About 33,000ft up I was listening to my favourite songs and eating Chinese plane food hoping the next 25 days would go well and not break my budget as much as I fear it will do. Through a layer of clouds a rural landscape appeared below as we ever so gradually descended into Kunming, Yunnan Province. Getting an impression of things to come the brand new airport was of such an immense scale I could not quite believe my eyes and upon speaking to an American family that live in the city found out it is the third biggest in the entire country!
We appeared to be the only occupants as I spoke with businessman Matt, his wife and two daughters going along the ghost hallways to a multi lane immigration area and hangar like room containing 15 of the biggest baggage carousels I have ever seen- only two being used! Into the architectural marvel of the arrival area (bigger than T5) I knew life would not be easy here from the moment I saw the metro was shut and so went into the cool night air, avoided dodgy non metered taxi drivers and paid 25 Yuen for an Airport Shuttle having no clue as to where the drop off points were as was unusually underprepared- no map, no guide book and the only photo of the directions was on my small camera which had ran out of battery- WITHOUT A PADDLE was an understatement!
What I naively presumed would be a large town was actually a city with a population of 7 million people and so just stared at all the neon skyscrapers, western chains such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour and all the other signs this was a very modern metropolis. I stayed on till the last stop by two fancy hotels and went into a Samsung store where a guy with limited English skills looked up my hostel online and very helpfully called them so he could tell me what direction and bus to take- good first impressions of the Chinese. With no change the driver let me on for free and so I stood eagle eyeing every available street sign and stop that had English characters until Jinbi Road was reached. Out on the street I had a feeling I was going in the right direction (50/50) and when came to a pedestrianised area in the centre saw the ‘Hump Hostel’ at the other end. I entered the YHA at 9.30pm and was very pleased with the big bed and set up of my 10 bed dorm which was in near perfect temperature (window open so not fan or a/c assisted). After locking myself out when went for a deserved shower I stored my valuables and used the free draught beer voucher at the bar finishing it in no time as straight away got speaking to a number of Americans from the Peace Corps- all spread out in towns many hours from here in different provinces and on a few days holiday to sample western culture- love the irony as I feel the opposite! Texan McKinley shared her spicy mint fries then I ate a bacon cheese sandwich (very local) as moved up to the 15 Yuen Tsing Tao’s (ran out of draught) and got told many useful words and tips that no doubt would forget within minutes. I beat a Swedish guy twice at pool (one from being awesome and the next by the two greatest words- De Fault) and stayed in the warm surroundings of the bar talking away to the really friendly yanks and having their drunken Vietnamese born friend Steve introduce me to alcoholic 12% plum juice. Most only arrived in the early hours of last night so one by one slipped away leaving me and McKinley to chat away till the bar shut. We made sure Steve made it to his room then I failed in finding a VPN or proxy so can use Facebook on my laptop (not the end of the world) and fell asleep about 1am.
I slept well but still felt really tired by morning as washed my face, filled my backpack with essentials and ordered breakfast. I sat with McKinley and Melissa on the chilly rooftop overlooking the square and main road forever waiting for my food to arrive but was handed a fabulous slice of toast with Philadelphia smothered on top in the meantime. My egg, tomato, pepper, vegetable mix thing (looked like an omelette that had fallen apart) with toast was just about enough as I went over the bus stop and waited for the 107 to take me via the big Railway Station to Yong Ping La – phase 1 of my Stone Forest Day.
On the other road to the right I stood at the no.60 stop a while (stared at and spoken to by funny locals) until a young security guard took me over to where I should be as it had unknowingly moved. When it took a good 45 minutes to reach the Eastern Bus Station on the way to the airport I knew today was going to be significantly longer than hoped but luckily I met a Danish girl from my room and so was now not alone with the added bonus she could ask speak some Chinese meaning purchasing tickets for the next bus and finding the right door was made slightly easier. Now already near 12 myself and Sarah made sure we were at the front of the 25 Yuen bus that would take well over an hour to reach our destination as the driver didn’t dare exceed 60kmh. She is only 19 but has been living in Beijing teaching at a military school since August so learnt a lot about things to do there and how the whole system works; not being able to get many words in my eyes were shutting and I accidentally drifted off. It was interesting going up and down hills, over ‘Foggy sections’, through tunnels and past a lake seeing bad driving and many confusing signs. Nearly 4 hours since leaving The Hump we were at the famous Stone Forest so paid 200 Yuen for entrance/shuttle and were amongst many tour groups/minority performers as was soon being transported to the actual entrance 2km away- what a con!
