Thursday 12th May 2011
19 days left traveling the world.
MP3 track of the day: She wants to move – N.E.R.D
Weather: Still hot within Dali however the temperature within Lijiang is a lot more pleasant, due to it being higher within the mountains. The skies are still blue and fluffy white clouds float effortlessly across the sky.
Due to having a stupidly early night I was up ... stupidly early. I got ready and went on the internet before time, I thought, had ticked on enough for me to be able to get through the doors of my favourite breakfast joint. As I approached the 'sweet tooth' café it turned out that I was still a little early and so I went for my last walk around the streets of Dali. I'm going to miss Dail; yes it's full of tacky souvenir shops, yes it's full of tour groups and yes you can't really say that it's the 'real China' but the skies are always blue and it has a very relaxed atmosphere.
I ordered the white chocolate cheesecake and once more it came with far too many berries. However, unlike the previous time I'd ordered it, I got cream. I scraped most of the berries off and cut the cake into slices; each slice was accompanied with a proportionate amount of cream and berries. I couldn't really savour the flavour, due to constantly 'clock watching', therefore I ate quickly and headed back to my hostel to pay my accommodation bill.
I hadn't been informed that a taxi would be taking me to my coach, however it wasn't a major problem. My only concern was that if the taxi dropped me off incorrectly I had nothing written in Chinese asking where the coach to Lijiang departed from. The hostel receptionist walked me to the taxi pick-up point and we chatted slightly before it arrived. The taxi driver had to pick up one other person (a Chinese girl who spoke a little English) before dropping me off, at a tourist office, that I could have walked to quicker. There we both waited for our coach to Lijiang.
The coach turned up half an hour late; the driver had a cigarette hanging loosely from his mouth and looked uninterested as he put mine, and the girls, rucksacks in the boot of the vehicle. There were already people on the coach and I was surprised to find a single-seat remaining vacant. As we drove away there were a few reasons why said seat had been left vacant; firstly there wasn't any leg room and so I had to sit sideways, secondly the sun was beating through the window burning my arm (I still didn't close the curtain as I wanted to see where I was going) but the most annoying aspect of sitting within this seat was that the window next to me was loose rattling for the entire journey. I pressed my MP3 players ear phones, gently into my ears, and turned the volume up.
I spent the first part of the trip reading my guidebook, looking up things that I would like to do within Lijiang. After that I looked at the view outside; at first the view wasn't that spectacular and I was contemplating in pulling the curtain to save the skin on my arm. I persevered; I moved slightly away from the window and continued to look, using my hat to try and provide shade. As the hours ticked by the view got better; we started to climb up into the mountains and deathly drops could be seen below. The ground was dry and rocks were scattered across the landscape but there were few trees or urban settlements. The settlements I did see were usually agricultural; the villages were surrounded by fields and many a peasant could be seen working away. It was a lovely sight, but nothing I'd not seen before. For the last hour the road turned into a dirt track – due to roadworks – and I was thrown this way and that; the window started to rattle even louder and I could feel eyes upon me as if it was my fault. To make matters worse some of the Chinese had started to spit into the bins provided and one guy was smoking … with a no smoking sign above his head.
Eventually we stopped within Lijiang. One positive was that we had stopped closer to the old town than I'd expected; on the bad side I had no idea where I was. I started to study my map when the only other tourist on the bus – who also happened to be British – came and asked if we could travel together. That was fine by me though he had less of an idea where we were than I did. The Chinese girl, who'd boarded the coach with me, tried to help. Luckily I had my destination written in Chinese; she grabbed the piece of paper out of my hand and went to ask the first local she could find. I was praying more that the sheet of paper would be returned (as without it I had no hope) than actually been given the correct directions; the girl returned, handed me my directions, and pointed westerly. Before we could thank her she had started walking within the opposite direction.
