Thursday, July 22, 2010

A night at the monastery

Pardon the long outage; we've been roaming around inner Flores, Indonesia, where the internet connections are too slow to upload photos. So, back to the hike from Hsipaw to Namhsan ...

On days two and three, we learned how lucky we'd been on day one. It started raining the morning the second day, and it really didn't stop for the rest of the hike.

Mist clung to the mountains until midday.

Motorbikes put chains on their tires to navigate the treacherous muddy sloughs.

When we arrived for our second overnight, our guide discovered the friend he planned to stay with had gone to Mandalay for business. We would have to bunk down at the local monastery instead. Our guide was rather downcast, since he wouldn't be able to drink, but Chad and I were delighted.

We were shown into the large central room at the monastery.  Other than a wooden cabinet for plates and silverware, and some sleeping mats and blankets in one corner, there was no furniture. In the now-familiar Burmese style, there was a fire in the floor at one end of the room. Monks, nuns and travelers drifted in and out, plunking down by the coals to chat, drink tea and get warm. The high mountain location and the constant rain made the air quite chilly.

The monastery cat liked to lounge around by the fire looking outrageously comfortable. As the coals burned down she moved in closer and closer until she was in danger of singeing her fur.

The nuns spread the dinner dishes out on mats on the floor. It was marvelous food: in the front of the photo you can see some shredded local squash, with a simple tofu and herb soup, some wedges of omelet, and a bowl of greens behind. The tastiest dish looked like mashed hard-boiled egg yolks, with a vinegary-sharp taste and a rich, velvety texture. It turned out to be the liquid and bits of solids leftover from the tofu-making process, fermented and spiced with a bit of chili, onion and garlic.

Chad and our guide departed for the men's building, where they watched some World Cup before retiring. I slept on a mat in the big room next to the elderly Mother Superior; we went right to bed at 8:30.


triesti said...

oh wow, staying at a monastery. Do you donate for your stay, or there's a fixed amount to be paid? Can we just show up and ask to spend the night there?

kopisusu2 said...

As I understand it, monasteries consider themselves morally obligated to offer shelter to travelers, so people crash at them quite often. Payment is voluntary; we gave $5 at the suggestion of either the guide or one of the monks, I'm not sure which. We also donated some pens and notebooks we had brought along, since they have a school. And yes, we just showed up. Since there are no beds, they can't exactly run out of them! And there was plenty of floor space to go around!