Being a local holiday meant that no matter how natural and interesting the grey stone formations were all the tourists just made it feel like Disneyland not being real at all; Sarah bought a white hat making her hit her head a few times.
We vaguely followed confusing maps going along a number of narrow paths (some congested) and stairs being amused at the unsubtle security cameras, tiny tables and chaos on the viewpoint Pagoda with everyone pushing you about to take a crappy photo. 100% regretting coming here at that point it was nice to be surrounded by towers off the main route all on our own so could appreciate it and enjoy the area much more.
Giving up on things such as the ‘immortal Turtle’ we found Lotus Pond to be a man made affair complete with pipes and uncovered lights. Even though we almost avoided it, the Minor Stone Forest’ trumped everything previous as in a very picturesque grass and tree setting the stones appeared to grow out of the land- much better than the monotony of everything looking similar.
In total we were at the UNESCO World Heritage Site (think they practically give these away nowadays- almost doesn’t mean anything anymore) less than 2 hours when ate a full roasted duck complete with head and limbs and egg fried rice at the restaurant as thought our bus ticket had 5.40 written on it; getting much better at chopsticks and tried all the pieces of my first full on Chinese meal in decades. All relaxed and fully accepted that happy hour would have ended by time we got back it turned out the number was not a time at all but a number plate.
Thinking we missed our bus, by sheer coincidence ours was the next one (in other words if knew that originally would of sat waiting an hour instead of going for a meal!) and much like on the way here I fell asleep for quite a while only to see that not much progress had been made due to an accident a few kilometres away. It wasn’t to be until 8pm when at the station and in a metered cab (an old guy tried ‘guiding’ us and then asked for pens or coins from our home countries) for the half hour trip in comfort meaning 80% of the day was just getting there and back with only 20% at the attraction itself- welcome to China Antony! I will try my best not to go through that again by not visiting things that are well out of the way- ridiculously long day. I managed to be in the bar for a bottle of beer feeling refreshed within 15 minutes then me and Sarah communicated with a Chinese student who wanted to improve her English so sat with her and another guy a while with me always eyeing up the ping pong and the door for my friends so could have a lively night. Used to most things going my way at the moment McKinley, Melissa, Alex, Jeremy, Steve, Amanda and co did come back and so went on the strong fruit drink and began having fun as well as Phoenix Jason persuading me to not visit Shangri-La making my time in Yunnan much less rushed and less time on buses- yay. When the cold got too much we hung by the bar till they closed (never tells you when so always unexpected and therefore cannot prepare by buying a few at once) then I drank a little bit too much local 52% Baijiu out a small round glass bottle by the shop downstairs using Sprite as a chaser; nigh on polished it off on my own in 15 minutes as Scuba Steve’s treat (legend). Practically behind us was an open bar so we went into and I sat chatting to Alex (from Long Beach CA and only 4’11) being told I am ‘an interesting guy’. Some Chinese men got rather angry at something Steve said and all of a sudden big fight very nearly broke out with me inevitably going to join in (tall is intimidating.lol) but no punches were thrown and it didn’t materialise although was a good time to leave. On the roof I spoke to McKinley (again the last two standing) til noticed it was 5.10am and so went to my room not having any water as nothing open.
I forced myself not to carry on sleeping so could actually make it to Dali at a normal time but was still kind of drunk as knocked a few things over when reached the outside tables where Sarah and a few others were. I saw how good Jason was at reading Chinese symbols and his ability to speak the language fluently and in the right tones (only been here 18 months- how the hell? It would take me till the end of my days I reckon), gave out my email, ate a very different sweet and sour chicken to what was so used to at Tanin Market in Chiang Mai, went to the cake shop and at about 1pm knew should get going; will party with Sarah in Beijing in a couple of weeks but won’t see the others again I expect.
