I have no photos from Inle lake. Thirty seconds into the boat ride, my camera died. I gaped at it in horror as the screen slowly turned black. There we were, at what is supposedly one of the most beautiful places in all of Myanmar, and my only method to record it was now a useless piece of metal and plastic in my hand.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But I soon realized that the words that would have been captured in the tiny rectangular screen of my camera were not enough to let you experience Inle the way I did.
I want to tell you how it felt. How the water slipped through my fingers like silk ribbons. The scalding sun making my moist skin stick to my plastic cushion. The rumble of the motor vibrating through my body as I clung onto the sides of the boat with sweat slicked palms, stomach lurching with the hungry roll of the waves.
I want to tell you how it tasted. How the cool air kissed my lips as my eyes watered from the whipping wind. The smoke from the nearby bonfires tickling my throat every exhilarated breath I took. My mouth watering while the fisherman hauled in their daily catch, as I remembered the delicious catfish curry I had eaten the night before.
I want to tell you how it smelled. How the delicate scent of lotus flowers floating across the water mixed with the tang of gasoline from the motor, making my nose sting in the sweetest way. The nearby market’s particular perfume–dried fish, sizzling meat, and orange peels–and the billowing clouds of cheroot smoke wafting lazily on the breeze. The faint smell of rain in the air, promising afternoon showers.
I want to tell you how it sounded. How the birds squawked overhead, harassing the fisherman in hopes of some scraps. The distant calls of the vendors selling their fried samosas and sweet iced tea to locals and tourists alike. The skipper of our boat humming a Burmese pop song, complete with a full finger drum solo as he steers. The slapping of waves against the boat, like an audience clapping to the beat of his private concert.
And I want to tell you how it looked. How the sky and the water mirrored each other, one giant mosaic of aquamarine and gold. Water droplets flying up in in arches, sparkling rainbow as they catch the light. The tall green mountains standing stoically around the water, as if hoarding a secret treasure. The clouds drooping over the peaks like fluffy hats of yellow, orange, and pink. And in the middle of all of this, us. Five kids in neon orange life vests, laughing and whooping in delight as our boat cuts through the water as easily as scissors through paper.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But could a picture tell you this?