Sunday, April 01, 2007

Eating bark in Burma

In Burma, while visiting Golden Rock, our guide took us through the myriad small stalls selling food and provisions for the hike up to the Rock. Golden Rock is one of the holiest sites in Burma and pilgrimages are frequent. They believe that if you make three pilgrimages you will become rich. So much disappointment.

The climb up to the top is pretty hard. About 3 kilometers straight up. For my mountain goat husband, hardly a test, but for me, it was a 90 minute ordeal of gasping and hauling my sorry butt along. Porters are available with litters and four of them will bear you to the top for a fee. I was being dogged by a group of them who told me I would die if I wasn't carried. They sell particularly hard on the steepest spot because the gasping, staggering tourist doesn't realize that you are almost at the top. If you pay at this point, the bearers only have to carry your dead weight up a few hundred feet, so if they do manage to sell you, they do very well. Odd, that they should be working a scam in the holiest of places.

We hired a young man to carry our bags - three bags and some miscellaneous small items. He put them on his head and set out trotting ahead. When we arrived I gave him five dollars and his eyes opened very wide. Richard said I was spoiling things for everyone, but the entertainment value of seeing how this young fellow almost ran up the mountain with so much weight balanced on head, made it worth every penny. Even more amazing was watching him light up a cigarette on arrival.

Turned out our young bearer was 21 - he looked about 14. He's a fisherman during the rainy season, when no pilgrimages take place. Once the rain stops, his whole family moves up to the mountain and takes up residence catering to the pilgrims needs.

In the festive stall area, we saw many interesting foods. Matt has very good memories of his childhood before the road was finished and you could ride part way up. Back then families would start out at dusk after the air has cooled slightly. Carrying lanterns and provisions, they clambered up the paths, stopping to catch a little sleep en route when they would meet up with other families and enjoy the company. It's a very happy, very special event for families to experience together.

Lots of dried fruit was being sold, most of which was delicious. Matt had us try sauteed bark which was surprisingly palatable. Some of the monks in the area are unbelievably poor and have nothing to eat from time to time. When this happens their emergency fall back is the bark from local trees which they scrape off and stir fry with seasoning. I thought it was some kind of beef jerky until it's real identity was disclosed.