In a more sensible Berghaus t-shirt, as I felt the odd drop of rain, I ended up walking up the Pedestrianised street past the Brilliant Mall and then quite a ways along Nanning Road to the closest no.82 bus stop as construction work on the new subway system meant the first couple were not available. Literally the moment I approached the stop and thought to myself ‘I want it to be here now’ it glided past me and so sat awkwardly for the half hour to the West Bus Station which is clearly much less touristy and no signs saying where I should go. A random guy picked me out the ticket line and took me to the right buses but as didn't have a ticket he was just wasting my time and so went back to spend 138 Yuen and sit on board the 14.50 to Dali. I didn’t know the seats were numbered so got moved twice before the engine was turned on and we were on our way to what I hope will be a great backpacker hangout- going to stay a few nights. Although my eyes felt so tired I knew I had to type out the goings on from the past three days so did that till 6pm then managed to edit a few photos before the laptop died just as we reached Xiaguan (New Dali) an hour later. At the bus station absolutely nothing was in English and I even went as far as confirming with the driver we were in the right place. Out on the street I was close to losing hope of being able to go anywhere without paying a fortune for a taxi but once communicated with a guy on a form of tuk tuk what the train station was through a picture on his phone (‘t-ron’) I was on my way. Charging 15 Yuen he took me along the very bumpy highways to the modern station as I pretended to go up the stairs so he wouldn’t try and take me to the old town. Again clueless I saw some buses so stood by them presuming none would be going anytime soon until a number of Chinese all of a sudden got on a number 8 so did the same and within a few minutes we were moving along the south western edge of the lake- things are getting better. I stayed onboard till the very end by the beautifully lit West Gate and did exactly what my directions told me so crossed the highway and walked about 450 metres and up a side way to the big Jade Emu and Roo complex; was an ok 8.15pm.
In contrast to Kunming there was no deposit and I pay when I leave so just got taken up to my large 4 bed dorm, changed and sat at the bar with my Kindle using the VPN Wi-Fi meaning Facebook worked- awesome. Once eaten some fried rice and had a cheap but weak Tsing Tao I decided to go to my room and relaxed and with the noise at the bar lessening I added photos to travellerspoint and edited the rest of my photos and was asleep just as the French couple who were in the beds below came in and rudely talked not unloudly; bloody frogs...they don’t ever get better.
I woke up sniffling and feeling fresh as for some reason the French had already vacated and even left the door wide open; not sure if was snoring or what but they were only around for 12 hours total thank god. I went down for an English style breakfast (baked beans, bacon, toasted roll and eggs), got some Dali tips from an English Chinese couple from Shanghai then finished off my Thai diary before leaving at 11am to go and explore the ‘ancient walled city’. I began at an unimpressive gate and went on and along a remaining part of the Old Wall to the South Gate where many Chinese tourists were; good temperature and in a jumper with boardies.
I visited the supermarket to inspect the prices I should be paying for things and was surprised how cheap the Yunnan wine was (20 Yuen- £2) as well as the water being half what the hostel charge plus big packets of biscuits for only 5 so bought them and a solitary but huge banana. I walked through the gate onto Fu Xing Lu seeing many souvenir and jewellery shops and stalls selling things on a stick so bought a crispy one now knowing it had sauce on it so dripped that all over my hands and map- very clever.
Past the WuHua Building I continued onto the popular Ren Min Lu to see the infamous bars that I keep hearing about and overpriced restaurants selling primarily Western food. Instead I spent only 4 on a thick doughy pancake thing that tasted very good and was of a good size; think i’ve found my ‘dish’ here.
I went on a part of ‘Foreigner Street’ then to the lifeless park which had more concrete and grey than green vegetation. By now near the North Gate I saw a ceremony as part of the ‘Tomb cleaning Festival’ then did something I always love to do in a new country- visit a local market.
