Shirley Butler’s trek through the Sumatran Jungle at the age of 78 was meant to be her swansong. That was back in 2013 and Shirley certainly didn’t stay away from the treks for long. Last October she joined a group of Scope supporters trekking through Burma, a country isolated from tourism until very recently.
Myanmar has to be seen to be believed – it is vast, scorching sun, lush crops of fruit and vegetables, tea and coffee plantations, paddy fields and mud! One of the first things I learned in Myanmar was that the life span of a woman is 65 years, so you can imagine how I was treated and spoiled by everyone. The guides referred to me as ‘my grandma’. I just loved it.
A short journey on the train was such an experience, a huge contrast to public transport here in the UK. There were no doors so everyone had to squeeze in and hold on tight. It was such fun, until a torrential rain down pour. The ground turned to red, sticky, claw-like mud. Progress on foot was slow to say the least, especially for me.
We stayed in monasteries which had a very spiritual feel to them. Children training to be monks were seen praying and chanting on the grounds, and were happy to be photographed. The first monastery we stayed at had an amazing alfresco shower built for travellers, which overlooked a view to die for with chickens running around at will. Whilst we were showering, a monk came down to feed the chickens. A short while after another four women went to shower and the same monk went to feed the chickens. The same story was told by another group of travellers a little later on. They were either very well fed chickens or it was a naughty monk!
All of the visitors were presented with a wristband – a red string with knots representing the support in one’s life, from a Buddha, teacher, family or a visitor. The sleeping arrangement was a large room filled with mattresses side by side- very cosy! Whilst trekking we passed a petrol station which consisted of a shelf holding old whiskey bottles filled with petrol.
After trekking for approximately 70 miles over the first few days, long boats were ready to transport us to see the sights of the floating markets, with all the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We stopped to see the local crafts, like tobacco being hand rolled by young women, a warehouse extracting silver from the rocks and teak boats being hand made by young skilled men. Along the Inle Lake, we saw fishermen rowing the boats with their legs whilst fishing! All around the lake there houses on stilts and floating gardens.
One highlighting ‘incident’ was when I was lucky enough to have been offered a lift in a vehicle, while the rain was pouring down. The driver could only recite a few words in English which were “Okay. Hi! Out! Five minutes!” He asked me to get out as the motor was beginning to slide sideways into the ditches because of the rain. He told me “we walk for 5 minutes.” One hour and ten minutes later, my boots and I were still trampling along the muddy road.
Getting to Myanmar takes a long time by air but if you want to see all these exotic places then getting from A to B is all part of the challenge. I feel that my boots will be hung up for a while after I manage to get the mud cleaned off. Have I mentioned the mud?
Will there be another trek? Never say never as the saying goes. The fundraising continues regardless, the hill walking beckons and our wonderful planet is there for the taking.
So, has this given you the urge to pick up your boots and get discovering our world? Take a look at the overseas treks we offer.