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Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

Chin Village Visit - Mrauk U

For all of my Burma posts click here.

As an anthropologist I've very wary or certain kinds of "cultural tourism" which are ultimately about treating local people like zoo animals, just another commodity to be consumed on your exotic holiday. I can't bear this kind of thing and I hadn't planned to visit the Chin villages outside Mrauk U. After two days with Khai, our guide, I'd changed my mind. We talked over our concerns but he highly recommended that we make the journey. He assured us that we'd have an opportunity to visit and make a donation at a local school if that was something that we would be interested in. 
The villages are a couple of hours by boat from Mrauk U and  first you have to drive about a hour to the staging area - so it's quite a day out! Once again it was a pleasure to be out on the water. There no dust, traffic noise or chaos on the river and it was so peaceful and beautiful.
 The houses were all neatly kept and built on stilts, presumably because the river floods. I love the canoe beneath this house below.
We stopped at two villages, including one where we visited a small one room school house, above. After walking through the village we continued up to a lovely small temple overlooking the river. From here we got back in the boat and headed to a second village where the women sell local textiles. It's all very well organized and it's the older women (many with their traditional face tattoos) who facilitate the sales. Yes, this is cultural tourism but the textile sales put money directly into the women's hands and from what they said they have no more than 40 tourists a week at the very busiest time of the year. I was pleased to see a tourism model that supports small local industries like hand weaving which is an integrated part of their local tradition.
The scenery was spectacular, as you can see from the pictures. On the way back we stopped at a much larger town to have a look around and to visit another local school. Though he hadn't visited before, the guide had heard about a monk doing charitable work here. It was a fascinating visit and the head monk was a charming man, clearly dedicated to his work. Education is woefully underfunded and most have to pay to go to school, putting it beyond reach for many Burmese.

I can't resist including more pictures because the scenery, the people and the experience was so memorable. Khai gave us great advice in encouraging us to go. We appreciated that he understood our concerns and brought us out for such a meaningful day. Highly recommended if you can do this the right way.