The first things you spot, after departing Heho Airport—the gateway airport for Inle Lake—are the great looking avocados stacked neatly by a pair of woman in the dusty parking lot. The driver turns to find that you have stopped following him and watches with an amused look as you negotiate for some fruit.
After a couple days eating Myanmar food, you quickly realize that there is a dearth of fresh vegetables and fruit in the cuisine. Meals seem mostly to be meat-centric or starch-centric. Malnutrition is a pretty big problem, with some studies (//www.unicef.org/media/media_69183.html) finding over a third of children under five have stunted development due to such. Given this, it seems rather wise to stock up on some avocados given the chance, and especially given the apparent quality. As to where avocados are coming from is an unsolved mystery.
One of the downsides of flying into Heho is that Heho is 45 minutes, via car, from Inle Lake. You spent days pondering whether to go by bus, train or plane, and, once you decided plane, you debated the options on getting to Inle Lake. Unfortunately, the simple Heho Airport is off in the boondocks, connected to a major road by a long entry road.
You had pondered negotiating with taxi drivers upon arrival, and if that failed, walking and hailing one on the major road. You had looked into taking a shared pick-up truck or trying to hail a scheduled minibus as it whizzed by, but those required a connection to another unknown vehicle at an unknown place in a town on the way. Of all the options, it became clear that the $15 for a private car (offered by the hotel) was the simplest and most reasonable given the circumstances. This was clearly the best choice. Heho Airport is certainly not a place of negotiating power.
The car speeds along passing the outskirts of Heho, winds through some highlands on roads that curve about the periphery and then straighten back out on the way into Shwenyaung. The car adjusts course to the south, passing numerous watermelon stands, on its way to Nyaungshwe, which is the main jumping off point for Inle Lake.
“Stop here,” you instruct the driver who continues on without hesitation. You tap him on the shoulder. “Stop please, stop?” The car lurches to a halt off on the shoulder. You open the car door, dodge the light traffic passing by and saunter over to a watermelon seller who excitedly springs into action. She rustles through a couple of the fruits, pulls one up and deftly hacks into it, handing it to you. The flavour is sweet and the texture crisp. You buy a pair.
On the main road into Nyaungshwe, you find your car driving down a street lined with tall trees on either side. Out the left window, a large, still body of water sits in front of some mountains. The sun is setting out your right hand side. The combination on the lake only improves when you pass a fisherman in the perfect light.
Towards the end of this road, the taxi pulls over to the right at a booth. He doesn’t say anything. You hear a tap at the window and roll it down.
“$15 fee,” the man at the booth states.
“Inle Lake, $15 fee to enter for foreigner”
“I do not have enough money on me to afford this,” you mention.
“$10 before, now $15 dollar,” he notes. He turns and goes back into the crudely-built shack. He returns and pushes a Lonely Planet guide into the window, opened to a page where the $15 fee is noted. “See here, you should know,” he states while pointing at the sentence about this fee.
“I was not given this book when I arrived in Myanmar,” you reply, “so I know nothing of it”. Your subtle comment is lost on him. Regardless, it is a telling sign at the number of people relying on these travel-by-number books (as if visual evidence was lost on you). It seems the officials just assume at this point that everyone has read it. Is Myanmar some new, uncharted frontier for explorers? The whole exchange could easily answer such.
Of course, if the driver had turned left before getting to that body of water, and looped around, the fee could have been entirely avoided altogether. Alternatively, one could skip the area altogether which might be the method if the fee keeps rising at 50% increments.
Your taxi lurches forward in an effort to locate an ATM. Your passport has been handed over to the official who will return it upon getting the fee. You step up to the ATM nearby and are told by a lady that the ATM is broken. You ask her to relay that information in the local language to your driver (as to ensure your credibility is not questioned later). You hop back in the cab. At the second ATM, you are able to withdraw money. As you return to the taxi, the official appears on a motorbike (apparently tailing the cab). He charges you extra for paying in local currency, which makes little sense really, and hands you back your passport.
Welcome to Inle Lake.
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