A Girl's Trip to Myanmar's Only Winery
Edit 9/17/2017: It has become clear now that Myanmar's government has launched a violent campaign against the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar. The rapes and killings have been denounced by the international community as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing," with more than 400,000 Rohyinga fleeing their homes into Bangladesh. Aung San Suu Kyi has yet to speak out against the violence. I loved the time I spent in Myanmar, but I am horrified at the human rights abuses that continue to take place in this country. If Myanmar is on your bucket list, please think long and hard about how you can be an ethical traveler in this country. I'm not sure it's possible, given the current state.
Never did I imagine that I would be hauling ass up a mountain to get to a winery in Myanmar. But I was. On a bicycle. The bike ride told me two things: 1) I am definitely out of shape, and 2) I will do anything for wine, including riding (and walking) uphill to get to said winery in 100 degree heat.
I had rented bikes with three other girls after I posted a note on the hostel bulletin board looking (begging?) for company for the journey. We had planned to do a 5-6 hour bike route around Inle Lake that would take us through a Buddhist cave, the winery, natural hot springs, and a tofu plantation before paying a boat to take us and our bikes across the lake to finish the journey.
We didn't make it past the winery.
After a quick stop at a cave that had Buddhist pagodas, we followed our map to the winery. It wasn't too far and the scenery was plentiful. Inle Lake is nestled in the country between the mountains and the locals go about their daily activities, from herding cattle across the street to trimming flowers for Buddhist offerings to prepping meals at the local monastery. Children waved at us every time we passed: Mingalaba! Burmese for hello. We always smiled and said the same in return.
Ten minutes into the ride, however, we quickly realized that the journey was filled with hills. Our bikes, which we rented for only 1500K / $1USD, had poor gears and the brakes screeched ominously every time we applied them too hard. We had to jump off our bikes and walk up many of the hills. I was comforted by the fact that I was not the only one who couldn’t manage them!
We soon saw the sign for Red Mountain Winery. When we turned the corner and the hills became downhill slopes, we were greeted with green, rolling vineyards and purple flower blossoms. We parked our bikes, wandered through the winery gardens, and quickly took a seat with the best view (in the shade). Without much hesitation, we decided to share a bottle of the winery's semi-sweet white wine.
If I was a wine connoisseur, I would use this part of my blog post to comment on the notes in the wine and its floral (fruity? dry?) scent and how it compared to French or Californian wine. All I can tell you was that chilled, white wine from Myanmar tasted real damn good after that bike ride. And that was good enough for me.
That afternoon on a winery terrace overlooking Inle Lake quickly became a girl's afternoon. The four of us talked for hours - four girls who never would have met, much less drink wine together, had travel not brought us together. Jo, from Mexico City, told us about her adventures as a flight attendant. P, from Taiwan, got an extra glass of wine to celebrate finishing eight years of traditional medical school. Emma, from China, got us started on a conversation about economic markets because she works for a major telecommunications company and helps developing countries build their mobile telecom infrastructure. I talked for ages about Riley Hospital, fundraising and philanthropy, my Dance Marathon students, why I'm so passionate about all of this and more (not surprisingly, Riley is never far from my heart).
We got another bottle and ordered food as we talked about the countries and the cultures that we came from, the places we still hoped to travel to, what we missed about home. And a thought that I had had for awhile was confirmed between the laughter and wine:
The longer I've traveled, the more I've realized that my journey has become less about the places and more about the people I've met along the way. The memories that linger in my mind as I move from place to place aren't so much the temples I've seen or the rice terraces that I've trekked. Instead, it's the staff whom I worked with at Cool Bananas. It's the Aussie who taught me how to drive on the other side of the road. It's the Polish and Italian girls I lived with for three weeks on a boat with an eccentric captain. It's the Burmese boy who eagerly practiced his English with me. It's the Canadian who kissed me on a rooftop as a storm rolled in. These are the memories that stay with me, and the places fade into the background.
I really don't know anything about wine, my alcohol tolerance is nearly zero at this point, and I apparently don't have the endurance to even ride a bike uphill, but this afternoon was just what I needed: four girls from different sides of the world, sharing good conversations over multiple bottles of wine. Another travel memory, irrelevant of time or place.
Because it's truly the people that matter. The wine is just an added bonus.
- If you go: It's a 20 minute bike ride to Red Mountain Winery from the center of Inle Lake town or you can take a taxi. The damage for the afternoon? Only 11,000K / $8USD each for splitting two bottles of wine, plus a meal.
- If I'm being honest: Alright, there might be a second winery in Myanmar, but I didn't do my research for this blog title. So I'm assuming Red Mountain is Myanmar's only winery because really, who thought there would be a winery in this country, anyways?