What a week. I would say that this week has been the most fantastic week of my travels so far. Of course it all started with my Birthday which I have already reported on. We then ventured into the deep West, to reveal a world of adventures.
Gary and I started a week of freezing temperatures, camping and horse trekking early on Friday morning. We flew to Chengdu, which offered us a base from which we travelled and 8 hour bus journey to Songpan, a Tibetan town in the mountains in the Sichuan Province. On the way we met a canadian couple who we stayed with for the whole trek. They were great fun, Emily and Yann. However, the bus journey was filled with the joys of people being sick and the sick rolling down the bus, kareoke played far too loudly on the bus TV system, people playing their MP3 players out loud and topped off with other people smoking cigarettes in the back. Our Patience and cultural acceptance was tested to say the least!
We finally arrived in Songpan, which was a quaint chinese town nestled in valleys of the Sichuan mountains, filled with tradiational tibetan architecture and a friendly population. A welcomed relief. Although Songpan and the surrounding mountains are within China, the inhabitants would consider themselves Tibentan due to their proximity to Tibet. They are beautiful people, darker skinned than chinese and characteristic red cheeks, from the sunshine, wind and cool temperatures. Songpan has no reliable source of electricity therefore heating and hot water were out of the question. Two things that were desperately needed especially after 5 days of sub-freezing temperatures.
We started our three day horse trek to "ice mountain" on the Sunday, we could not imagine what lay ahead. The trek took us through mountains, valleys, forest, rivers, snow and ice. The scenery was out of this world. Snowcapped mountains on a back drop of bright blue sky. Spectacular! We also passed a few tibetan habitations. Many of their houses had slate rooves, many had intricately painted woodwork. These little collections of life were widely spread apart from each other. I met one girl who told me she had walked 2 hours to the local store, this seemed utterly normal to her. Many people may say that they live in poverty. I would argue that they live in relative prosperity. They have everything that they need. Animals, land, fresh water, a community. They seem far better off than people with more money, who live in the city.
The isolation and serenity of the mountains was immense. We camped along the way and were very well fed by the local horse trek guides. The temperatures were freezing. At 7:30am it was -10! brrrr..... I was scared that my feet would fall off at one point, but I can confirm that they are, fortunately, still with me. Each trekker had a guide each and my guide was called Ma, which translates into English as "horse"... ironic! He was a very kind and noble man, looking out for everyone. I found it great that we could communicate although we did not speak the same language. The guides actually spoke a tibetan dialect between themselves, that chinese tourists could not even understand.
With sun burn and unforgettable memories, we left Songpan to return to the heated city of Chengdu. I will never take heating for granted EVER again. We then jumped on a plane to Beijing to visit Josh and Sarah for the weekend. Another few days full of adventure and insight. I preferred Beijing far more this second time. We trekked the wall, went to a fabulous duck restaurant in the old Hutongs of the city and had another great sunday lunch at Josh's flat.
Gary has just left for the airport to go back to Ningbo, which leaves Josh and I to hang out in Beijing and Tianjin tomorrow. He's hungry so I had better go.
What a week. I do not think that my words or pictures (to come) have done it justice, but just trust me when I say "what a week!" (was actually more like 11 days but whose counting?). Daddy is off to India today for his cycle ride. (remember for any more sponsors go to www.justgiving.com/michaelcollins) Thanks for all the messages.
love Naomi xxxxxxxx