Picking up from the previous Shanghai update, we did embark on the 26-hour train trip to Guilin. I was actually ‘leader for the day’ for some of that - including the train trip. However, playing drinking games with the locals and two big bottles of baijiu, while most of your group is down in the dining car talking, may not be the best method of leadership. Think I can pass it off as promoting local interaction?!?
We spent one night in Guilin before catching local buses to the rice terraces of the Longji region. I’d visited the area on my own before and had been duly impressed with the art and engineering of the terraces. It was probably better when I saw them last as it was around August and the paddies were green, whereas the villagers are just now beginning the planting this year. Still, it’s always fun to see the same area in different seasons.
The first day we simply did a few short walks in the rain before eating and playing drinking games that night. The next day we tried to sweat out the poisons by doing a walk from the village of Ping An to Dazai. It’s a great walk, as one leaves the environs of the Zhuang tribe and passes into the country of the Yao. If you remember my update from the last time I was in the region you’ll remember my encounter with the Yao woman and how she took her hair down to show me the additional two bundles that made up her sculptured coiffeur. You’ll also remember that she tried to drink me under the table with the local rot-gut…mijiu. Not much difference this trip, although we confined our drinking to our own little group, and back in the safe haven of our lodge in Ping An.
OK, so maybe safe is a misnomer. That night at the lodge a local woman would in turn approach each of us with a cup full of mijiu. After singing us a song we were obliged to ‘ganbei’ (bottoms up) the concoction. We didn’t drink nearly as much that night as we had the previous evening. However, I think it was a combination of the alcohol, a pretty full-on chest cold (which I’m still fighting), and sunburn and dehydration from lack of water on our hike that caught up with me the next morning. I got up and went to the toilet at 6. I remember thinking that I really needed some water, and that I needed to go back into the other room to turn on the pot to boil some. The next thing I knew I awoke and my roomie, and fellow new leader, was inches from my face and I was on the floor. Guess I needed that water more urgently than I thought! I was coherent upon awaking from my swan dive, which makes me think it was more dehydration than anything. Maybe subconciously I was simply testing Eric’s skills, as it was his turn to be ‘leader for the day’. He did well. A few hours later when I awoke I was still feeling pretty unsteady, and I had an extremely sore head for the next 5 days. Who knew bouncing your head off walls and floors wasn’t good for you. Go figure!
We made our way down to the bus stop for the short ride into town where we changed buses. Adding to my headache, I was the second of three people to not realize that the roof at the back of the bus dropped down considerably, and I smacked my head - this time pealing back a few layers of freshly sunburned skin from the top of my head. Definitely wasn’t my day.
We made our way to just outside of Yangshuo, where we stayed in a great little place for the night. The highlight that night was to attend a cooking class, and being able to eat our creations…eggplant, kung pao chicken, vegetables, stuffed tofu balls, and the local specialty - beer fish. It was a good night.
The next day we hopped on some bikes and proceeded to cycle around the region. It’s always nice to bike in the Yangshuo area, as the karst topography and rice fields are picturesque and serene. That night most of us went down to the river to take in a light and cultural show created by a famous Chinese director.
The next night we had the first group splitting-up party, as two passengers and the two of us who were trainee leaders would be leaving the group the following day, while the others would continue down to Hong Kong and the real end of the trip. Suffice it to say that we kept to form for this group - there was much alcohol consumed that night! Luckily I’ve been told that not all groups drink this heavily, as if they did I don’t think my liver would survive this job.
The next day while the group recovered and prepared for a train trip, I made my way to the airport and flew to Chengdu. The following day I wandered around a bit, and then hung out with some of the other leaders that would also be heading into Tibet for some more on-the-ground training. On April 2nd we flew into Tibet, and then caught a bus into Lhasa. It was fantastic to be back! It definitely feels like a second home to me. I spent much of my time in Lhasa trying to catch up with local friends. It was great to see them, and to be back in that environment. It was definitely cooler than Chengdu - it was spitting a few flakes of snow when we first arrived. Nice.
We spent the first 3 days in Lhasa checking out some of the main sites - Jokhang, Potala, and Sera, while also visiting the hospital, a project supported by the travel company, and learning what to look for in Land Cruiser transportation. The next day we hopped in said Land Cruisers for the scenic drive to Gyantse via one of Tibet’s four holy lakes - Yamdrok Tso. In Gyantse we climbed to the fort when we arrived, and then checked out the Kumbum the following morning before embarking on the short drive to Shigatse. In the afternoon we visited Tashilhunpo Monastery. I’ve never liked Shigatse as a city, but I’ve always enjoyed visiting the monastery. However, it really has to be done in the morning when all the pilgrims visit. It was too eerie to have the place essentially to ourselves in the afternoon. Plus only a handful of the normal chapels were open to us.
On the 7th we took the 8-hour drive back to Lhasa via a route I hadn’t traveled before, and it provided us with some great views. The next day it was time to end our all-too-short training trip to Tibet, so I made my way down here to Hong Kong, while the others headed to Beijing. At least this time I left Tibet pretty sure that I’ll be able to return in 5-6 weeks time, so that’s a great feeling. I do love it there.
Here in Hong Kong I’ve simply been trying to catch up on some sleep to get over this chest cold, and have turned my passport in for a new visa. I’m hoping that all will go well with that and I’ll be able to return to China soon. In the meantime I’m trying to get everything organized for leading my first trip with Intrepid, which will start in Kunming on April 25. I’m looking forward to it.
And with that, another journal entry is completed. I hope all is going well in your part of the world, and I’ll catch you from somewhere down the road.