One of the things we enjoy about travel is taking the chance to get off the beaten track and explore the local side of a country. Myanmar was no exception to this and we opted for a 3 day hike through the hills of Shan state between Kalaw and Inle Lake for a great dose of adventure and culture. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint.
After spending our first day hiking for nearly 9 hours over a variety of terrain and weather that varied from cold enough for a jacket to sweltering hot, we arrived into a tiny village that we would call home for the night. The population maxing out at maybe 100 people and that’s a stretch.
Arriving was uneventful as we wandered onto the side road and into the ‘downtown’ area, a row of 20 houses. From here we arrived at a small farm lot that included 2 thatched buildings and a fence. The buildings were the main house, with one level and 2 rooms and the second building was a kitchen. Behind these buildings was a small stall for showering and a rigged up outhouse a little further back. With the exception of the driveway and footpath to the back, the fenced lot was tilled for gardens. Not an inch of space was wasted.
We enjoyed a beautiful home cooked dinner, which was cooked one dish at a time over an open flame in their kitchen space. With the help of our hiking guide, we were able to enjoy some great conversations with the family that lived on the farm as well and we enjoyed our meal while the sun began to set over the village.
~ Kitchen where our dinner was prepared, one dish at a time ~
One thing about village life is they rise with the sun and sleep with its set, so by 8pm the village was quiet and all the people ready for bed. Unfortunately for us, even after hiking many miles over hills, we were not tired enough for bed at 8pm. With no options for sitting up, they have only a small amount of solar power; we readied ourselves for bed and lie there while everyone else fell asleep.
In this small space of time, the eldest daughter went through an intense ritual with her Thanaka cream where she removed it, washed her face, made a new dose of cream and then covered her face before bed. She did this by candlelight, in the corner of the main room we were sleeping in.
While we lay on our mats, we watched her and the reflections dance across the ceiling in front of us and that is when Dave first saw it. I didn’t see it, but he nearly jumped up pointing and shouting to me that he has seen a rat cross the ceiling beam between the living area where we were to sleep and the families bedroom.
~ House & Kitchen where we stayed overnight on our hike ~
Trying not to make too big of a scene and in an effort to avoid the stares from the girl who had noticed us but wasn’t sure what he had said, he whispered to me about the rat on the beam. As he motioned to the beam, I looked over and saw nothing. Laughing it off, as I hadn’t really considered rats a problem, I laid my head back down and just stared at the light on the ceiling.
Then he grabbed my arm and whispered quickly in my ear, “There it is again! Look!” and I looked over just in time to catch the shadow if it’s tail as it ran across the ceiling beam and disappeared into the darkness. “Oh my fucking god”, were the only words I could muster at the time. As the girl finished up her bedtime ritual, she left the candle burning and left the house for the bathroom way in the back.
This left us alone in the room, with the candlelight and the rats. I could not believe this was happening, the place was the picture of clean, no trash, no food lying anywhere – with the exception of one bowl of chickpeas on a table, yet they were infested with rats. While we waited for the girl to return and blow out the light, I witnessed one rat begin his descent from the rafters, down the wall and into the room.
The kicker here, he scurried down the wall in the corner, and I am talking about a 12 foot wall, and jumped straight onto our guide as he slept. I just about died. This rat was running over our guide and he didn’t even know it! I looked at Dave in that moment and we both immediately began adjusting our blankets and pillows in a way that would avoid anything crawling up into them during the night.
~ Scene of the Crime, or location of Rat Track, where we slept ~
Despite our best efforts to make ourselves feel secure and push the rats from our minds, the girl returned to the room, blew out the candle and within 30 minutes we heard an army of rats coming down the walls from the ceiling and onto the floor. They would start the descent with scratching noises then abandoning the slide with a leap onto the floor and a loud thud.
I lie there in bed counting the thuds as they were made, one, five, ten, twenty and the counting went on throughout the night. There were easily 50 or more rats that came from the ceiling. They ran what seemed like a time trial around the perimeter of the room. Unfortunately for Dave, during our strategy of adjusting to prevent them from coming near us, we had forgot to move farther into the middle of the room and as the rats made their laps, they ran over Dave all night, who was sleeping closest to the wall.
We had left a plastic bag and metal water bottle out, both of which were ran into and over all night just inches from our heads. We were both too grossed out to reach up and move them; so all night we listened to the rats running into it. This accompanied by Dave kicking his legs and thrashing to keep them off him made for a restless night.
A couple times, the rats even broke out into a brawl, squeaking, scratching, ripping and running which would cause quite the outburst from all of them. At one point, the bertha of rats must have arrived because when it hit the floor, it sounded like a small dog had dropped from the rafters. I didn’t dare move. We contemplated shining lights on them, we had a headlamp, hoping to drive them out of the room, but then we both had this image of how rats attack things and thought that it wouldn’t be a good idea to provoke them.
In addition to the nasty rat noises, we heard them sifting through and eating from that bowl of chickpeas that sat on a table against the wall. What’s funny, is they had tried to serve us from this bowl earlier in the night with some beer. Laying there in bed I was very thankful that we had both declined.
~ Bowl of Chickpeas the rats ate all night ~
As if that wasn’t enough, the young boy of the family awoke a few times in the night moaning and making noises that literally made us feel like we were in the middle of the movie Children of the Corn. We had a good laugh over that, besides what else could we do? Laugh or cry, either way we weren’t getting any sleep that night.
Sleep was short, intermittent and for the most part elusive. The morning came slowly for us but as the sun started rising, the rat noises slowly faded and we managed a solid 45 minutes of sleep before the alarm sounded at 6am. Seriously, worst. Night. Ever.
After breakfast we set off on the road, leaving the rat house and small village behind us, and we waited to break the news to our guide until there was nobody else in sight. At first he didn’t believe us, then when we told him they were running over him…. Well, you should have seen his face! In some twisted way, it made the night of suffering that much easier to bear.