February 6, 2011
This was definitely a once in a lifetime experience, but it is time to leave the mountain.
I woke up twice in the night to use the bathroom. TMI, I know, but I said this to say that the bathroom was not attached to where we slept so I had to go outside to a separate building in the pitch black night. I felt proud of myself for not tripping down the stone stairs from my room. I feel silly because I forgot that I brought a miniature headlamp with me just for this purpose. Besides the hallway light near the rooms and a few tree lights that were accenting the patio area about 20 feet away I had nothing. There was probably literally no one else (Naxi are the local ethnic group) outside in the entire town on this mountain. Eerie.
I woke up again naturally at 6:15am and packed up my backpack. Since I already showered last night I was already dressed in my travel clothes and ready to go. I put my backpack on and headed outside. Before I could head down the steps I saw Sean’s daughter walking by. I yelled out to her, ”你好“. She thought I called her over so I stopped her from walking up my stairs in the dark by telling her I was just saying hello. She confirmed with me that she arranged for me to travel to Lijiang with her Dad. She asked me if I wanted anything and I told her that I wanted milk tea. She left to prepare my tea while I tried to take a few more photos of the night using long exposures. This was a 15 second exposure in the courtyard, and then a poor 30 second exposure of me trying to capture the stars. It was so dark that I could not have properly shown you the many stars unless I had brought a tripod with me. When I looked back toward the courtyard Sean’s daughter was there again folding my now clean and dry laundry. I was so happy. I was so impressed with the service at Sean’s Guesthouse Hostel. We were their only guests but I have a feeling they would have been able to treat us like family even with a full house.
I went into the cafe off the patio to order breakfast so I could eat at the same time as Sean who was only having tea and porridge. I ordered the American breakfast even though I knew I was not supposed to eat bread. I wanted to keep it simple so I ordered what was on the menu. When my breakfast came it was more than I expected. Wow, homemade fry bread with the jam I like and a mound of scrambled eggs! I knew it must have been nearing 7am so I asked Sean for the time. He hadn’t looked at the time yet so when I reminded him he jumped up, grabbed his backpack, and ran to the car. I immediately asked Shirley to bring me a bag for the rest of my food and I ran down the steps with my teacup in hand.
We then proceeded to go on the second ride of my life, in the dark this time. Mind you there are hardly any guard rails on this road and a few boulders had fallen to block part of the road. In these situations the driver had to squeeze past on the cliff side. You say you can’t see anything in the first photo. Exactly, neither could I. The driver just knew the road because he lives here and has driven it a hundred times. Yes, in the shaky dark photo that is a fallen boulder on the right with only enough room for a car to pass on the left, and the rest of the darkness on the left is about a 700 foot drop to the bottom of the gorge.
This ride was epic because Sean, the Sean of Sean’s Hostel, was in the car with me. He has so much knowledge about hiking and this gorge. He is also really funny and always joking. He told me that the river that runs through the gorge is actually the well known Yangtze River. He didn’t mention it to me, but my friends told me that he is also the person that erected most of the signs that help hikers find their way out of the gorge trails. There is a BBC special that featured him in a fictional story about the the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The story was great, but the actor hired to do the voice-over didn’t do his infectious laugh any justice.
We didn’t speak for about 20 minutes while we were descending the mountain’s most dangerous areas. After the sun came up I started to talk and ask Sean questions about the gorge and his life running a hostel business in this beautiful and remote part of China. Maybe we will see him hiking in Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. one day.
We finally reached a bridge and the driver pulled over and got out. I was shocked. Why would he stop here I thought? Is he going to take a smoke break? No. He was on his cell phone. I turned around and kindly asked Sean what was going on. He told me after letting out a great laugh that he has a private bus that will take us the rest of the way. Glad he explained because I felt like Sally Field in “Not without My Daughter.” On this ride Sean and I had a few great conversations about the crowd that comes to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge and what season is best to visit. The rest of the story is really funny, but I will only tell you if you call me on Skype: rockynashpr.
Once we reached Lijiang he had the driver drop me off at the main bus station. I was feeling more confident speaking Chinese so I stood in line and when I got to the counter I changed my ticket to take the next bus out of Lijiang to Kunming. Kunming is where we first flew into from Chengdu, and it was the city we needed to fly out of tomorrow night. I could have kept my original ticket and toured Lijiang for the day so that I could ride back to Kunming with my friends once they finished their hike later that evening, but I heard it is very commercial in Lijiang and I can see tourist shops anywhere. I wanted to be safe in the city we needed to fly back home to Chengdu from, so after 20 minutes I was on an interesting bus ride back to Kunming.
It was going to be a 9 hour ride which included 3 rest stops, a traffic jam near Nan Hua, and a weird free food voucher pit-stop right before Chuxiong. I swear I was being fattened up to be sold. My imagination is crazy, but I was the only foreigner. I never had a food stop before so I ate quickly, kept looking around, and stayed away from any shady looking people. I had to go to the bathroom really bad so I used one of those trough style toilet systems. You know, where the water runs along the ground in a ditch and the stalls don’t have doors. Just line up and do your business. Yes, I went there. I would have gone in the woods at this point. Sorry, if this is too much information, but it is so easy to share embarrassing things when you are just typing them and can’t see peoples facial expressions or hear their comments about you. It really wasn’t that bad everyone. Should I post a photo of what this type of restroom looks like? Comment and I will upload a photo later if everyone wants to see it. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s appetite. Well, it was just me, my awesome REI shoes and gear that saved my life, my backpack, and the little food pouch that I packed. Here we go!
I finally arrived in Kunming after 9 hours. I had to go through the taxi hustle again, but this time when 4 guys surrounded me to scam 50-100 Kuai out of me I was prepared. They told me how expensive it is to get to downtown Kunming, that my hostel is far and difficult to get to, and that I won’t find a cheaper price. I was aggressive and loud like any other Chinese local when negotiating, and I told them in Chinese that I am just returning from hiking in Qiaotou, I live here in China, am a student, and I will only give them 30 Kuai because I know where I’m going and how they should get me there to save on gas. They all look stunned. Two walked away with a surprised smile. I got a complement from the remaining two on my bargaining skills, and one told the other that I am pretty and my Chinese is good so just take me where I want to go. I shared my taxi with 3 other people and was on the way to my hostel. Life is good, especially since I just survived hiking and traveling in China alone. I know the drill now. Within five minutes of checking in, getting my key, and locking my gear under my bunk bed I had my laptop out, camera downloading photos, and rum and coke at my side at The Hump Hostel. Traveling alone is not so bad. It is actually easy once you can speak enough of the language.
Tonight is Super Bowl XLV. I looked online for an America bar in Kunming, but later decided to relax at my hostel where I could get internet, food, and good conversation with interesting people. I met some cool German businessmen and women who were passing through, chatted with them for awhile, and then blogged. My day was complete. I got a good nights sleep after 3am because I was worried my friends would be locked out of the hostel due to the fact that they would be arriving in Kunming at 6am. I reminded the lobby attendant to unlock the front door to let them in again and then went to sleep. At 6am I got a text from Erin that they were at the hostel and sleeping on the couches in the lobby area. I jumped out of bed to make sure they were safely in the building. I unlocked the metal gate that separates hostel guests from the lobby, peeked around the corner, and I saw my friends comfortable on the couches so I went back to sleep and slept well knowing that they were okay.