Where Have We Been?

We've done alot of bus-hopping lately. After Litang, we left the Sichuan-Tibet highway and headed south to Yunnan province. This province houses most of China's minority groups and shares a border with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. It's a prime tourist destination for backpackers and more and more Chinese. Before we got to Yunnan we had to get over the mountains of Sichuan.

Daocheng :
We decided boldly to leave the "Lonely Planet route" and choose a destination that was not mentioned there. We picked a small city called Daocheng. The empty, dirty streets and the freezing weather made us realise quickly why it wasn't mentioned in the guide. We stayed two nights to take advantage of our private bathroom with hot shower. The town was completely empty, because tourist season is really over due to the cold weather. We roamed the empty streets and spent the day with a local boy in an internet cafe. Oh yeah, the power frequently went off.

From Daocheng we caught a 12 hour bus to Shangri-La, we left early in the morning with no trace of sunlight, after, of course, the bus had been jacked with all the passengers aboard so that the brakes could be inspected 3 minutes before departure. The road to Shangri-La was terrible and we narrowly missed speeding oncoming trucks on a few occasions. Our bus driver was the quiet type and didn't honk his horn at a single blind corner, and there were many many blind corners. We arrived safely, and vowed never to take a bus through the mountains again. (Note: The mandatory insurance on this busride was about 10 times more expensive than other ones we'd taken, hahaha, didn't notice that until after arrival)
Shangri-La was not quite as ugly as Daocheng, but a close runner-up. Around a small Tibetan old town, has sprung a neon-lighted, kareoke singing, tacky souvenir selling paradise. The old town still had some life to it, and we saw the most tourists we had seen in weeks. The surrounding scenery definetely didn't live up to our expectations and the town is clearly a marketing ploy that has succeeded surprisingly well.

Tiger Leaping Gorge:
Another trek? Yann convinced me that we had to stop, since it was rated as a top site in Yunnan province. We arrived in the late afternoon and stayed at a guest house at the beginning of the trail through the gorge. The guesthouse came highly recommended, but we recieved a less than warm reception from the owner. When we left the next morning, she wouldn't tell us what time the bus left on our return, so that we would have to stay another night at her guesthouse. The trek was no harder than Emei Shan, our longest day was only 6 hours of hiking. We ate and slept in villages along the way, the food was nice and the beds were cheap. On the second day of trekking Yann started to experience some vertigo and kept calling me crazy if I approached the edge of the path within about 4 feet. He mainly clung to the side of the rocks and told me to "keep my eyes on the path".
On the last night in the gorge, I told Yann I was determined to make it back to the start to catch our bus, so that we didn't have to stay another night at the first guest house. We found out that the last bus left at 11:30 and we had a 25km hike along the highway through the gorge. We got up at 5:00 a.m. and walked the highway in the dark for over 2 hours (it took a long time for the sun to peak over the gorge). We crossed 3 trucks in 3 hours and we still had about 9km of walking left according to our map. We hailed a truck heading towards town and he brought us the rest of the way for 10Y. We made it to the guest house before 9 a.m. hahahahahaha!

Getting to Lijiang:
There is no bus station at Tiger Leaping Gorge, so you have to either wave down a bus that is going through to Lijiang or negotiate with a private mini-van driver. We opted to negotiate for a cheap price with a mini-van and were happy to find someone who would drive us the 3 hours to Lijiang for only 15Y each. We started with 5 people in the 8 person van, people waved us down from the side of the road until there were 9 people in the 8 person van, including one girl sitting on another girl's lap in the passenger's seat. Yann and I also had our back packs piled on top of us. When we finally got to Lijiang, Yann handed the driver's assistant 50Y which she promptly pocketed without giving us any change. Yann held his hand out and she grumbled giving him 10Y back. Of course, we were still missing 10Y from our negotiated price. What ensued was about a 15 minute show-down between me and the driver's assistant (possibly driver's wife) with Yann and the driver looking on. The driver didn't join the melee because he himself had repeated the 30Y price to us and new that we we're being ripped off. I stood with my food in the car using as much Chinese as I could, as well as some English and many hand signals. We ended up taking their license plate down and telling them we would call the police (which of course we wouldn't). If they had originally quoted us 40Y we would have paid, its difficult to accept it after you've negotiated a price and had them repeat it to you multiple times before departure. Next time we will have them write down the price and we will have the correct change, the balance of power lies with the person holding the cash...

Lijiang has a beautiful old town, that is (was) inhabited by the Naxis, another minority group in China. The town has narrow streets, crisscrossed with canals and bridges. Unfortunately it is absolutely overrun with tourists! Only 3 years ago (when our Lonely Planet was written), it was still described as a quiet refuge with a few Chinese souvenir stalls opening up but mostly Naxi shops lining the streets. The only Naxi salespeople we saw were walking around selling their products from baskets. Every single store front has been bought up and sells everything from Russian dolls to Yak horns.
On the first afternoon we wandered up to an old temple, with a great view of the old town. We were greeted by two friendly Taoist monks who led us into the temple and handed us incense to burn. We turned it down a few times, knowing that we would be charged for it, but they repeated eagerly, "free, free, this temple knows no money!" What a nice change! After our prayer with the incense, the English speaking monk sat us down, asked us our birth years and told me I was a teacher or a doctor, and told Yann he worked with computers. We played along and he continued "oh yes, Master knows, he can see it in your face, yes, yes Master sees". Master gave Yann a yellow prayer cloth and gave me the "hands of God" which "I must never never give to anyone" (a small jade pendant in the shape of hands) repeating; "this temples knows no money, oh yes, no money". He chanted for us a bit, and our families then we got up to leave, so he had us sign the guest book. We wrote our names, our home country and the things we would like him to pray for. The last column was the "donation" column, which curiously had very large sums of money written in. He told us it was "customary" to give 100Y so that our prayers would be answered, but 200Y was better. We told him our donation was between us and God. But he insisted "you must write in book, you must write in book!" By the way, the whole time this argument was going on, Yann, in protest, was adding more and more things to be prayed for. Eventually I took the pen and listed a donation of 5Y each. The priest went on with this act "Oh no no no no , nobody ever gives so little!". So we scratched out the 5Y, I handed him my hands of God, Yann handed him his cloth and we walked away perfectly content to not have spent 10Y.
It was impossible to find a cheap meal within the old city and Yann and I ended up wandering around for hours trying to find a market where we could buy food to make our own sandwiches at the hostel. We bought ourselves a 9Y bottle of wine at the supermarket to go with our sandwiches. The sandwiches were a grand success, the wine.... not so much. Yann is convinced that it was no alcohol in it, and judging by the speed at which we drunk it, I would tend to agree.

We eagerly boarded a bus to the very relaxed Dali, where we are now, along with all the drug-pushing old ladies; "hallo, hallo, you want to smoka the ganga?".


mom said...

I love the image of Emilie with one foot in the bus arguing in Chinese. Your Chinese school teachers would be proud.

2par4 said...

The monk was ARE a teacher. You sure taught him a thing or two about honesty. ;-)

How much is 10Y in Cdn$?

2par4 said...

I see that your possible destinations include Kazakhstan. I think you left before BORAT was released. It's getting mucho praise from the critics. I'll send you the whole review in an email.

Here's quote from Rolling Stone...

Cohen's total immersion in his character is a wonder to behold. If Oscar voters have any sense, they recognize his performance for what it is: a tour de force that sets off comic and cosmic explosions in your head. You won't know what outrageous fun is until you see Borat. High-five!