After a few minutes walking I had some idea of where we were; west seemed a logical direction and so we continued walking. As if by magic a Chinese guy appeared out of nowhere and decided to accompany us; with his large suitcase he struggled to keep up however he kept talking in Chinese and, occasionally, would grab my directions from me to ask locals. As quickly as he had appeared he seemed to disappear; we looked behind us but shrugged as we decided that he had been consumed by the crowds. It mattered not, we were getting close and, after asking another two locals, we found ourselves at a crossroads within the old town. I usually ask older people for directions, as they seem to know where places are; however as I looked to my right two Chinese women – with really short and really tight skirts – were coming along the street towards us. The look of the 'innocent tourist' comes easy to me now and as they approached I asked them for help. Once again my Chinese directions were grabbed from my hands and they started walking down a street to my right; I followed, flicking through the pages of my guidebook trying to find 'fancy dinner later' in Chinese without success.
Following two women presented it's own entertainment and I didn't really take in much of the surroundings. All too soon the girls stopped; I looked at the sign to my right to find that we were stood outside the hostel I was booked into. I thanked them, still annoyed that I couldn't work out how to ask them for their numbers, as they smiled and left. The hostel seemed nice enough; the receptionist's English wasn't perfect but I managed to check-in successfully. The other English guy decided to check in too and we were both shown to the same dorm room. A little small but pleasant enough we both dropped our stuff off before heading into town. The time was 3pm and I was starving.
My guidebook stated that the small cobbled streets of Lijiang were a maze for the inexperienced and it wasn't lying; the streets were narrow and they turned and twisted as if they had a life of their own. It was difficult to pinpoint useful landmarks as all the buildings looked the same, all sold the same tourist souvenirs and all seemed to play the same music. We walked for a while in any direction that took our fancy; we chatted about our travels as it appears that we have both been to the same places. Lijiang maybe a maze but it's extremely pleasant; whereas Dali was flat, Lijiang is built on a hillside meaning that many roofs, of many buildings, can be seen as you look up. Small stone bridges crossed smaller stoned rivers and squares appeared out of nowhere. We didn't walk for long as we were both hungry; we found a restaurant and were shown to a table in front of a live musician. We tried to keep our conversation alive but the music was too loud, in the end we asked to be reseated to which the waiter moved us to the third floor over looking the street below. The view was lovely however we both felt that the waiter had been a little extreme; I ordered a plate of vegetables, with tofu, which was as exciting as it sounded. We ate and chatted for a while before leaving said restaurant full, but bored.
We continued to walk through the old town before returning to our hostel; once back I picked up my diary and went to reception to book my 'Epic train journey'. In three days time I want to start travelling to Loyuang, which is five hours to the east of Xi'an; at the best its going to take three nights and consists of taking:
- a night train from Lijiang to Kumming
- a two night train from Kumming to Xi'an
- a five hour train from Xi'an to Loyuang
In some ways I was looking forward to the journey; all of it would be in the comfort of a soft seater cabin and, as long as I stocked up on supplies, it should allow me to rest and get back on schedule. I went to the reception to purchase said tickets however, due to their lack of English, the process became painful. Instead I opted to follow the suggestion made by a fellow traveller and I walked down to the local 'HI' hostel. I walked into a rather pleasant building with a wooden counter, there I presented my mammoth trip to the lady on reception. Apart from answering the phone while serving me she was very polite, helpful and pleasant; she said that she could only help with the first two train journeys as the last one would started outside of the province of Yunnan; using the internet she showed me that many services depart from Xi'an to Loyuang and once she'd written down a short passage, in Chinese, stating that “...I would like to purchase a soft seat on the 8:35am, or 8:55am, train from Xi'an to Loyuang...” I was more than confident that I could get this rail ticket on my arrival within Xi'an. Once the two rail tickets had been booked I asked her about a day trip to the 'Tiger Leaping Gorge' which she said was possible; the hike takes two days and I haven't got that amount of time but the day trip sounded promising. It consisted of a three hour bus ride before being dropped off forty minutes from the gorge; I decided to think about it but, having come all this way, I was very tempted. I thanked her and said that I'll be back tomorrow to pick up my train tickets (which cost £80 … not bad considering three days of travel).
I returned to my hostel to find my evening disappearing. The English guy I'd met earlier had found a small group of travellers to chat too, which consisted of one Canadian and two British; I joined in the conversation until they left for tea allowing me to surf the web. Tomorrow I'll look around Lijiang, including the 'Black Dragon Pools', before picking up my train tickets and, I think, booking myself on a trip to the gorge for Saturday. For now sleep … it's been a long day.