I kept my finger on the trigger as zig zagged along the rows past meat then vegetables and onto live chickens and finally fish that were splashing about in the shallowest of water (Yes I did get wet) alongside their very dead friends and bowls of what I am guessing is the ‘leftovers’. I saw a minority Bai lady purchasing what I am guessing is a form of Tofu with chilli on top so sampled it and was given a block for the equivalent of 20p; went well with the 30p bag of red grapes I had almost finished.
I went all the way along Bo Al Lu, stopping at Wu Temple, to buy that bottle of wine I had my eye on then went towards the lone pagoda but there was a barrier saying that construction work was going on and it was closed.
Despite a women staring from afar I shouted that I was going to go over for a photo without going close to the tall, old structure itself. Thinking I was fine I waved and went towards the barrier when her big extremely aggressive dog barked nearby and all of a sudden chased me making me run as fast as my flip flops could take me fearing for my life. Her shouting and the fact I was well out his ‘domain’ halted him but my god was that a close call; worth the photo though as no damage done except for my pride. A bit flustered I went the five minutes to Jade Emu, ate some of the Athens biscuits in my lovely empty room and went through photos by the bar.
I struck up a conversation with Merseysider Tom who is a proper lad and has been in and out of China for about 3 years and Dali for 5 months only working 2 days a week earning £180 and being paid in alcohol at Bad Monkey’s Bar. I think he spends all his free time drinking and recovering from drinking (fair enough, he is only 20) so he bought me a bottle of Crown Lager (well the owners are Aussie) as we kept talking then played some pool on the slanted table. Now typing this I lost so had to wait for another go when played Darren who I think has been here a while also and clearly played umpteenth times on this exact table as was doubling it every go; I got us to a decider and lost on the black so can hold my head up high. I spent a fair while writing in my new diary with a pen one of the Peace Corps crew gave me then changed into warm clothes just as a group of three Frenchies ruined my own room charm. I arrived at Bad Monkey about half an hour into the Liverpool vs West Ham game and had Tom (who was working) hand me a beer then saw German Felix who happened to see at the West Bus Station the day before. We talked about China and what each of us are up to in general then an Aussie from Perth started speaking to me as he thought I was a fellow countrymen- think my accent is getting stronger! As will be in the city soon we went over all the awesome things that make it so much better than elsewhere with City Beach being both of our favourites. With the game being dire and ending goalless we listened to the talented Canadian band who were on stage then watched some keen Chinese girls sexy dance with guys they picked out the crowd; everyone shouting ‘Gaunbi’ which translates into ‘take your top off’. My cold was getting progressively worse and because was speaking so loudly my throat was struggling to cope and was on the verge of leaving when Felix insisted on buying a couple more. When the party died down about 1am we left, as going the same way, and was not long fast asleep.
A bit of a mess in the morning I was glad the girl in the room was in a similar state as lay there for a while trying to feel better as sent some necessary emails, figured out a new Yunnan plan and wrote up to date. I finished the biscuits and eventually grew restless so went to ask the staff some questions on where things are and what to do then in just a t-shirt (not best idea) had a thick pancake on Ren La, took out 2800 Yuen from the International ATM, bought paracetamol (had Chinese letters written in advance to make it easy) and went to the Train Booking Office where the lady spoke enough English for her to understand exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately there were only ‘hard seats’ available for the overnight trip (fantastic) but at least it saved me a few quid.
At Jade Emu I hung about the bar on my laptop looking up various things and finding out that every single one my photos on my website (www.photoboxgallery.com/ascottphotography) were never set to public despite being on there for 6 months- was so annoyed at myself for not having noticed sooner. I went about picking my favourites from the second leg of the trip (India onwards) and editing them further so were good enough to be available ‘for sale’ despite not making a penny so far probably because of the muck up. At about 9pm I went to Bad Monkey and although in quite a good mood was just not feeling sociable so sat by the bar for two bottles of Dali and left; little bit pointless but at least got me out and about. I went online for a while and accidentally fell asleep for 4 hours waiting for Amy to get home from work in London. At 5.30am I took my kindle downstairs away from the rooms and skyped her for nearly an hour, finding out how badly damaged Easyjet made her bag and jewellery but that she found a nice, cheap £475 a month house share which was a simple bus ride to her new work- happy everything worked out as was a little concerned.
