Posts tagged ‘Tiger Leaping Gorge’

An ode to Asia – our top ten experiences

In ways it feels like only yesterday that Gary and I said tearful goodbyes to our Mums and Dads and set off with our names sewn on to our shiny new backpacks, hardly able to breath for all the excitement/nerves/sadness/happiness and general overwhelming flow of emotions vying for our attention. Yet somehow, we have found ourselves a few days short of halfway and, even more alarmingly, out of Asia. Somehow we have become semi-seasoned travellers. Gone is the lettering on our bags – the victims of a hundred careless baggage handlers – and the brand new look. Now everything we own smells like Asia; all our clothes have bobbles around the waist from chaffing backpacks; we don’t bounce out of bed at 7am every morning; we barter for everything even when it’s inappropriate; and we start sentences with the ever-infuriating “Well when I was in Laos/Cambodia/China/East Timor…” We could be gone for years or it could have just been days.

Leaving Asia, after having such a fantastic time, was more bitter than sweet. Granted Oz could offer us all the comforts of home – chocolate, television, air conditioning, home cooking, cleanliness and the ability to communicate – but would it surprise us with impromptu religious processions in the street? Would we have the fun of blind ordering creamed yams because we couldn’t read the menu? Would there be the same backpacker solidarity that we found in rural China or Vietnam? Would we be able to buy and sell motorbikes without a drivers license? Would we be able to afford even the  most basic of things? Hardly.

As a tribute to our favourite continent we decided to compile a bit of a nostalgic top ten list. After much squabbling and a few punches we came up with a list that surprised even us. Whenever asked we always say that we loved Japan and Thailand most yet China seems to have housed most of our best memories. The main difficulty lay in choosing just ten – how could we leave out watching the Hong Kong skyline come into focus from the Star Ferry or the Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan or having our teeth rattled out of our heads in Timor Leste? It was hard but here it is – our ode to Asia. It’s been emotional.

10.Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos
Choose getting wet. Choose taking off all your clothes in front of strangers. Choose sunburn. Choose throwing yourself into a fast-flowing river. Choose drinking from a bucket. Choose falling out of a tractor tyre. Choose dropping your camera in the water. Choose dancing on tables. Choose 100 new friends, Choose killing your liver. Choose falling asleep at 5pm. Choose writing on your face in permanent marker. Choose risking your life for the best matinee party ever. Choose tubing in Vang Vieng.

9.The onsen experience, Japan
For most people being naked with a big group of people is about getting dirty. In Japan it’s about getting clean and let’s face it, there are very few times in life where you will have the opportunity to perch between two naked Asian women in an outdoor thermal mudbath high in the mist-shrouded mountains. The Japanese onsen experience, be it in the dedicated town of Beppu or a public facility in Tokyo, will change the way you feel about bath-time forever.

8.Food, just about everywhere
Slurrping down bowls of ramen at noodle bars; discovering mango and sticky rice at a roadside stall; bagging 20 Indonesian fried bananas for 40 cent; eating an entire fish on a stick; figuring out where M&S steal their recipes from over a bowl of fish amok; and the endless search for the best Thai curry. Who said eating in Asia just meant pad thai and fried rice? Yes there was enthusiastic vomitting and 100 odd boxes of immodium but it was worth it to be able to say – “Can you make that Thai spicy, not farang (foreigner) spicy?” And thanks to fantastic cooking classes in China and Thailand we may never have to eat western food again…

7.Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan
The phrase ‘fresh sushi’ never rang as true as it does in Tsukiji Fish Market where fishermen and chefs meet to haggle over a 70 tonne tuna fish or a handful of live prawns. While the rest of Tokyo is still sleeping, skilled tradesmen gut fish with one hand while texting with the other and demonstrate just how easy it is to turn an eel inside out.

6.Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat was one of those extremely rare, heart-stopping moments. We’ve seen our fair share of religious sites from simple wooden structures in Kyoto to the ancient stupa of Borobudor and even the gold-plated royal temple in Bangkok but nothing has come even close to seeing the light change Angkor Wat from a vague black shadow to a spectacular glowing pink, orange and yellow marvel. Never has getting up at 4am been so worthwhile.

