Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Inle Lake by boat - part 1

Despite what it may seem like from our last post, we did actually do something other than just eat and drink at Inle. Predictably, we took a tour around the lake in a boat, which is pretty much the only way you can travel here.

This wasn't great for me, as, whilst they did feel a bit more stable than the ones at Hsipaw, they were the long narrow kind that I feel unsafe in. It didn't help that they offered us all life jackets; of course none of us took them because we know that they should be safe really, and it was a hot day.

In fact the couple of times I have been in the water with a life jacket, I hated it because I felt even more out of control than without one, so for me, I would only want to wear one where I really might drown otherwise. That didn't seem likely here.

Of course that didn't stop me feel in anxious in the boat, especially when we were getting in and out. It was made worse because we had actual chairs to sit in and while I know that they actually weren't any higher than the benches before, they felt less safe.

But anyway, off we went, and our first pause was at the mouth of the lake itself to see the guys displaying the famous one legged rowing technique and how they fish with cones. It was interesting to see it close up, but it was a little disappointing to hear that these guys make more money from tourists' tips than the real fishermen do for a day's work. I also find it amusing when I read other blogs and see that some people try to pass off their photos of these guys as the actual working fishermen.

Our first proper stop was at a weaver's workshop. But they weren't just weaving cotton and silk, they are one of the very few places that also make cloth out of lotus. It is a painstaking process, which originally was reserved for making special robes for revered monks. Traditionally the lotus is important, so there is a ritual to the cutting of the stems. Then they remove the thorns, cut and twist the stems and remove the threads from inside. This must be done soon after cutting to avoid decomposition, and wet hands are essential throughout the thread making process.

There are multiple stages of spinning until they end up with a strong thread, which they wash and coat with a gluey substance.

To make a set of monk's robes, requires ten yards of cloth. This means the stems from 220,000 lotus plants have to be prepared into thread, which then takes sixty weaver's ten days to make into cloth. The whole process of making the robes takes about a month.

Lotus fabric was available on sale, mostly with natural dye colours. It was an amazing cloth, a sort of silky linen, soft but hardworking, lightweight, and good for keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. But, unsurprisingly when you consider the raw materials and work that go into it, it is not cheap, and sadly I didn't feel I could run to a few hundred dollars for a scarf.

After the weavers, we stopped at the blacksmiths and the boatbuilders. Both were interesting, but these stops do feel a bit like tourists are being shuttled around between opportunities to buy stuff.

The next place on the list was a cheroot maker, but at this point a few of us staged a mini revolt and asked if we could go to the Burmese cat sanctuary that we had passed by.

Myo was surprised by this - he obviously hasn't yet had sufficient exposure to the European obsession with animals - but he said if we could get enough interest to fill one of the three boats, then we could go there instead while the others went to see anise cheroots being made. As it turned out, we filled two out of three boats with our alternative option, so off to the cat sanctuary we went.

Burmese have long been one of my favourite breeds of cat, so we had been hoping to see a few whilst in their native country. Sadly though, the breed had been lost entirely, until a woman called Yin Myo Su decided to work with the China Exploration and Research Society to reintroduce them. Thankfully the British had taken some home with them, so they were able to get some pure bred lines from countries like the UK and Australia, and took them to a resort on Inle Lake where they have a specialist team breeding the cats with the eventual aim of seeing them back across their native land.

Apparently they did give one to Aung Sang Suu Kyi, but her dog was too jealous of it, so she had to return it.

The site we visited at Inthar Heritage House is separate from the breeding centre, so it is happy to allow visitors in to make a fuss of their cats. There were 39 cats there when we went and whilst a few ignored us, most were very friendly. I was bending over to stroke one cat, when I suddenly found I had another cat on my back, making itself very comfortable. And when it was time to leave, Nic had great trouble extricating himself from a group that were enjoying chasing his shoelaces.

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