Saturday, February 6, 2016

Myanmar - Alcohol from palm trees

The country of smiles kept throwing surprises at us. Barely underway, heading south this time, we stopped at an unusual family business. They were making alcohol from palm trees...! Officially it's called Palm Wine or Toddy wine, although I don't see many similarities between wine making and Toddy to be honest. It looked more like a variation of moonshine to me... Then again what do we know? We don't drink alcohol after all...

There are two types, Toddy and Toddy Wine. The Toddy is basically a distilling process while the Toddy Wine is a little bit more complicated than that. Both start by climbing to the top of the palm tree to extract the palm juice, which is done by making a small incision at the top of the tree and then hanging a pot under it to collect the juice. Juice collected in the afternoon makes the stronger Toddy. The juice more or less ferments by itself in the pots but to make Toddy Wine, the juice is boiled and then dried. The little clumps you see in the photos are the result. They can be eaten as snacks, mixed with coconut flakes or seeds, or fermented with water and rice. The sweet boiled and dried palm juice activates the yeast in the rice and starts the fermenting process. Two days later the vats are emptied into clay pots which are heated on charcoal fires to start the distilling process.

We also had a look at an unusual temple. According to the signs it would take 777 steps up to get there... in bike gear! According to Mike its 914 steps, and he counted both going up and down to make sure :-) To be honest the temple at the top wasn't all that impressive to us... but... for a Buddhist this might be a completely different thing. It didn't matter as the playful monkeys made up for it big time! They were everywhere! One of them was displaying some serious Alpha male behaviour and didn't want to move, gave me a growl too... so I gave him a big growl back... which he didn't like one bit! Monkey went straight into attack mode :-) He displayed some serious killer monkey behaviour :-) No worries nothing happened but he wasn't about to loose face, that's for sure! He didn't back down, I didn't back down but neither of us was willing to test to destruction who was the strongest (I guess I would have lost as these things are damn fast!) One of the people working at the temple gave the monkey a light tap on the back with a palm leave, which made him dash off. Lesson learned: do not upset a monkey!

Something we've noticed in Myanmar is that women work very hard there! Look at the pictures of the road works we found. They carry all the stones crushed by the stone crushing machine in baskets full by hand! They sort the stones, carry them to the relevant pile and do so day in day out. They must be strong and yet look like women (rather than body builders). We've seen it many times and just can't get over it. We've also seen them carrying bricks on their heads...! There isn't much they don't do.

New JT Chains and sprockets, send up to us via the
guide. Great service!
Arriving at one of our overnight stays, far ahead of the cars and guides once more, we assumed we were at the wrong hotel... surely we had not been booked in at the luxurious resort we were entering... where we would each have our own bungalow at the lake... surely not? I went to the reception and found we were indeed booked in here...! Unfortunately only for one night though :-) We could have stayed a week in a place like this! As we arrived early it was now time to replace the chain and sprockets on the Triumph. After 35,000 km of very hard (read dust, gravel, dirt, sand... and lots of it) it was time to replace them. They had moved me from The Netherlands via southern Europe, eastern Europe, Turkey, Georgia, Russia and the harsh deserts of Kazakhstan to the gravel heaven called Kyrgyzstan. China and Pakistan followed. Then incredible India... where we found more gravel, sand and mud in the north. Now that we were in Myanmar it as time for renewal as I had them sent up to the the guides in Yangon, who personally made sure it would reach me in time by sending one of their employees on a bus to the hotel we would be that evening. Superb service! I could have just replaced the front sprocket and got around 40,000 out of the full set but decided against it.

Breaking the chain, a rivet type JT Sprockets chain, proved to be the problem. Finding someone with an angle grinder to grind away the pins was harder than expected. The people from the hotel were friendly enough but despite my best efforts in explaining what I needed, including a drawing, he kept bringing me to bike shops. Bike shops which had never seen a 525 chain before and thus don't have the tools to remove one. When I finally persuaded the guy to bring me back to the hotel, so that I could pick up my bike and ride it to the nearest steel place, we had lost over an hour. After that the chain and sprocket replacement was a 10 minute job. We ended the day with a visit to the night markets, which are all about food, food and more food. Later that night we enjoyed the peace and quiet of our resort along the lake.