Ups and Downs

14:21 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

The first few days in Lijiang were spent in exploring the tourist sites in the old town. All of them were quaint and photogenic, but didn't give me much to write about. I also spent time in the courtyard of our hotel, absorbing the vibe and dreaming of the house I'd one day like to build.

We had time to prepare for the 2 day hike across the Tiger Leaping Gorge. I needed a hat to keep the sun off my head but I just look ridiculous in all hats. I usually just buy something silly. I plumped for a brown trilby. I stocked up on chocolate and water and we were ready for the hike.

On Day 1 of the hike, we took a bus from Lijiang to Qiaotou, a small concrete village at the start of the hike. Mercifully, the weather was overcast, so we weren't going to bake. Beyond the food supplies, we'd only packed shower stuff, raincoats and clean underwear so that we were travelling light. Despite that, I found the first couple of hours really tough. It was a constant ascent up the mountain with really soft sandy soil underfoot. It was energy sapping. The path snaked up the mountain and we continued to climb until we met a group of young Chinese and we walked with them  for a while.

About 90 minutes into the hike we came to the first of many rest stops. Some local guy or gal would set up shop with a parasol, box of snickers and a couple of boxes of water. Oh, and bags of weed the size of a bar of soap.

The little rest stops were fairly well spaced so we needn't have packed so much water. We still drank it all though. That first day, both Erin and I drank 3 litres of water each and didn't once stop for a pee - we were sweating that much. We struggled up the ascents, enjoyed the flat bits and skipped down the descents. After a few hours we had reached the infamous 28 bends.

I read a few guides and they all said that the 28 bends was a killer of a twisting path up a hill. The number 28 is purely symbolic, there were well over 40 hairpin corners as the path climbed. The majority of the path was stone rather than the dusty dirt from earlier - so I found it much easier to walk on. We got to the top, both feeling exhausted. The next few hours were a slog as we tried to make it to the Halfway House before nightfall. I felt guilty; I wasn't enjoying the walk and I wasn't taking photographs - I just wanted to get to a bed and rest. We arrived with about an hour of daylight left. My legs ached. My shoulders ached. I was so tired I almost considered skipping the meal and going straight to bed. Almost. After some fried rice we hit the sack and slept until the was teasing us awake again for Day 2.

We were well rested and the second day seemed much easier. It was virtually all downhill and the scenery was incredibily dramatic. I was back to my usual self, full of beans and loving every minute.

At the final stop before the bus home, Tina's Hostel, the staff managed to cock up our food order and we lost an hour of our time, meaning we didn't have enough time to go to the river and come back before the only bus departed. Undeterred, we still managed to find a little spot and get some great photographs.

Back in Lijiang, we were growing tired of the tour groups, so made our way to a little village called Shuhe. It was just as beautiful but a lot less busy. I was getting so tired of those typical Chinese traits - staring, spitting and invading personal space. Shuhe felt more accommodating.  However judging from the amount of building work going on around Shuhe, it wont be long until this village is inundated with the endless tour groups as well.

Our journey was virtually over. It was time to start on our way home. On the journey from Lijiang to Beijing we took two taxis, a night train, a plane and three subway trains. I hardly slept and I had to wash myself in the airport bathroom. I was low on patience and ended up shouting at someone who push in front of me in a queue at the airport.
"你会排队吗?" - Can you queue? I shouted at him.
He grumbled to himself, walked to the next queue and pushed in there. Some things never change.

Whilst China remains stubbornly China, I grow and learn with every experience I have there. China can be amazing, annoying and bewildering all in the same moment. For every great story I have, there is another shocking story. But that is why I love China - it's just so bloody alive.

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