Feeling well enough to do something strenuous I had a Yunnan Coffee and porridge and was all set to go and rent a bicycle in the old town but the girl at reception very kindly let me use hers so once made the seat lower was good to go. I wheeled it most of the way to the pedestrianised area thinking this was the polite and probably legal way to go but when saw motorbikes disregarding things I went down to the East Gate and soon found the road going towards the port of Caicun finding my ‘Giant’ to be very smooth and lovely to ride. I located the scenic road that ran along the west of Er Hai Lake and steadily past by the acres of farmland (mainly older people working- noticeably few of the younger generation) and through the many same same villages finding there to be few cars to worry about so for the most part went no handed having a very relaxing time breathing in good clean air.
At Pan Xi I accidentally walked in the ladies public toilet so made a swift exit further into the fishing town to a small temple by a basketball court. A few minutes further along I stopped at Xiang Yang Xi, sat on a concrete wall and dangled my legs over the water eating my baked snacks watching the empty, near lifeless lake; no boat traffic to speak of (very strange).
Here I opted to turn around and soon went along a track to the Dali-Lijiang highway for a quick way back but this did my weak lungs no favours with all the trucks and coaches going by beeping their horns unnecessarily. Getting a little tired and the wind blowing in my face I was glad to see the Three Pagodas getting closer and closer so turned off onto the road that ran right to the them completely in symmetry and took photos using my zoom lens so didn’t have to waste over 100 Yuen just so I could be closer as no one is allowed inside due to safety fears.
I booked my 558 Yuen bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai (first day I can), used my last remaining notes to buy a Snicker’s Bar and a 30% juice drink and chose not to go to the university for a panorama of the area. I spoke to Swiss Dominic at Jade Emu, realised how burnt my shoulders were (ultimate farmer tan), fell asleep for about an hour and along with English Nolly who just arrived the three of us ventured to Bad Monkey for dinner. We sat outside in comfortable temperatures having an Amber draught beer (is a micro brewery) and a pricy Smokehouse Burger & chips (£7 for both- splashing out) hearing how bad Lijiang is from Dominic and a funny Irish couple he knew making me feel another night here might be justified then sunk some bottles before trying to see if anywhere else was open. It appears that Tuesday’s are not a happening night so ended up where we started till 1am when I wanted to go.
As has been the case since the food poisoning a few months ago there always seems to be something wrong with me and even though my cold had almost gone (just a cough remained) a toothache had taken its place with a vengeance leaving me in quite alot of pain. For hours I had near zero motivation or willingness to even get off from my top bunk so rested, felt sorry for myself, slightly changed some plans and went about uploading photos to Photobox for the first time in about 6 months. I did some writing and once a second strong paracetamol took effect I was able to go outside for a pancake and to hang around the aisles of the supermarket wondering what would be good to purchase; ended up with a bag of local crisps, biscuits, one banana, two big waters and a Gatorade!
I wrapped up warm, was totally unproductive doing pointless tasks, skyped Mum in the lounge area, started taking my Co-Amoxiclav antibiotics (have them on me just for this reason) and ate a warm pumpkin porridge by the bar before a black kitten tried resting right on my keyboard. I tilted if off before it destroyed anything, skyped Nick about the possibility of my photos making some money over in the States and tried sleeping about midnight unable to lay my head in its usual position as where the pain was.
