Greetings from China
I'm currently in Dali with a sore head following our fancy dress do last night in Lijang but enough of that until later. I hope you've been able to browse through the latest pics, the internet cafes in China have been first grade so I'm uploading as much as I can whilst we're here and they'll be more coming tomorrow once I've explored Dali. We're all loving China and it's overtaken Iran as my favourite country thus far (it's also by far the weirdest) Dad you'd love it trotters and pigeon were on the lunch menu today and yesterday I was offered snake blood, no thanks. Last time I wrote I was in Shigatsi just about to catch one of the truck folk, Stu appearing as a 'guest' DJ at a local club. The set was amazing,he was treated as a celeb although I noted we still had to pay for our drinks. The next day was hard. We had a full truck day which meant 10 hours driving through southwest China subjected again to more terrifying roads, the day ended at a bushcamp and after a delicious Yak stew it was early to bed for the whole crew.
The next couple of days were truck/bushcamp days in order to reach the outstanding Tiger Leaping Gorge (as featured on Michael Palins Himalaya) The drink flowed quite freely on those days not because we're a bunch of alcoholics but to calm our nerves as the roads really have been hair raising. It doesn't help with Steve being behind the wheel he's got years of overlanding under his belt which must be why he feels the need to accelerate around bends with a 2,000m drop the other side and no room for other vehicles to pass, a trifle scary so much so one of my friends literally cried with fear. (Sorry Polly but it all adds to the drama) You may or may not have heard that China has had it's fair share of rain too, Thankfully we've missed most of it but we haven't missed the landslides that have followed. We were 2,500m up driving through some high passes when we came across one on route to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Basically two tonnes of rock had fallen and we couldn't get through until it was moved so it was all hands on deck and we moved the lot (with the help of a few locals, the tug of war photo is us dragging the rock) We've had to take a few diversions due to other landslides but thankfully we're closer to sea level now so the risk of anymore is on the decrease.
So onto the Tiger Leaping Gorge which I'll abbreviate to TLG for typing ease! So 70km North of Lijang in the Yunnan province is where we next based ourselves so that those that wanted could trek through the TLG. The Yangzi river channels violently through the gorge, it's so narrow in places legend has it a tiger once escaped pursuit by leaping across it hence it's name, you see I'm full of exciting facts for you all now. (Don't worry though Maff I'm not about to steal your crown)
The TLG is set at an altitude of 2,500m rising to 3,000m above the rapids. The Lonely liar states it takes two days to trek the 55km through it but that's debateable! We arrived at the small town to begin the trek in heavy rain shattered from the night before. Steve had chosen a not so beautiful spot for us to camp in a quarry of all places and we were subjected to the sounds of rocks falling from the landslides all night. It wasn't the most relaxing way to fall asleep but there's no such thing as a dull day/night on this trip.
So those that wanted to (14 of us in all) took off for a couple of days and trekked through the TLG. Due to landslides Steve wasn't able to drive through on the lower roads so we trekked to the halfway point and back again. (The book states not to trek between June-Sept but we had no choice, we were here now.) The first day was wet but the scenery was stunning in a dramatic climatic fashion. In complete contrast the second day was one of the warmest we've had in China and the uphills were a struggle. The TLG has to be up there second to Everest of course as one of my favourite treks. The lodges we stayed in for the two nights were top class and at an outrageous 'pound a night' we had ample funds to sample the local rice wine (which is foul) and a few 'Dali' beers. I'd never heard of the TLG before this trip but I now understand why it's regarded as the best short hike in China.
After the short trek back to the truck in the town it was off to our next stop, Lijang and hot showers. Our days of camping are nearly over, we enter Laos in a few days and through the whole of South East Asia it'll be hostels and hotels until we reach Oz.
So Lijang. 150km north of Dali Lijang is the capital of the Naxi Kingdom. (Naxi people descended from a race of Tibetan nomads who settled in the region in the 10th century - You see I can and do read books now Nicole infact I'm well into double figures now, Unfortunately the town has been swamped by the tourist industry and there are hundreds of Chinese tourists marching around like small armies. Everyone that stays in the town has to pay 80 Yuan (about a fiver) the charges have been enforced to try and reduce the number of tourists, although it's clearly not working. The hostel we stayed in was one of the best yet largely due to the free internet and queue to go with it. After several bush camps we all get a bit excited when we arrive back in 'civilisation' so I'll admit the bars were frequented by most. A few of us hired bikes which was a great way to get around and be stared at by the locals, hard work in the humid heat though but you know me I'll soldier on.