5.Tiger Leaping Gorge, China
There are very few places in China where you can find peace and quiet but over three days in Tiger Leaping Gorge our only human interaction was around a camp fire on our last night when we finally met the eight other hikers doing the trail. During the day we edged across cliffside waterfalls, dragged ourselves  by the fingernails up the last of the infamous 28 bends (more like 128 bends), clung onto fraying rope ladders for dear life and sat and stared in awe at the mighty Yangtze as it roared past Middle Tiger Leaping Rock.

4.Diving in Thailand
“Two thirds of the world’s surface is covered by water. How can you call yourself a traveller if you’re happy to settle for less than a third?” reads a sign in Ko Phi Phi. Diving in Thailand opened our eyes to an entirely different, entirely superior world full of vibrant colours, swaying reef and curious fish. Away from the blaring music, honking horns and obnoxious tauts we perfected our backflips and were adopted by schools of Sergent Major Fish.

3.Biking in Vietnam
Yes there were near death experiences, crashes, break-downs on mountain peaks, monsoons, burst tires, broken engines, dodgy chains, hit and runs, guilty pay-offs, police bribes and painful sunburns but as the saying goes – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Biking around Vietnam we managed to get off the very sticky tourist trail and see a whole other side to a very beautiful country. Of course it didn’t hurt that we got to know some great Aussies on the way too.

2.Halong Bay, Vietnam
Once listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam is a spectacular blanket of silky water broken by hundreds of dark shadows – giants hunched over as if in sleep. Add to that a traditional oriental junk, some fantastic food, a handful of great new friends and a liberal serving of alcohol and you have a New Year’s Eve to remember (or not remember). And as we all know, the only cure for a hangover is to run out of bed and leap straight from the deck of a boat into freezing cold water. Heaven.

1.The Great Wall of China
We had been on the Great Wall of China for around an hour and a half before we saw it. It’s hard to miss something that big (some say you can see it from the moon) but in the blanket of fog that had fallen over Beijing that cold winter’s morning we were more concerned about getting off the damn thing alive than we were about visibility. Subzero temperatures had left the wall coated in black ice, making an already precariously delapidated wall even more impassable. As we shuffled along, using our hands and bums to keep us from falling off the edge and into the abyss, the strangest thing happened. We turned a corner and all of a sudden the fog cleared and the sun came out. Stretched out before us was an endless stretch of sandy brickwork zig-zagging its way up and down the hilly landscape. We stopped dead, totally speechless. Bloody hell, we were on THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!

All our pictures from Asia are available in the gallery

April 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm 1 comment

The Towering Ladder of Death, Tiger Leaping Gorge (Day 2)

Afraid to approach Medusa to ask for breakfast, we left the Halfway House with empty bellies. While we were pretty impressed by all the scenery the day before – the green mountains, bleating goats and nearing snow-capped peaks – it turned out that our scenic walk had not yet begun.

Rounding one of the first bends of the morning we saw a waterfall diving from the top of a mountain over the dirt path and down to the bottom of the gorge. From the distance we could see a herd of what looked like cows but eventually turned out to be goats, picking their way gingerly through the spray. Crossing the waterfall meant choosing one of two paths – you could stick close to the wall and be pounded by sheets of water or you could keep your distance, shuffling precariously along the edge of the drop. The goats chose the latter so we followed suit, hopping from one slippery stone to another as Gary recorded a video post for the blog on my (now lost) camera.

Having successfuly negotiated the first hurdle of the day we ploughed headlong into the second – the steep decline down a rocky dirtpath to Tina’s guesthouse. Tina’s by the way, was not the colossal 600m tall monster that our doodle map had made it out to be. The restaurant did do a mean stir-fried potatoe dish though and the waitress provided very ambiguous onward directions. As is a re-occuring theme on the gorge, directions to every guesthouse were clearly signposted on every rock, tree or animal that would stand still long enough to be painted. Once we got passed the guesthouse though, we were more or less on our own.

After we left Tina’s we decided to head for the Middle Tiger Leaping Stone without fully knowing what a Middle Tiger Leaping Stone was supposed to be. Was it just a pebble? Or a rock with a plaque on it? Did it have a statue of Chairman Mao? Devoid of any useful map or directions, we decided to follow the small dog who had tagged along from Tina’s. He looked like he knew where he was going – like an ugly Chinese Lassie.

