Goa post #3 - Kunming, Dali and TLG
Kunming wasn't a bad old spot really - it was a first for a lot of things, I suppose. First time to see a blue sky in China - I ain't kidding. First time to get decent coffee on the mainland, in Salvadors cafe. First time to go out and see the real country side in western, rural China. The large student population, which includes a lot of foreigners, gives it a fairly cosmopolitan feel, hence the cafes. The all year round pleasant climate and the ban on heavy vehicles from the city centre also make it one of Chinas preferred places to live. It is, however, even more consumer crazy than any other city we had been in, with small, but extremely vocal girls (sometimes horrendously equipped with a bullhorn!) outside every shop, which all appeared to sell the same lurid pink and green ladies clothes. To top it all they have a Walmart!
Lowpoint was seeing from my comfortable cafe beanbag some locals scavanging in the rubbish thrown on the street. Highpoint was sampling the scrumptious crossing-the-bridge noodles in the brothers Jiang establishment. Originally, devised by a clever lady years ago as a way of keeping her beloved's lunch warm when he made it over the bridge to work. Delicious whatever the reason.
The bus journey from Dali to Qiaotou was fascinating, as it was harvest time and we saw people everywhere in the fields on either side of the narrow road. They, in there hundreds, toiled by hand and sometimes with oxen to reap the crop and carry it to the road, where tiny tractor-trailer hybrids would pile it high and higher transport it away. All this roadside activity made our progress slow and may have contributed to some of the local passengers gushing their breakfasts into the plastic bags provided.
When we reached Qiaotou, a decent looking gent approached us and offered to drive us to Seans guesthouse in the Tiger Leaping Gorge for a reasonable fee. We accepted after he agreed to store our big rucksacks in his gaff until we returned in several days. Seans GH was obviously one of the first in the TLG, from the amount of weathered paraphanelia, around and was undergoing a big renovation. We secured a cheap room with a great view and adjourned for a beer and dinner. The menu had Happy Bread and the pictured statement at the back. We saw why when we desecended the gorge the next day and had our olfatory senses overwhelmed by a plant that was taller than me (188cm - that's me!). Sorry about the skewed photos, but blogger updated it's SW at this point and they wouldn't load on the other way. Anyway, various locals had set up barriers on the decent down the gorge with various excuses for levying a local charge, despite having paid a National Park entry fee on the taxi ride in .... this was always annoying in China, the extras added on for foreigners. The amount was small, but the principle really irked us! Gggrrr! We took out our frustration on ascending the gorge, but we soon calmed down as it was very vertical and very tough and it nearly killed. Also knowing that we had another 4-5 hour hike to the halfway house ahead of us didn't help. It really was a spectacular walk, but we were relieved and exhausted when we reached the teahouse and it was getting dark. Beer and delicious apple tart were greedily consumed as we chatted with the fellow guests.
The next day was long 6 hour trek back to Qiatou, which we did at a ferocious pace (or so we thought!) so as not to miss the last 4 p.m. bus to Zhondiang, a 3 hour ride up to 3500m near the Tibetan border. Thankfully we were going down the 23 bends rather up and once we passed the last teahouse of the Naxi family then we knew we were on the home straight. Our friend with the bags didn't let us down and then we hopped on a scenic bus ride to one of the most remote cities in China. They even like to call it Shangri-La ....
Twas cold there and we secured a room for one night, went to the Potala cafe where hygiene levels dropped to a new low and everything seemed to taste of Yak - little did we know that it was apt prelude to our next destination - Tibet. We came across a giant circle dancing in the square of the old town, but Agnes refused to accompany me despite the brave manouvres of other strangers. The next day saw a move to the Dragoncloud Hostel (an apt name when you see me pictured under the giant bush in the courtyard, although I now think that it was male). A stroll through the old town led to the discovery of the very cool Karma cafe and oneof it's young Tibetan owners got chatting with us and offered to help us shop for camping gear that afternoon. No scam, just a guy who wanted to express his thanks to westerners for helping the Dalai Lama in India. That night we returned to eat in Karma and listen to an amazing performance of Tibetan music from his brother and other guests. The good karma couldn't last, as Agnes spent the night in the hostel with diarrhoea and vomiting and the pricks had turned the water off at 11 p.m. - yuck! The poor girl really was in a state when we headed the next morning to fly to Lhasa over the Himalayas.