Sunday, 8 May 2011

Hiking once more

Sunday 8th May 2011

23 days left traveling the world.

MP3 track of the day: Climb every mountain – Sound of Music

Weather: Hot; however the further I ascended, up the mountain, the cooler it became. Temperature aside the weather was perfect; bright blue skies with fluffy white clouds … lovely

I awoke to a choir of snoring hippies; it would appear that at least three – one of which was a woman – of my eleven 'room mates' were snoring away each using a different tone, depth and length. Neither person was in time with the other and so trying to sleep was useless; I sat up in bed, trying to think of a song that sounded similar to the snoring that surrounded me but none came to mind. Eventually I got up and got ready.

I decided to try the 'Oreo cheesecake' today and, whilst it was very pleasant, it wasn't as nice as yesterdays cake. The absence of cream didn't help but, even so, I finished the cake before I'd even drunk half of my hot chocolate. The plan for today was to ascend as far up Zhonghe Peak as possible. Unfortunately my guidebook seemed vague on how to get to the base of the mountain; as I read it seemed that I had to start at a small bridge, on the highway just north of the town. Once there I had to walk through a cemetery before coming across a huge engraved stone. This description left me puzzled as to why I had to head north when Zhonghe Peak was due west. I didn't argue; I tilted my head back, drinking the last mouthful of hot chocolate, before getting up and heading towards the northern gate.

I walked for ages; at first I did indeed head north however, once I'd arrived at the 'San Ta' pagodas - that I'd visited yesterday - I knew that I'd gone too far. I therefore followed the main highway south, looking west. I walked up two or three side-streets searching for a bridge, cemetery or a huge engraved stone but none could be seen. After almost two hours of searching I walked up, what looked like, a main road due west of Dali. Half way up I met two tuk-tuk drivers trying to offer me a ride; I declined and continued walking west until I met a dead-end. As I came back down the road one of tuk-tuk drivers crossed my path showing me a photo of a cable car running up a mountain. I really wanted to walk up said mountain however, given the fact that even finding the entrance was proving difficult, I followed the way the tuk-tuk driver was pointing. She stopped me, once more, with her male college by her side; I think they were asking for either two Yuan to take me there, or two Yuan for the information they had divulged. Either way I wasn't paying and so I played the confused tourist by thanking them a lot before, once again, walking in the direction that they had pointed. As I walked the man got into his tuk-tuk and followed me; I'd give him ten out of ten for being persistent however he was a lot easier to shake off than the vultures within South East Asia.

As I thought a tuk-tuk ride wasn't necessary. I soon found myself approaching a gate with a ticket office to the right hand side; unlike most countries I found myself forced to pay an entrance fee (£3) to walk up a natural feature that no one man had the right to own … Kiwi's wouldn't put up with this! Just past the ticket office I saw the cable car departure point and, at only £2.50, I thought about taking the lazy way up. Even though I'd walked two hours to get this far I declined paying as the cable car was actually a ski lift. As I saw the benches swing helplessly within the air I decided that it was probably better keeping my feet firmly on the ground. I turned around and started along the mountain path; as I looked up the summit it seemed a long way a way.

Once I'd signed into 'check point one' I followed the path that the 'forest guard' had pointed to. Only after a few minutes of walking did I stumble upon a fork in the road; it was easy to determine which path I needed but I made a mental note of the junction for the return journey. As I continued walking I hoped that there weren't going to be too many more deviations ahead. I had barely begun walking when I noticed a young Chinese couple, within the middle of a multiple path junction, looking as lost as I did. With no signs we decided to walk together and keep the ski lift within site. Both were college students within Dali, the guy couldn't speak English whereas his girlfriend, who was cute, could speak a few words. The fact that neither were fluent in English didn't really matter as the ascent was steep and we kept talking to a minimum.

