The mountains of Myanmar – with nothing but a hand sketched map and a name

Arriving in what was meant to be Kalaw at 3:30am but turned out to be Aungban I grabbed my things from the undercarriage of the bus and took a moment to think on the side of the road. Apparently there had been some miscommunication with the bus driver and we had already passed Kalaw. Unsure of where I was or how far Kalaw actually was all I knew I was somewhere between there and Schwenyuang, the junction to Inle Lake. In the darkness a moto-taxi driver approached me to ask where I was going. ‘Kalaw,’ I said. After a bit of a chit-chat I was able to decipher that Kalaw was only 15kms back the other way... about 20 minutes by motorbike. The chap to my right offered to drive me there for the outrageously inflated tourist-night-price of $5. After paying more than the locals for my bus ticket (pocket money for generals) from Yangon, I wasn’t in the mood for giving my money to people who didn’t deserve it. If I waited till light I would be able to get a pick-up (mini-truck with two metal benches down either side of the tray), shared with about 20 other locals, for about 500 kyats (about 50 cents). Moto-taxis are always more, and especially at the ungodly hour of the morning I had found myself in. So I offered the guy a very modest 1000 kyats.. I’d be lucky if he accepted even in the daytime. Because he felt sorry for me, the bus didn’t drop me off where it was meant to and I was alone, he graciously accepted my offer. I wisely donned my jacket in the crisp mountain air and we set off on our way.

By the time we arrived in Kalaw I was absolutely freezing. Shivering from head-to-toe my moto-driver stopped by a small fire lit on the side of the road by some locals where I could defrost in the pre-dawn darkness. I couldn’t be bothered getting a hotel room so I waited out until first light at a small Nepalese tea shop on the side of the road where I enjoyed (for the first time since visiting Nepal) real chai and freshly cooked samosas.

Indonesia Chapter 5: Rinjani, your mine.

The sunrise which started it all
 Rinjani. Your ass is grass.

Towering above the Bali sea at 3726 meters Rinjani is one monsterous volcano. The concluding statement in a guidebook states, ‘Finally, understand that people die every year on the mountain; it shouldn’t be approached lightly.’ A reason why I deliberated for so long on Gili Air about the weather conditions. After negotiating a very nice price with a trek operator and deciding that, surely, the weather would hold up I headed straight from the Gilis up the mountain.

Travel in an unknown culture..

So I had a crack at the 2011 World Nomad Travel Writing Scholarship.. to no avail. Here it is anyway:

I am in Sabah. The Malaysian state of Borneo and the scene before me yields a peculiar air. The city in the peak of the afternoon is quiet. Restaurants are closed. People seem wary and on edge and can be seen silently napping in the stall side chairs and hammocks.

It occurred to me I had arrived during the religious month of Ramadan where Islamic devouts abstain from food, drink, sex and cigarettes between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Things already move quite slowly in this corner of the globe and it seemed as though the world had eerily come to a standstill.

It was difficult to judge the mood of the people, especially the ladies, their heads and faces veiled with the hijab. In much of the Western world the thought of an Islamic culture breeds nervousness. In the past images of serious white clothed Arab men with checked scarves nestling on their heads and women in full length black would flash across my mind. Although I was fairly well covered I still felt the piercing stare of wandering eyes. I was as intriguing to them as they were to me. But as I wandered through the streets I felt no need to fear the unfamiliarity of the unknown culture I was witnessing for the first time.