It’s not really called Chilli Town. But it is the name we bestow on it as soon as we see it. We are only an hour or so into the first morning of our hike from near Kalaw, through the hills and rolling farmland of Shan State, to Inle Lake. Freezing overnight, it’s now warm and sunny under a clear blue sky. And on the ground, in every direction, around every house, are huge sheets of plastic covered with freshly harvested red chillies, drying out under the sun. The kids are playing between them, the women are working around them, and we are enchanted.
So we hang around for a while and get to know the village a bit more. We compliment the women on their bright and practical clothing – fisherman pants, colourful scarfs and tops. Before you know it, we are literally buying the clothes off their backs. Not surprisingly, the women of the village are far smarter negotiators than us, but we are happy customers.
Then we spot the local “Mr Whippy” – his old wreck of a bike carries an icebox inside a battered tin box, from which he sells homemade ice blocks. It’s also hung with old empty sacks that previously carried more toxic sounding materials, hopefully there has been no cross-contamination. The village kids are all kinds of excited, with their ice cream treats and a group of odd visitors to play with as well.
Eventually it’s our time to go as well, with many more miles to walk, with a few extra chillies in our pockets, and a definite spring in our step.