I do believe that more or less brings you right up to date apart from the fancy dress shindig last night. A few truck folk weren't really interested given that this had been arranged in India and kept being postponed for one reason or another. Basically weeks ago now it was all names in the hat and whoever you pulled out you had to buy an outfit for and dress them up in a ridiculous fashion, you know how it works. I picked Dave and dressed him up as a monk unfortunately Martin picked me. As nice as Martin is he didn't put any effort in (his name was mud yesterday!) and he dressed me up as an Indian/Pakistan man with the same clothes he wore whilst in Pakistan the traditional cotton suit all the men sleep live and work in, as you can see he went to great lengths and I felt like a complete plonker last night compared to everyone else who did make the effort! Anyway winge over it turned out to be a top night and we marked our halfway point for the UK to Oz leg in style, at 30 Yuan a head (two pounds) the hostel staff put on a banquet style feast for us and we then all went into the local bars (which were 100m away) in full costume....several drinks later and good old Rach decides to leave on her own accord and yes you've guessed it gets lost...In a ridiculous manner I found myself walking the streets of Lijang for two hours only to be saved by a local man who walked with me for 45 mins guiding me back to the centre of town, I dread to think what he thought of me wearing what I was, I could speak no chinese (or english for that matter!) somehow I woke up at the hostel this morning. Naturally my friends weren't impressed with me for wandering off but the streets were like a maze. I would like to add that Kirsty our other tour leader did exactly the same the night before so it's easily done - don't worry Mum!)
Thankfully we had a short drive this morning and I'm now in Dali another modern colourful tourist town with some old parts to explore tomorrow after a good nights sleep! The hotel we're in now has cards at reception which have chinese writing on them stating the Chinese for "take me back to this hotel" so clearly I'm not the only foreigner to lose themselves and I won't be the last. After Dali it's our final bushcamp near the border to Laos which we're scheduled to enter on the 2nd.
Although we've only really skirted around the edges of China it's been fantastic and our group have really bonded together now. The Chinese culture is like no other that we've experienced before which has certainly added to it's attractiveness. There are more street cleaners than people in the towns we've been to, many of the restaurants, shops and hotels are clinically clean and most of the females shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas and hospital style face masks. With our native tongue as english we've been spoilt so far but I tell no lie when I say that I've not met anyone in this country that has been able to hold a conversation with me in english and I've loved it.
John our guide has been put upon quite alot especially in supermarkets when we really have no idea what we're buying or eating...vacuum packed chicken feet, seahorses and pigeon eggs are popular though, not sure if it'll catch on at home.
Right I must wrap this up as it's time for dinner soon. We've been fortunate enough to sample so many different foods since leaving the UK but there's no better place to eat Chinese than in China, for a pound you can eat like kings and they ply you with as much free green tea as you can drink, thanking you.
Happy Belated wishes to Marcus the Ming! and rather appropriate given that I'm in the remains of a town from the Ming Dynasty period, I'm sorry I didn't get in touch but you know we'll celebrate in style in South Africa!
Huge congrats to Eddie on your 1st from Uni I'm extremely proud of you and I know Issy and Tom would have been too. Keep in touch.
TJ Yes I'd love one of my pictures transformed into one of yours thank you so much! Tobe your last message was priceless I read it out to a few on the truck cheers dude and can I come to France next Summer? I don't think I'll be going much further! Jodie cheers for those pics from the great north awesome to see you guys and I'm missing you too, Have a good Mardi Gras without me if you can. Nicole enjoy your mini break with Anne and enjoy Dooley in Berlin more, keep up with your sarcasm. TJ/Dooley/Lloydus/Amy can I please have your new addresses I'm sure you'll be wanting some new picture postcards soon. Stevie P/Sammy any plans to come join me yet? Nads have a ball in Thailand I'm going to miss you by a month I did think about skipping on and meeting you but I'd have to miss some of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia which I've paid to see plus I'm sure you'll have your hands full minding the kids! Be mindful, TP hope the North treated you well and you got your jabs in time!
Mum/Dad I will ring soon I promise! I planned to call from Lijang but the only phone in the hostel was in the bar and I didn't fancy sharing my conversation with everyone else. I will aim to visit a call centre tomorrow as my friends mobile network is charging her to receive calls whilst in China. I'm 7 hours ahead at the mo so it will have to be during the day your time...the main thing is I'm fit and well.
As always thanks for the messages mails and texts my mobile has officially died after the alarm went off it stopped working don't ask why?! anyway my sim card is fine and my number is the same but I'm having to put it in other peoples phones to send and receive texts so it's not always on, I'm hanging on until SE Asia then I'll buy another handset but keep them coming!
For those of you that have been in touch and apologised for mundane messages don't, I'm always grateful for any news! We're off out on the bikes tomorrow so they'll be a few more pics to come (most of them with me and my hats as I haven't had a hair chop since I left!) whilst it's so easy to upload them. Mum I'm going to send a big parcel back of presents and clothes etc that I shouldn't have packed! and I've also copied all my photos so far (over 3,000) onto cd's which whch I'll also send.
I really am going now so take care and I'll be in touch again soon if not from China from Laos.
It's four months down the line now and time is flying by but I'm still missing you all.
Love Rach xxx