Up In the Sky
Good evening from Yangshuo, Guangxi Province, China. This is actually Ryan as Emily just went across the street to get some snacks and to check out the activities at the massage parlors that line our street. Yes, our hotel is situated within the “red light” district, but we are only paying 60 RMB per night, or roughly $9USD. Can’t complain. Yesterday when I asked the nice, scantly clothed lady on the leather couch how much for a foot massage, she told me to go pound sand. I guess the fact that I had Ollie on my shoulders did not get her excited about me as a prospect. Speaking of Ollie, he is snoring like his PaPa (love you Dad) on the bed next to me. His breathing and lullaby music are helping to drown out the cat calls from outside our window, and he is simply beat from riding on a Chinese bike seat for seven hours today.
As I sit here typing, I am filled with a sense of peace and serenity that is truly a gift from God as today, and this trip thus far, have been absolutely amazing. We biked roughly 25 kilometers throughout the countryside and saw cozy little villages, colors that you can only dream of, water buffalo, farmers working in the fields, and to top it all off, a baby cow chased Ollie and me for a good 25 yards. There are many parts of China that have been overrun by the machine, but there are still a few places where you can actually hear yourself think and the beauty is second to none.
Before I go back in time to our experience in Yunnan Province hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge (the highlight and lowlight of our trip thus far), I have to circle back to my one and only post before we left. As you might remember, before leaving on this trip, I had a lot of fear for numerous reasons. I am extremely happy to say that the trip so far has surpassed my wildest dreams. Emily, besides being a wonderful wife and best friend, is an amazing travel partner; although her tendency to never admit when she is wrong has certainly carried over into our travels. Ollie has been relatively well behaved, but he has definitely had his moments. He is literally treated like royalty here and it has only accentuated his terrible twos.
While everything has not gone perfectly, the time spent with Emy and Ollie has been second to none. It is not the sights that you see when you travel, but who you see them with that matters. For those of you that work day and night like I used to or who don’t put family first, I highly recommend that you re-connect with the people closest to you as you don’t have to be in a remote corner of China to tell your wife and kids, or anyone else for that matter, that you love them.
Back to Tiger Leaping Gorge, or Hutia Xia, as the locals call it. While the bus ride was not the most enjoyable, Tiger Leaping was well worth the pain. We took a five hour bus ride from Dali, another picturesque city, to Qiaotou, the jumping-off point. On the bus ride, two Chinese men behind us hocked loogies (a national pastime) for the entire trip and the driver chain smoked and passed cars on a two-lane mountain road as if he was Mario Andretti. To add insult to injury, Oliver pooped his pants early in the ride, as is his tendency whenever we board a bus/plane/etc., and there were only so many times that we could convince him to stay in his seat or else the “monsters” were going to get him.
Upon arriving to Tiger Leaping Gorge (one of the deepest river gorges in the world), we located Jane’s GuestHouse, a place to store bags and get some lunch before we headed out. Perhaps not too long ago, Jane was better known as Jim, and I have to admit, this was my first encounter with a Chinese transvestite on PRC soil. Emy and I clearly did not know that we had nearly a 30 kilometer, 9,000 foot ascent ahead of us, so we each ordered greasy omelets for lunch. While eating, we met two lovely folks, Toby and Collette (Cola as Ollie called her) who were our hiking buddies for the majority of the two days. If you two happen to be reading our blog, we miss you and are sorry we did not get to say good bye in Shangri-La. While I am not terribly proud, it is worth noting that at Jane’s, Emily and I finally, and out of dire necessity, gave up our squat toilet-virginities, as we had both religiously avoided doing a #2 in this manner up until that point.
Almost immediately, the scenery was breathtaking. The only thing I have seen that rivaled the beauty of Tiger Leaping was perhaps Lake Victoria/Louise up in Banff during our honeymoon. For those that aren’t familiar with the Tiger Leaping Gorge, it is where the Yangzi River flows through the Haba Shan and Yulong Xueshan mountain ranges. To the west is Myanmar and to the north are Tibet and the source of the MeKong.
Needless to say, the hike was extremely difficult as I had Ollie on my back who now weighs over 35 lbs, and Emy had a pretty heavy backpack on as well. In fact, she became so dehydrated and light-headed in the searing heat of the mid-afternoon sun that we had to stop a number of times. After the first two brutally hot hours, we stopped at a small Naxi family’s home, Emily re-hydrated and we were ready to go, although I still had no idea that the next four hours would be even more grueling than the first two. The 28 Bends, as this part of the hike was called, consisted of what felt more like thirty narrow, granite- strewn, tree-root-snarled, near-vertical hairpin turns along a path that could barely accommodate one person at a time. By the time we made the Tea Horse, another lovely Naxi guest house in the mountains, we were tired and could barely put one foot in front of the other, but we both knew we had just seen natural beauty that is unparalleled. It saddens me to say the Chinese government is contemplating building a major dam for hydro-power right within the Gorge, so it is unlikely that it will be around in the next couple of years.
While getting out of bed the second morning was not easy, Emy, Ollie and I said goodbye to our wonderful Naxi-mama host and hit the trail again at roughly ten in the morning. Little did we know that thirty minutes into the second day I would trip and fall flat on my face. Luckily, Ollie came away with only one minor scratch, but I was not that fortunate. Blood gushed from where my head had connected with the sharp granite and I had tweaked my ankle pretty badly. While I did not necessarily think so at the time, I came away from the fall a very lucky person; if I had tumbled off the cliff, it would have been game over for me and Ollie. Thankfully, we met a handful of other hikers about 45 minutes down the road who gave me a bandage and helped patch me up.
Good to know
After the fall, we still had a four hour hike that traversed beautiful waterfalls and made a dramatic descent to the bottom of the Gorge. Emy was quite the sport as she carried Ollie after my fall and navigated the terrain like a regular pro, unlike her sad husband who should clearly wear a helmet at all times. After finishing the hike and being the brain surgeons that we are, Emily and I decided to walk another thirty minutes to the lovely town of Walnut Garden. As the sun was going down, we made our next critical error. Rather than retiring to our rooms to clean up and collapse on our beds as most would do after hiking the Gorge, we instead turned off the trail and hiked another two hours through corn, squash, and pumpkin fields in an effort to get down to the water’s edge. Along the way, we swatted away spiders the size of my hand (the entire hike Ollie kept screaming “huge spiders going to get you!”). Unfortunately, we never made it as it was getting dark and we soon lost the trail.
The next day we had to get back to the beginning of the Gorge in order to catch a bus onward to Shangri-La. The taxi ride down was even scarier than the hike as there was no guard rail and there were rocks all over the road which clearly indicated recent landslides. On one occasion, a truck coming from the opposite direction passed by us with little more than a foot from the edge of the cliff. While again I am not proud, I was petrified and needed to relieve myself once we made it back to Jane’s.
The hike and fall through Tiger Leaping Gorge was a memorable experience that I will hold onto (like Emy and Ollie) for many years to come.
Posted from Kunming, Yunnan, China.