October 14, 2009
We may be out of the mountains, but we’re not out of the really big hills yet. Language got in our way again as we attempted to leave Lijiang. I didn’t expect to have trouble, but somehow we missed a turn to the new expressway? and ended up on a road that quickly deteriorated to a dirt track. With no one to ask and no traffic, our confidence that we were on the right track flagged. Everyone we had asked earlier and even the road signs indicated this was the way to the next town, Heqing. But this can’t be right! Finally, after 10 kilometers, we saw the expressway and realized our track was a shortcut to it. Soon enough we were back to wishing for less traffic than was on the expressway. Everyone in China, it seemed, was either on the way to or from Dali. And the mid-autumn holiday is supposed to be over.
Along The Way
Dali Old Town
Two days from Lijiang, and one big hill later, we are in Dali tourist Mecca for the Chinese if there ever was one. We are not having any luck finding a helmet for Claire, the Chinese only wear helmets, on motorcycles not bicycles, and not many even then. We have glue and will apply it liberally to the crack.
The landscape is changing with big hills farther apart, and the summits at lower elevations. Most of yesterday was in flat rice fields, many being harvested and others being prepared for winter crops, with lots of rice chaff and manure, animal and human, being dug in by hand. The amount of hand labor involved in raising rice here is amazing, but there are a lot of people to do the labor. Large paddies are filled with people doing various jobs, and the roadsides are piled high with manure, or harvested rice, forcing us to compete with buses and trucks for the roadway. When the shoulder (yes they often have them in the flats) is clear we cruise in the mid twenties kph, with little effort.
Yesterday we had bunch of school kids trying to keep up with us on their way home to lunch (they all go home for lunch here, biking). They were all yelling and laughing as we passed; we must be quite a sight to them with all our bags. It’s fun to show them something different. I can imagine them being difficult in afternoon classes, trying to figure out what we were.
We are, however, weeks behind schedule due to the unexpected number of 15,000 ft passes on the Tea Horse Route, our hospital visit, and poor planning on the part of the route planner, me. The mountains took nearly two weeks longer than planned for.
Since we are leaving the mountains now, and the ethnic areas we came to see, now we are going to live dangerously: we will take a bus to southern Yunnan to the sub-tropic mountains, and catch up a bit. Laos calls. Lonely Planet says a long distance bus trip in China is a Rite of Passage. We’ll see.
So did we find Shangri-la?
Of course we did. You knew it all along, didn’t you? Shangri-la is a dream, an imagination, and for us it is The Journey, the travel, the things we learn, the things we see and marvel at, and the others we will never understand.
Come with us to Southeast Asia.
The Journey continues through the mountains of Southern Yunnan and Laos, down the valley of the Mekong, over more mountains into Vietnam, Cambodia and ending in Thailand.
There will be new adventures, new sights and smells, new foods, languages, and surely more of those smiling faces we see so often. The adventure continues. Stay with us.