elephants had really caused a lot of destruction in some places, like this:

I decided to take a short video with my point and shoot camera to show what it was like on the motorcycle as we drove through the overgrown old path, with bushes and branches and razor leaves (literally razors, they drew a lot of blood and we were covered in slices on our arms and faces afterward). I couldn’t rotate the video, so you’ll have to turn your head or your monitor, sorry! At one point you hear me and Sam talking a bit – it’s hard to tell from the video but we were going into and back out of a ditch in the road, which involved weaving and wobbling and feeling like we were going to fall over and/or fly off our seat:

[tubepress video=”8nYO3vTbMrg”]

We eventually got out of the park, but on our way back along the real road to the little town of Campo, we spotted a big SUV at the side of the road. Our guide knew someone there so we stopped and Sam and I began talking with a foreigner who turned out to be visiting on work from South Africa and was happy to find someone who spoke English in this very Francophone region of Cameroon (I had to translate the entire time in the jungle between our Francophone guide and Anglophone Sam). We ended up staying there with him for several hours chatting about this, that and everything else, and he and his hired driver and assistant offered us a ride not just back to Campo but all the way back to Kribi! It was a luxury ride in a brand new SUV with airconditioning and good suspension, and the driver really knew how to get where he was going! We arrived in Kribi having saved a tonne of time and money, and we even got to share a beer at the guy’s hotel with a great view:

Not only that, but he later joined us for supper at our preferred low-class but delicious restaurant, and he ended up covering our meals and our drinks, so we saved enough to buy our breakfast the next morning! We hadn’t eaten properly in several days, so this huge meal and the knowledge of a proper breakfast in the morning really made our week!

The next morning we set off for Douala and Buea after Sam cashed some emergency foreign currency he was carrying, just enough for us to get home! We managed this time to make it back to Buea without any real hitches.

The public transport minibuses all have little warnings painted on the inside, and I thought these two were amusing:

Sorry for the long post, but that was our adventure in the south of Cameroon!