All around Chinese tombs could be seen and we had our first rest stop within the middle of some. Once sat down the girl asked why I hadn't taken the ski lift; as I had taken every step I'd been asking myself the same question and I said to her that I liked to walk … she smiled and said that they liked to walk too. Even though the pine trees provided some shade the day was still extremely hot; add to this the punishing pace we kept meant that I was regretting putting on a clean shirt today as it was already soaked in sweat. We kept pressing on, keeping one eye on the path and the other on the ski lift above. My guidebook stated that the ascent should have taken two hours however, with no signs, I think we had taken a much quicker ascending path and within an hour we were at the top. We walked slowly to the benches provided over looking the town of Dali; my guidebook stated that “... the views of the lake and the mountains beyond are stupendous...”. I agreed as I took my time photographing the panoramic view that lay below me. The sun was so fierce that it did 'white wash' the mountains within the back ground however that didn't matter much, just to be away from the crowds and to be given this exceptional view was fine by me.

My guidebook said very little other than about the view and the small temple which lay behind me; it was my new Chinese friends that said they were going to take the mountain walkway south to the far end. “... That's over 9km!...” I replied as I looked at my watch; the girl agreed innocently and stated that the guard estimated the hike would take three hours. Three hours there, three hours back and around two hours to get to Dali; as the time was 11am that would mean arriving back within Dali at 7pm cutting it tight for daylight. As I expressed my concerns the girl said that there was a cable car, at the other end of the walkway, which we could take to get back to the main highway. Glad that we wouldn't have to back-track I accepted their invitation to join them and, after going through another checkpoint, we set off south.

At first I wondered where my entrance fee had gone; the path up had been terrible with no signs and multiple routes. However, as I walked up the final steps to a stone paved path, I realised that the money had been well spent. The path ahead was at least three people wide with wooden barriers erected along it's exposed flank. The path was made from cut stone and was completely level; at first I wondered just how long this 'level path' would last until difficult ground would take over however, after an hour's walking, I realised that it would last the whole way meaning that we should make good time. I walked behind my two Chinese friends and, often, I would witness the guy push his girlfriend away from the edge and towards the safety of the mountain wall; he, being the man, would take the exposed flank but it did make me laugh as I noticed that he didn't like heights … still the act was cute. As I walked I couldn't help the smile upon my face become larger and larger. All of my senses were under attack; my eyes could see the mountains with a sheer drop below, my nose could smell the sent of pine mixed with mountain flowers, my ears could hear the slight sounds of nature and my taste buds were enjoying the strawberry sweet I was devouring. It was at this point that memories of the mountains of Canada, the glaciers of Alaska and the lakes of New Zealand all came back to me in one giant panoramic view. I realised that where I was now equalled any of those and I was glad to add this location to that mental image. As quickly as my smile appeared it faded and a frown, plus a lump within my throat, took it's place; I wondered when I would be able to see such wonderful places again. Travelling is both a blessing and a curse; you get to experience beautiful places but it leaves you not wanting to let go. With commitments, bound to come once home, I did wonder if I was ever going to see the places that had captivated me.

My thoughts were rudely interrupted as we came around a corner; unbeknown to us we had managed to catch up with a rather large group of Chinese students. Unable to keep quiet they were shouting, playing music and, what only can be described as, performing battle cries. The group was large and getting around them proved difficult; I would have pushed my way through, trying to extend the ground between the group and I as fast as possible, however my two Chinese friends seemed content with the group and so I had to endure it. I walked a little slower than previously, taking photos as I tried to block out the barbaric noise. No wildlife would be spotted whilst we remained entangled within this mob.

After another thirty minutes the mob stopped for a break; I was glad to see that my friends, in front of me, didn't follow suit and we were soon away. I over took them to set the pace trying to gain as much ground between us and the mob; they could still be heard for quite a while but, once round a rather sharp corner, the battle cries died and I was, once again, alone with only the beautiful view of the mountains and valley floor far below. We eventually made a stop of our own; I was glad for the time to take in food but I kept one ear pricked for the sound of the mob. Fortunately we didn't stay long and soon we were back on the stoned path. Once again the guy pushed his girlfriend towards the mountains walls and he resumed his flanking position.