As it turns out Chinese Lassie did know where he was going and the rock pretty much did what it said on the tin. It was a massive hunk of stone sitting in the middle of the ferocious river which you could get onto by crossing a questionable rope bridge. “You could be killed…” The words of the guard we met yesterday kept floating through my head. Eventually though, they were drowned out by the deafening roar of the great Yangzi. Never really one for rivers, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed lying stretched out on the Middle Tiger Leaping Stone with Chinese Lassie as Gary clicked and whirred at the towering gorge from every angle.

There was of course, a catch. Having descended around 30 flights of stairs (some so steep that we had climbed down backwards on our hands and knees, bellies flat against the rough stone), we had to go back up. Que the Towering Ladder of Death. “Let’s take the ladder back up so we don’t have to retrace our steps – those stairs were a killer.” I remember saying to Gary who unfortunately agreed. So we climbed up to the base of the ladder where there was a sign pointing in one direction to the “Safe Route” and in another direction to the ladder. Hardy and well-endowed as we are, we decided to take a gamble on the ladder which looked like a relatively short iron structure bolted into the rockface. Wrapped in ivy and sheilded from the halfway point by a round metal cage it appealed to my romantic notions of what a real ladder should look like – an adventurer’s ladder. And what the hell, we were in China, doing a 3 day hike in the most scenic gorge I had ever seen. We could handle it.

Wrong.

On about the third rung of the ladder I realised that, far from being bolted into the mountain, the iron ladder was loosely tied to a rotting wooden structure underneath it. Any attempt to look upwards therefore resulted in the ladder swinging violently away from the rockface and out over the crashing river, now at least 100m below us. “Two people have already died on this Gorge,” warned a sign down below, “be careful, we don’t want to make it more.” Four or five rungs later, as the ground started to spin below me I remembered that I have a crippling fear of heights – oh well, it can’t be much further, I thought.

Wrong again.

Looking up I saw that Gary was still climbing, 15 minutes after getting onto the ladder which, from the bottom, hadn’t looked like it was more than 20 or 30 rungs high. By now he looked to be at least half way to the sun. “Why didn’t we take the safe route?” I thought as my hands became sweaty and my legs started to take on the muscle density of jelly. Then, just as I thought it couldn’t get worse, the wind picked up, buffeting violently against the rock and forcing the ladder to sail further away from the safety of the mountain. Too afraid to move a muscle I flattened myself against the ladder and contemplated going back down and taking the safe route. A quick glance below me convinced me that that wouldn’t be such a great idea – going down would be harder than going up. So, taking a few deep breaths I ploughed on, taking at least 5 years off my life in 15 long, sweaty, mentally disturbing minutes.

Finally I reached the top, panting, soaked through and terrified. Throwing myself up the last few feet and clinging to the dusty path I heard Gary’s muffled voice penetrating my relief. “I think that’s the first of the three ladders. And from what I can see this path doesn’t rejoin the safe route.” Oh crabapples.

Thankfully he was wrong, the Towering Ladder of Death was the second ladder, the third was a short 10 rung number which presented no risk of falling to a watery death. After that it was a steep but – in light of my ordeal on the ladder – pretty easy going 40 minute climb up a winding path, the top of which left us a merciful half hour away from Sean’s guesthouse, our rest stop for the second night.

Sean’s turned out to be a highlight of the trip for us. Located in Walnut Garden, the guesthouse has a majestic view over rice paddies, farmhouses and a full quartet of goats, chickens dogs and screaming children. Settling into seats on the flagstone patio we were thrilled to discover three things:

1. The rest of the travellers were now following the same schedule as us so we had company for the night in the form of an architecht, a civil servant, a forest ranger, an archaeologist, a Parisien, a Texan and a South American

2. The hostess had lit a massive fire for us to sit around

3. It being only 5pm we would get full enjoyment out of happy hour which stretched until 9pm and promised bottles of Tsing Tao for a bargain 4RMB (40c).

And enjoy it we did. Sitting around the fire with our generous host family comparing scars and listening to stories about Dan and Ashley (who we were to spend the next week following) almost being chased over the edge of a cliff in the Bamboo Forest by a runaway bull, The Towering Ladder of Death was soon forgotten. As the night went on and her shyness was replaced by curiosity, we also made another addition to our merry little band of misfits – a beautiful little Chinese girl. What started out as a friendly game of ball with Gary soon developed into an entire procession of her favourite foods and for me, a lesson on how to eat sunflower seeds properly, spitting out the shells with appropriate Chinese gusto.

