In the southern part of Myanmar, the state of Karen (no, not this one, do your research, kiddos!), Mount Zwegabin is to be found. It is the highest peak in the region and a popular destination among both locals and travelers.
Once you leave the town of Hpa-an and start exploring its surroundings on your luxurious rental scooter (125cc and working brakes, if you are lucky), you will eventually discover Mount Zwegabin. If you are curious enough, you will soon learn that there is a monastery at the top of it, and it is indeed a well praised hike.
Now, if you are also crazy enough, you will find yourself buying a head lamp in a local store, a necessary tool for this hike. The next thing you probably want to do is to go to sleep, because your alarm will go off very early in the morning.
I warned you. It is 3.30 am and your cell phone is trying to wake you up. Thankfully, you have the support from the 8 strangers whom you are sharing your dorm with. After hearing the fourth unimpressed ‘What the fuck, mate?!’ you are climbing down from your bunk bed, parting yourself from the lovely bunch of ants who had been keeping you company at night.
Grabbing your vehicle and a helmet, which faintly reminds you of an upside down plastic cereal bowl, you finally take off to the Lumbini Garden, the official start of the hike. As you leave your scooter on a tiny parking lot and try to see anything of the garden, you notice hundreds of Buddha statues, 1100 to be exact, creeping at you from the darkness. Suddenly, you feel very lucky that you didn’t bring a friend, so nobody will see you shitting your pants.
In a hope to escape your own demons, you turn on your head lamp and start walking. ‘Ah, I see the stairs everyone is talking about! Let’s do this!’ After walking up about 25 big stairs, you need to stop. You are sweating and barely breathing. Who the heck thought that dragging your overweight ass up there would be a good idea? Your anxiety is slowly taking over, as you climb in a ‘turtle-in-a-wheelchair’ speed. ‘I can’t do this. My body is in pain. I am tired and hungry. Why am I here? What am I doing with my life?!’ To your benefit, you also feel ashamed to give up this easily. There’s nobody around, tough. You could just settle down on one of the steps, take a nap and then head back to the town happily and recommend this to everyone, dreaming about the most amazing sunrise over the lush hills. No! You are bloody doing this, whatever the other folks in your head have to say about it! You must already be past the first half of the trip, anyway. You check the time. You have been on your way for 20 minutes, and you are on the stair number 56. Out of more than 4000. Impressive. Luckily, you don’t know that. It’s time for some determination and serious work. You climb slowly but at a steady pace, a few steps at the time. You take thousands of breaks and cry loudly into the darkness.
After some time, which just feels like days of climbing to Mount Everest, you remember that you came to see the sunrise and turn around for the first time. The sky is still mostly black, but the east is colored in intense ruby. Now you are feeling all the energy hidden in depths of your flash and are pushing for the summit. In a short while there is the most mesmerizing sunrise you have seen in your life. You don’t care you haven’t made it to the top yet and stop to take all the beauty in.
Now, let’s reach the monastery! As the sun climbs higher, the local creatures wake up. Monkeys. Monkeys everywhere. Monkeys stealing your water. Monkeys trying to jump on your head. Monkeys fighting. Monkeys walking away with your lunch. Monkeys just chilling. Monkeys having morning sex… How great! You adore monkeys! Out of pure love you collect your belongings and rush away, feeling threatened and deeply disturbed.
A couple of hours spent at the monastery recharged your batteries enough to head back down. The sun is high above by now, and you are going for an amazing tan, because you definitely did not forget to bring the sun screen. As you descend, grossly sweaty, you pass many people. People walking up. Children. Adults. Old people. Mostly old people. Many of them wearing rubber slippers and traditional longyi. Under the full sun. You feel ill. And also ashamed. A spoiled brat, you say, and descend quietly and humbly, admiring the strength and determination of the Karen people.