On our walk we were supposed to deviate towards three attractions; The Phoenix and Dragon Eye caves should have been coming into view by now. There was also the Seven Dragon Maidens pools but all were closed as we approached. There was no explanation for the closure however I did wonder if they would have been worth seeing; looking over the edge, and towards the valley floor, the basin of a dried river could be seen clearly. It would appear that this wasn't the rainy season as every river, waterfall and stream were without water. Still I tired not to let this spoil the terrain as the area was truly stunning.

It was 2pm when we arrived at the gondola; there was one other attraction, that was open, which the Chinese two were interested in seeing. I was a little conscious of the time; it would take an hour of walking and gondola riding to make it back to the main highway and then, probably, another two hours of walking back to the town of Dali. Still remembering that, without these two, I wouldn't have found this path I followed their lead, eternally grateful for the day they have given me. As we climbed a set of steps towards the 'Qingbi Stream' I did wondered why my guidebook hadn't written about this beautiful walk; my only conclusion was that as my guidebook was written in 2008 - and this path seems very new – I can imagine that this scenic delight hadn't existed three years ago.

We made it to a viewing platform were we could see the 'Qinbi Stream'. Just like the other streams, rivers and waterfalls we viewed a basin which was empty of water. Yet the valley the water had cut was spectacular; we walked partway along the river bed stopping at the first sheltered bench for a rest. It was at this point that all three of us realised that we were tired and so we turned around and went back to the gondola. Just before reaching the departure building we stumbled upon a giant Chinese chess set constructed on a large, flat, stone surface surrounded by a sharp descent to the valley floor. Unfortunately the pieces were too heavy to move and I though that was a shame as this would have been a great place for a game. As I looked to the sky I saw gondolas swing past and I was glad to see that they were small capsules rather than ski lift benches. I joined the queue with my two new friends trying to get a discount with their student passes. However, alas, there was no discount available and we all had to pay fifty Yuan (£5) each.

We had a capsule to ourselves and the ride was enjoyable. I was glad to be descending due to witnessing a large dark cloud enveloping the tips of the mountains moving towards our position. The view wasn't as good as when we were walking as the stained plastic panels – of the gondola - prevented seeing out clearly; I looked around at the main towns below identifying which one was Dali and estimating how long it would take to walk there. Once off we walked down a few stone steps and into a car park; I was trying to find a footpath down to the highway whereas the couple were chatting to a guy who'd approached them. Within a flash they asked me to follow them and soon enough I sat within a small mini-van. As we started to move I asked how much the trip would cost and I was told twenty-five Yuan (£2.50); I wasn't sure if that was per person or for the hire of the vehicle, either way it wasn't bad value and I didn't complain.

The driver stopped at the southern gates of the city; the girl smiled thanking me for a lovely day and saying that they both had to go back to university. I opened my wallet to retrieve the agreed sum when she said no, they would pay. I tried to push as much money onto her as possible but she laughed and kept declining. I reluctantly put my money back within my wallet and thanked them for a great day; I waved them off before turning around and walking through the southern gate heading, not for my hostel, but for the local supermarket. Even though the supermarket wasn't on my way back I needed a chocolate fix; it didn't take long and soon I had a 'galaxy white' bar within my mouth as I back-tracked to my hostel. Even though it was 4pm I was totally shattered; I hadn't hiked like that since the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. I spent the late afternoon chilling before heading to the local internet café to upload my photos and check on the F1 race. Having missed lunch I had a heartily evening meal before going for a long shower. As I got into bed I knew that no amount of snoring was going to wake me tonight!

Tomorrow I have to be up early to, hopefully, sort out my visa once and for all. I hope everything goes well tomorrow, I don't want to think about being rejected the extension as I'm not sure what I'll do. If all goes to plan then, after getting my extension, I want to book transport to Lijang – plus accommodation – and get some laundry done. It looks as though tomorrow will be a jobs day!

Toodle Pip!

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