I was restless throughout the night but come morning and probably something to do with taking two paracetamol instead of one I was unusually warm and literally buzzing when Nolly said she had booked us onto an 11am bus to Lijiang. Unable to continue hibernating I packed in double quick time, heard loud thunder above, fitted in a shower and waited with her for a guy to take us in his car to the south of town where a cramped 19 seater minibus came to get us. We were totally full by the time we left Dali meaning I had barely enough room to breathe on the back row as we chatted a while going up into the mountains (has a French background). I stretched my legs at the 1 Yuen toilet stop then my right butt cheek went numb so was glad to see the airport meaning only another 22km to go. In town we worked out correctly which side of the road to take the bus from and stepped on the number 8 all the way to the main entrance to Lijiang’s ‘Ancient Town’ despite two locals trying to get us to change buses. Luckily the 80 Yuen entrance fee isn’t exactly enforced well (would of not stayed if had to pay that!) as we made our way towards Mama Naxi’s Guesthouse through the streets all lined with the same shops, same style of building, fast food chains, nothing remotely old and hundreds of smiling, camera wielding Chinese; was very glad am not spending any time here as is so artificial and overpriced to the max. Remarkably we didn’t get lost and so when at our place checked in, signed up for dinner and also paid for the bus to the gorge in the morning before a well dressed old man showed us to the dorm room in the next building through a pleasant courtyard. Not wanting to explore anymore than we already had we lay down on our beds, spoke with American Molly (kind of confusing) and had the most amazing ‘family meal’ at 6.30pm. Each given a bowl of rice and a small mug of tea various dishes were placed on the table including eggplant, grilled fish, minced pork, chicken , vegetables, fried potatoes and crispy egg snacks so could eat however much we wanted with extras always available. Using chopsticks I ate a lot and was definitely the best meal in the country so far by a country mile. It was a very sociable experience and so delicious that was pretty full by the end- was last of course. I spoke to Fanny on the internet (no Facebook however and not expecting it again) then chilled with the girls a while finally drinking the wine I bought days ago as we looked up movie trailers on youtube.com and got told off by one of the many Israelis in another room for being too loud (so many here). Although the tablets had long worn off I hadn’t taken any more and was still feeling good so had high hopes for a good hike with my new friends.
Up at 7.30am on what was my 1000th day I finalised what was taking with me, put big bag into storage and ordered two things for breakfast thinking they would be on the small side- how wrong was I. The banana pancake must of had half a bunch of the fruit on top and then my porridge was enormous and oh so hot meaning ran out of time to finish it as we needed to get going; only hostel you should stay at here...food and hospitality are exceptional! We walked to one dinky toy van and was soon transferred into another of equal proportions but this time with me getting that fold down bitch seat by the door with a back that didn’t even reach my shoulder blades- oh the joys of being big in Asia. Now with Danish Lena (just arrived but chose to change plans and go hiking with us) the four of us eagerly anticipated Tiger Leaping Gorge having heard so much about it. Going on slow, congested roads weaving around the pillars of the as yet to be completed highway (when done the area will change for the worse!) I listened to music until we were made to change buses again for a short journey to the ticket office at Qiatou where it is 65 Yuen to enter although no one ever checked it.
We bought snacks and water at a very dusty shop then 400 yards along a tarmac road past a school there was the turning onto the start of the High Trail; so far not what expected. Inevitably I was leading the way the majority of the time as the views became better looking down over a green river valley, flood plains and hills although electrical cables were a constant nuisance. As we increased in altitude and moved further into the gorge you could see just how tall some of the mountains were as their icy peaks showed themselves in the cloud above.
Now on a narrow path I saw a lady going towards a shack by a good viewpoint and she tried charging 3 Yuen for us to be there taking photos so I obviously flat out refused even though the cheeky hag grabbed my arm. Not too far along we reached Naxi Family GH for some watery soup filled with uncooked potatoes and pumpkin (was awful) but were given fresh strawberries from one of the men with mules who hoped our bags or ourselves would eventually cave in and pay money to use his ‘convenient’ service.
Unfit Lena did get on one as did one half of an older German couple so that the next steep hill and infamous 28 bends could be completed. Going well ahead now the sun was out making things rather warm and initially had no idea I was on the toughest part of the trek until figured it out from all the steep bends and confirming with another hiker. Finding things not overly tough but still hard work I was relieved to be at the top where a Polish couple were and pointed me to a ‘free view’ where the clouds and wind made things decidedly cooler indeed.
