I really found it hard to make a decision of what to write about for my first blog for Lookin For Jonny. I am currently attempting an overland (and water) trip from London to Melbourne which has got me to Thailand, and in the last 6 months I have experienced some incredible things. But when I thought of something that has really set my heart alight, I thought about Yunnan Province in China, and more specifically trekking the Tiger Leaping Gorge there.
Let me please confirm: I am not a trekker. I am the girl that squeezes 4 meals into a day to make the most of a country’s culinary delights. My perfect day in a foreign country consists of taking my time wandering around towns, taking photos of odd little things, being diverted by anyone with interesting conversation or an infectious laugh. I am not someone who looks at a mountain and wants to run up it, just someone who wonders what the view might be like from the top. In short, I am lazy!
The majority of my time in China I spent in Yunnan Province, on the advice of a friend who lived in Beijing. And I am grateful to him, because Yunnan shows off some of China’s most spectacular natural scenery tucked in under the looming mountains separating it from Tibet. Some of the towns have been marred by tourist tackiness for which I am to blame as someone wanting to experience its wonder, but other towns on the tourist route like Dali have kept their magic intact and every visitor respects and mellows with the chilled pace of life. Lijiang is a town that has overflowed with tourist trade, and I felt this has left its inhabitants hardened and weary from the intrusion from both western and Chinese tourists. Regardless of this, the ancient town is beautiful and most of the people are still kind and engaging. This is the gateway to the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek. Any hostel seems to organise a bus to the foot of the trek, which you can do unguided and on your own. I could have easily excused my way out of it but met a lovely Kiwi girl equally indecisive and we talked ourselves into giving it a go. A day’s trek, a night on the gorge and a morning’s trek the next day, and all for a 65Y national park entrance fee and about 45Y for a bed.
Scared at our lack of fitness, and lack of any relevant gear, we sat on the bus next to couples in full hiking apparel giggling at the thought that our trainers wouldn’t get us past the ticket office. Ahead was a full day uphill, a night on the gorge and a morning’s trek the next day. Not a ridiculous challenge but enough to make me sweat before we even started. We hit our stride, distracting ourselves from the challenge by talking about life, love, and travel. The famous “28 bends” loomed ahead and as we reached The Naxi Guesthouse for lunch we realised not only had we not started the 28 bends, but that we were hours from the start of the difficult section of Tiger Leaping Gorge.
But it is amazing what rice and chilli chicken can do for morale, that and a good chat with some other “hikers”, all going at their own pace, but all stopping for a much needed feed at the same restaurant.
We began our 28 bends and after an hour stopped for some water with a woman insistent that we buy some mysterious stuff for a good night’s sleep at the guest house. I assured her I would not need any help sleeping that night! Then she wished us luck for the difficult 28 bends.
“Excuse me, you mean we haven’t started it yet?”
“Oh no, they start 100m up there…”
Our faces dropped; crap! So off we went. After a few turns I decided to keep in my mind that we had done 10 of the turns; not quite halfway but not at the beginning. I lied to myself to keep my legs moving, stopping every 10 metres to catch my breath from the altitude and admire the views. What number turn?
“Ten!” I shouted,
but a lady called back; “No; you are at the top! You want water?”
A little achievement for some, a lot for others, but however difficult the climb felt, any aches are swept away and forgotten instantly by the pumping endorphins and the magic of the view. We sat in silence overwhelmed by it. Smiling like idiots as if we had drunk a whole bottle of rum. From there onwards is an incredible walk along the edge of a gorge that drops 2000m to the raging Yangtze below. When we arrived at our guest house for the evening, we met people who had been on the bus in the morning and were slowly joined by more and more happy, tired walkers desperate for a beer. As the sun set on the towering mountains, we filled our bellies with great food and gave in to the need for sleep.
The sleep was not quite deep enough to stop me from waking up when a mouse ran across my pillow in the night, resulting in that cartoon reaction of shrieking on a chair followed by creating an impenetrable fortress out of my blanket, which I nearly suffocated in. But at least I didn’t have to worry about finding mouse poop on my face in the morning. Winning.
The two days in that stunning scenery is the highlight of a fantastic month in southern China. I would tell anyone to do it without a second thought. You ARE fit enough, it is NOT that difficult, those shoes will be fine and the happiness you feel at reaching the top trail outweighs any discomfort from a sweaty back! I would do it all again to watch that sunrise from our guest house sat at 2345metres. I decided to pick one corner of China and wander slowly with my arms swinging. If I had tried to see more I might have told myself I didn’t have the time for the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and missed the experience. The opportunity to travel has in turn offered up moments where I have felt so privileged to witness things a camera will never truly capture. I hope the photos can explain a little of the wonder, but it is something I recommend is seen in real life.