The plan for the next day had been to hike the last few kilometers up to the ferry which would take us across the river to meet the early bus back to Lijiang. Our hostess kindly informed us however, that the Chinese authorities had caused a blockage in the river while they were playing with their dynamite during the day so the ferry was no longer running. We decided to order a fleet of minibuses to drive us back instead only to wake up the following morning, hungover and with swollen feet, to hear that another explosion during the night had blocked off the only road out of the gorge. Never fear however, our minibus drivers were willing to go anyway.

The minibus ride back to the town was what you would call an experience. Taking some small comfort in the knowledge that our diver was born and raised in the gorge, we spent a nerve wracking 2 hours peering over the edge of steep cliff drops as he trudged along, one wheel skimming over the drop. When we did meet the rockfall we had to wait an hour while two diggers lifted boulders out of our paths and threw them carelessly down the mountain.

Thank God that was the end of our journey rather than the beginning. After spending two days watching puffs of smoke and dust rise over the sites of explosions that were too close for comfort, we weren’t exactly clambouring to go back. Had we the gift of foresight when we decided to brave the hike, chances are we would have decided that we valued our fully intact limbs too much to risk it. But the gorge was more than worth the risk – one of those fantastic, adrenalin filled once in a lifetime experiences – totally surreal at the time and, once it was finished, seeming more like a strange shared dream rather than something we had actually done together, oohing, ahhing, singing, bickering and laughing ourselves silly.

It was Tiger Leaping Gorge-ous!

More pictures from Tiger Leaping Gorge are available on the gallery

December 29, 2009 at 3:58 am 1 comment

Tiger Leaping Gorge-ous, Yunnan, China (Day 1)

As it stands the Tiger Leaping Gorge is closed to hikers. This is because construction work is taking place on the lower road – work that involves frequent haphazard explosions – so there is a guard posted at the entrance to ward off idiots like us. As you will see, he is a particularly useful cog in the wheels of the Chinese government.

Guard: “Where are you going?”

Us: “Just to that guesthouse there behind you.”

Guard: “You aren’t going to hike the gorge are you?”

Us: “No of course not, it’s closed isn’t it?”

Guard: “Yes, it’s closed for construction so it would be very very dangerous for anyone hiking the route.”

Us: “Of course.”

Guard: “Here, take this sheet of paper which says that you shouldn’t hike the gorge because if you do, you could be killed.”

Us: “Okay, thanks. We’ll just go to our guesthouse now. The route starts just over there doesn’t it?”

Guard: “Yes. Goodbye. And good luck.

I would like to say that that was the start of our expedition but unfortunately, having for some reason taken Gary’s directions, we had already walked 5km towards Shangri-la and back.

For the last few days we had been to-ing and fro-ing over the prospect of hiking the gorge and had eventually dismissed it as a terrible idea akin to cycling 150km around a lake. That was until the boredom set in. As much as we enjoyed Dali and Lijiang and the rest of our trip, it was starting to become worryingly same-y – an endless whirl of temples, bike rides, winding alleyways, quaint towns, lukewarm hostels and snap-happy tourists. In short, we needed to shake things up so we threw a spare pair of underwear, a hand drawn map and some suncream into our tiny day packs an headed for the hills.

The first few hours were pretty mundane – we rounded the first few mountains, stopped for a lunch of fried rice and caught our first few glimpses of the gorge. We weren’t realy tired at all so when we met other hikers who tutted at my Berkenstocks and Gary’s grip-free runners, labelling them “inappropriate footwear” we laughed them off. What was all the fuss about – this was only a mere 3 day hill walk. Any old granny with half a hip could do it in her slippers. Soon after lunch we started to choke on our arrogance.

Of course we had heard of the 28 bends before we left Lijiang – what prospective hiker hasn’t? According to backpacker folklore they were the 28 steepest turns ever to wind their way up a mountain. They were bends paved with fire, glass and screaming babies over whom you had to trod to get to the top. Once you had trampled the screaming glass fire babies, you would, according to eyewitness accounts, have to battle a troll, a witch and a flying goat before crawling on your hands and knees over stones made of the strongest, most jagged, razor-sharp titanium to the top. However, since it appeared on our omniscent hand-drawn map as a squiggly line no more than half an inch long and around one-sixth the size of Tina’s Guesthouse we figured we could take it in a mere bound or two.

