I've arrived safely back in Wenshan, after two weeks of adventures, but will back- track to my travels around Yunnan. After my 29 hour sleeper bus to Jinghong I booked into a hotel and made my way to a Westerners' haunt, the Mei Mei cafe, where I booked a trek to the Mandian Waterfall in the sub-tropical area of Xishuanbanna for the next day. This turned out to be a great experience. There were four of us - only one of us over 25, but they didn't seem to be ageist - me, an Austrian, a German and an Israeli who were travelling together and separately. We boarded the minibus and were driven for an hour or so over rough roads, through Dai minority villages while I, in the front, attempted to communicate with our very young driver. He left us to our own devices for the trekking and we walked through rain forest vegetation to the waterfall after a couple of false attempts through muddy tracks. The waterfall itself was not huge but we had a paddle and then decided to ignore the path but instead follow the river back to the starting point, which seemed like a good idea until my wet shoes made the rocks slippery and I managed to smash against them injuring my leg, elbow, hands and ribs. Not to be out -done by my young companions I soldiered on, feeling somewhat cheered when the German fell too, and we reached base with not too many bones broken.
On the drive back the driver told me, at least I think he did but I do tend to weave my own story around key words that I can pick out, that he was 20, a Han person marrying a Dai girl next year and that this was OK as his mother was Dai. He showed us his home and we stopped at hers. Dai houses are built on stilts and have a big room upstairs with mats for sleeping. We met the fiancee, her mother and various random people (aunts, grandmother, uncles, even the local village idiot, it seemed, dropped by). We were given tea in jam jars and bananas to eat and we were fascinated by this very real slice of life. The granny was a hoot. She was impossible to understand, probably because she wasn't speaking 'putonghua'. The Austrian, who spoke a fair amount of Chinese, couldn't understand her either, but she was quite a character and took a shine to the Israeli, teaching him the parts of the face in her language with him joining in the game. I'll always remember the word for 'ears' sounded like 'who' and this woman's larger than life personality.
Jayne, the VSO volunteer in Simao had agreed to join me in Jinghong for the weekend as it's only a two hour bus ride away. She was working but could make the bus at 5pm for a 7pm arrival. So I duly went to the Bus Station and waited....and waited. Buses can be very late and I had a book to read so I wasn't worried. Jayne finally turned up. from outside the Bus Station, having arrived, on time, at Bus Station number 2!
Next day we aimed for the Dai minority Village and the most memorable part was the meal in a Dai house. The woman approached us and we thought she was a tout for the big posher place on the site but she led us to her house, a typical Dai one on stilts with an outside fire for the roasting and a basic gas device for the stir-frying. After ordering our meal in this house/restaurant we waited and wondered how the menu could offer so many choices and watched the aubergine being roasted on the fire outside. The girl of the household got on her bike and Jayne guessed, rightly, that she'd gone off to get the beers we'd ordered. After the meal we watched the Dai dancing in the main venue for a while and just savoured the atmosphere.
In the evening we went to the LP's recommended area for eating barbecued food, under the suspension bridge. The fairground atmosphere included dodgy looking karaoke and KTV hostesses, dodgems and other rides and also lots of stalls where you could choose your kebabs. We hesitated at what to buy. Some of the food looked like bits of meat you might not normally eat at home but eventually decided, not on the small birds, intestines or trotters, but on simple beef and lamb kebabs with tofu and potato kebabs, all deliciously spicy. I also ordered a courgette dish, which turned out to be cucumber, a mistake I've made before and Jayne ordered the local speciality of pineapple filled with glutinous rice. All the while roving karaoke was all around us and the atmosphere was tremendous. On the way back we bought a bottle of wine and asked if they could open it for us. The husband dashed off and came back having borrowed or bought a corkscrew while we talked to his wife and wondered where he'd gone. I don't think he'd used a corkscrew before and tried to stop the 'wings' going up so Jayne took over and he laughed at his ignorance of this strange device.
We stopped en route to watch the people dancing in the square and a woman asked us to join in, grabbing my hands before I knew it. A moment later a Chinese man took over and it was funny to be dancing in the street, in a strange town, with a little Chinese arty looking man in a Frenchy looking beret.
THe next day, after a visit to the botanical gardens, we headed back to Jayne's in Simao. More about this in the next postcard.