The girl took a great shot of me at the edge overlooking the Yangtze and the steepest/highest section of the world’s deepest gorge then sat sheltered with them, Molly, Nolly and Lena. We cracked on to Tea Horse GH and a further 70 minutes later were nearing the end of the first day when skimming the edge of cliffs going quickly just to finish.
At 6.20pm we made it to Halfway House (cars about so not quite that remote and nothing like Nepal in that respect) so once in the dorm showered while it was still light under really hot water and changed into clean, unsweaty clothes and sandals that didn’t fit (provided under each bed). For dinner I had strong Naxi garlic bread (whole pieces atop) and a Chinese equivalent of the rice with chilli and pork I had in Chiang Mai as well as a beer to commemorate my anniversary and a good day completed. Once heard a noisy group of Chinese above in the rain jumping up and down I turned in about 10.15pm only to see neither myself of Nolly had blankets anymore so caused a bit of a hoo ha trying to use charades when telling the staff what the matter was only to be told they were in the locker we were given a key for- the other two speak Chinese but had their own room so was rather embarrassing. I used my headlight to do some things then with eyes shutting slept soundly.
Awake early before 8am Nolly was already outside looking at the view reading her book so put yesterday’s things on and had rice porridge/plain naxi bread to start the day although my 5 Yuen lemon tea was so bland I left it after two sips. Besides taking the wrong exit and going the wrong way for the first ten minutes we made good progress to the waterfall that flows over the path and the slippery but stable downhill for roughly an hour to Tina’s GH and the official end of the trek at 10.10am.
I booked the afternoon bus, waited for the girls and when they caught their breath went along the main road to the second way down to Middle Tiger Leaping Stone going by Dominic’s recommendation (3 in total). We paid 10 Yuen to a man whose family keeps this section maintained (he used our cameras so worth it) and went forth along a narrow and precarious way going over wooden planks, under overhangs and using unstable barriers built into the rock making it an adventure in itself.
There was an altercation when another women from the other family demanded money from us for what we presumed was either for photos or the same thing we just paid for so attempted to go past only for her to throw rocks and wave a stick at shocked Lena upsetting her quite a bit causing much shouting in Chinese; again a huge misunderstanding as she in fact wanted 10 more for the other way up via the ladder- bit OTT and insane though. Away from her we went to the platform mere feet away from the most powerful torrent of water I have ever witnessed. The Yangtze, China’s biggest river, was pouring over rocks with such force that it would be impossible for the best rafters in the world to get out the hellish mass of water alive- so incredible to watch Mother Nature in all its magnificent, terrifying glory that we all sat staring along time in complete awe with 5000 metre high mountains towering over us.
After photos we knew it was time for the steep uphill and when at the foot of the ladder we were all a little worried due to a lack of anything to do with safety. I went first and tried not to look down until nearly missed a step then with one hand on the final bar did a long arm photo of myself with the SLR with Nolly thinking I had frozen with fear as right behind; the contraption shouldn’t even exist.
About twenty minutes hard slog up and the worst was over with just a few more metres to the road and beyond that Tina’s which reached bang on 2pm- no more hiking till Mt Kinabalu in June. We ate some ok lunch and hung about until the buses were ready to depart with Nolly going north to Shangri-La and us going the opposite direction.
I edited the photos from the day but all the time our combined worry was missing the family dinner at Mama Naxi’s. Luckily we stopped at the north entrance to old town Lijiang which was closest to our place and so made it by the skin of our teeth as practically fell through the front door. Noticeably quieter there was one full table then us so had our own mini feast (lots of fried eggplant), moved into our own dorm room, washed under hot water and went for a brief wonder past all the fancy lit up places to a cheap supermarket for a 15 Yuen bottle of sweet red wine each to consume in the room whilst discussing travel and relationships becoming a little light headed by time saw it was approaching 1am and all the alcohol was gone- well except for American Molly who is considerably slower than us Europeans.