How wrong we were.

The first 35 bends (we counted them) were a little strenuous but manageable for such hardy, world-worn travellers as us. We stopped frequently under pretenses such as admiring a particularly large beetle, staring wistfully into the distance, letting a kid (of the goat variety) pass by and as we ran out of ready-made excuses, gasping desperately for water.

At the end of the 35 bends we tripped over a small woman selling chilled drinks, snickers bars, pipes and chicken’s feet at a makeshift shop. “Alas, the end!” we rejoiced. “No, no!” she said, the pleasure evident in her shining eyes, “28 bends that-a way. This not 28 bends!” She produced a hand-drawn map and pointed to a spot a few centimetres below the short squiggly line. “You here.” Timing her pitch perfectly she waited until panic and despair filled our faces before driving home the sale. “You want some ganga? Hashish?”

Oh God. I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted less at that moment. Some altitude sickness medication, a piggyback, even a hug would have been nice. But some ill-gotten sleeping potion? Before crawling over titanium babies and fire kids? You’re having a laugh.

No, we said, we were okay for ganga and hashish. Even if we could chew it. Even if she would chew it for us. Even if she would carry us up the bends on her back afterwards. Even if the pixies would carry us up the bends on their backs afterwards. No, we would go onwards and upwards over screaming goats and flying babies.

And onwards we went past ten, fifty, one hundred bends; over glass, fire and infants; battling Nintendo boss after Nintendo boss; crying bitter tears of blood as we puffed, panted and crunched our way to the end. The view, we said, would be worth it all. Worth the broken bones, the soiled underware and the bloody feet. The views, we said, would be spectacular.

When we finally reached the top of the bends we were still 10 metres short of the top of the mountain. The trail, as it turns out, doesn’t go the whole way up and the panoramic view promised by our all-knowing crayon map is monopolised by a particularly mean looking woman who demands 10 yuen to take your photo at the edge of the mountain. Far from trusting her with our cameras, we weren’t confident that we could trust this enterprising member of the mountain community not to push us over the edge just for the giggles so we sighed and slogged onwards in the hope that we could reach the Halfway House before nightfall.

According to the backpacker community the Halfway House was the best place to stop on your first night so when we passed Teahorse and we saw a group of half a dozen hikers sitting on a mountainside terrace drinking beer and laughing, we ignored our better judgement and kept going. Common sense said that they were the only other people on the gorge apart from one other straggler who could be anywhere. Common sense also dictated that at 5.30pm when you have altitude sickness and are horribly sunburned, exhausted, starving and salivating at the thought of a cold bottle of Tsing Tao, you should pack it in and embrace the propect of a night spent exchanging horror stories and friendly banter.

Common sense however, seemed to have taken up the glassy-eyed ganga woman on her offer earlier and was doubtlessly sitting at the bottom of the mountain marvelling at the talking, flying goats. We, on the other hand were stumbling urgently along the last 6km to the Halfway House.

Thankfully we arrived before sunset and were greeted by a twenty-something girl who, according to her scowl, was carrying the weight of the starving masses on her shoulders. The conversation went something like this:

Us: “Can we have a double room please?”

Girl: Tuts and rolls eyes.

Us: “Is that a no then?”

Girl: “Fine, follow me.”

Five Minues later:

Us: “I’m sorry, there doesn’t seem to be any power.”

Girl: “No power.”

Us: “Is there going to be any power tonight? It’s getting dark.”

Girl: Shrugs.

Us: “Is the power broken or is it just turned off?”

Girl: “No power.”

Us: “Oh, how about dinner? Will there be dinner?”

Girl: Shrugs and rolls eyes. “Maybe later.”

Us: “Oh, well the window in our room only meets the wall on two sides so it’s really cold. Can we see another room?”

Girl: Runs through every Chinese curse word she knows while rooting through her massive pile of keys looking for the dingiest room she can find. She eventually leads us to such a room in which there is a wooden board balanced on two garden benches. It is covered by a sheet.

Us: “I think we’ll keep the one we have. Thanks.”

Girl: Shrugs and leaves.

Despite the initial hiccups the Halfway House wasn’t that bad in the end. It turned out that the other hiker had arrived – a German with a very workable grasp of Chinese. The three of us had a lovely candlelit dinner of delicious stir fried potatoes, pumpkin soup and Tsing Tao. Eventually the power did come on and we flopped into our beds which, as it happens, were equipped with electric blankets. The guesthouse also made good on its promise of ‘scenic toilet views’, offering guests the unique experience of balancing on the balls of their feet (westerners cannot squat on the flats of their feet just as fish cannot ride bicycles) over a rancid hole in the floor while gazing upon the most spectacular moutain vistas.

At around 8pm fed, watered and thoroughly exhausted, we fell into a well-earned slumber until the beaming sun woke us up for a second day of fun and misadventure on the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

[GREY] Day 1
As it stands the Tiger Leaping Gorge is closed to hikers. This is because construction work is taking place on the lower road – work that involves frequent haphazard explosions – so there is a guard posted at the entrance to ward off idiots like us. As you will see, he is a particularly useful cog in the wheels of the Chinese government.

Guard: “Where are you going?”
Us: “Just to that guesthouse there behind you.”
Guard: “You aren’t going to hike the gorge are you?”
Us: “No of course not, it’s closed isn’t it?”
Guard: “Yes, it’s closed for construction so it would be very very dangerous for anyone hiking the route.”
Us: “Of course.”
Guard: “Here, take this sheet of paper which says that you shouldn’t hike the gorge because if you do, you could be killed.”
Us: “Okay, thanks. We’ll just go to our guesthouse now. The route starts just over there doesn’t it?”
Guard: “Yes. Goodbye. And good luck.”

I would like to say that that was the start of our expedition but unfortunately, having for some reason taken Gary’s directions, we had already walked 5km towards Shangri-la and back.

For the last few days we had been to-ing and fro-ing over the prospect of hiking the gorge and had eventually dismissed it as a terrible idea akin to cycling 150km around a lake. That was until the boredom set in. As much as we enjoyed Dali and Lijiang and the rest of our trip, it was starting to become worryingly same-y – an endless whirl of temples, bike rides, winding alleyways, quaint towns, lukewarm hostels and snap-happy tourists. In short, we needed to shake things up so we threw a spare pair of underwear, a hand drawn map and some suncream into our tiny day packs an headed for the hills.

The first few hours were pretty mundane – we rounded the first few mountains, stopped for a lunch of fried rice and caught our first few glimpses of the gorge. We weren’t realy tired at all so when we met other hikers who tutted at my Berkenstocks and Gary’s grip-free runners, labelling them “inappropriate footwear” we laughed them off. What was all the fuss about – this was only a mere 3 day hill walk. Any old granny with half a hip could do it in her slippers. Soon after lunch we started to choke on our arrogance.

Of course we had heard of the 28 bends before we left Lijiang – what prospective hiker hasn’t? According to backpacker folklore they were the 28 steepest turns ever to wind their way up a mountain. They were bends paved with fire, glass and screaming babies over whom you had to trod to get to the top. Once you had trampled the screaming glass fire babies, you would, according to eyewitness accounts, have to battle a troll, a witch and a flying goat before crawling on your hands and knees over stones made of the strongest, most jagged, razor-sharp titanium to the top. However, since it appeared on our omniscent hand-drawn map as a squiggly line no more than half an inch long and around one-sixth the size of Tina’s Guesthouse we figured we could take it in a mere bound or two.

How wrong we were.

The first 35 bends (we counted them) were a little strenuous but manageable for such hardy, world-worn travellers as us. We stopped frequently under pretenses such as admiring a particularly large beetle, staring wistfully into the distance, letting a kid (of the goat variety) pass by and as we ran out of ready-made excuses, gasping desperately for water.

At the end of the 35 bends we tripped over a small woman selling chilled drinks, snickers bars, pipes and chicken’s feet at a makeshift shop. “Alas, the end!” we rejoiced. “No, no!” she said, the pleasure evident in her shining eyes, “28 bends that-a way. This not 28 bends!” She produced a hand-drawn map and pointed to a spot a few centimetres below the short squiggly line. “You here.” Timing her pitch perfectly she waited until panic and despair filled our faces before driving home the sale. “You want some ganga? Hashish?”

Oh God. I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted less at that moment. Some altitude sickness medication, a piggyback, even a hug would have been nice. But some ill-gotten sleeping potion? Before crawling over titanium babies and fire kids? You’re having a laugh.

No, we said, we were okay for ganga and hashish. Even if we could chew it. Even if she would chew it for us. Even if she would carry us up the bends on her back afterwards. Even if the pixies would carry us up the bends on their backs afterwards. No, we would go onwards and upwards over screaming goats and flying babies.

And onwards we went past ten, fifty, one hundred bends; over glass, fire and infants; battling Nintendo boss after Nintendo boss; crying bitter tears of blood as we puffed, panted and crunched our way to the end. The view, we said, would be worth it all. Worth the broken bones, the soiled underware and the bloody feet. The views, we said, would be spectacular.

When we finally reached the top of the bends we were still 10 metres short of the top of the mountain. The trail, as it turns out, doesn’t go the whole way up and the panoramic view promised by our all-knowing crayon map is monopolised by a particularly mean looking woman who demands 10 yuen to take your photo at the edge of the mountain. Far from trusting her with our cameras, we weren’t confident that we could trust this enterprising member of the mountain community not to push us over the edge just for the giggles so we sighed and slogged onwards in the hope that we could reach the Halfway House before nightfall.

According to the backpacker community the Halfway House was the best place to stop on your first night so when we passed Teahorse and we saw a group of half a dozen hikers sitting on a mountainside terrace drinking beer and laughing, we ignored our better judgement and kept going. Common sense said that they were the only other people on the gorge apart from one other straggler who could be anywhere. Common sense also dictated that at 5.30pm when you have altitude sickness and are horribly sunburned, exhausted, starving and salivating at the thought of a cold bottle of Tsing Tao, you should pack it in and embrace the propect of a night spent exchanging horror stories and friendly banter.

Common sense however, seemed to have taken up the glassy-eyed ganga woman on her offer earlier and was doubtlessly sitting at the bottom of the mountain marvelling at the talking, flying goats. We, on the other hand were stumbling urgently along the last 6km to the Halfway House.

Thankfully we arrived before sunset and were greeted by a twenty-something girl who, according to her scowl, was carrying the weight of the starving masses on her shoulders. The conversation went something like this:

Us: “Can we have a double room please?”

Girl: Tuts and rolls eyes.

Us: “Is that a no then?”

Girl: “Fine, follow me.”

Five Minues later:

Us: “I’m sorry, there doesn’t seem to be any power.”

Girl: “No power.”

Us: “Is there going to be any power tonight? It’s getting dark.”

Girl: Shrugs.

Us: “Is the power broken or is it just turned off?”

Girl: “No power.”

Us: “Oh, how about dinner? Will there be dinner?”

Girl: Shrugs and rolls eyes. “Maybe later.”

Us: “Oh, well the window in our room only meets the wall on two sides so it’s really cold. Can we see another room?”

Girl: Runs through every Chinese curse word she knows while rooting through her massive pile of keys looking for the dingiest room she can find. She eventually leads us to such a room in which there is a wooden board balanced on two garden benches. It is covered by a sheet.

Us: “I think we’ll keep the one we have. Thanks.”

Girl: Shrugs and leaves.

Despite the initial hiccups the Halfway House wasn’t that bad in the end. It turned out that the other hiker had arrived – a German with a very workable grasp of Chinese. The three of us had a lovely candlelit dinner of delicious stir fried potatoes, pumpkin soup and Tsing Tao. Eventually the power did come on and we flopped into our beds which, as it happens, were equipped with electric blankets. The guesthouse also made good on its promise of ‘scenic toilet views’, offering guests the unique experience of balancing on the balls of their feet (westerners cannot squat on the flats of their feet just as fish cannot ride bicycles) over a rancid hole in the floor while gazing upon the most spectacular moutain vistas.

At around 8pm fed, watered and thoroughly exhausted, we fell into a well-earned slumber until the beaming sun woke us up for a second day of fun and misadventure on the Tiger Leaping Gorge

December 28, 2009 at 5:39 pm 2 comments


Welcome

Thanks for coming to visit us – stay tuned to watch us argue, punch, kick, pinch and scream our way around some of the most beautiful parts of the world.

Over the next year we will be fighting in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America.

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