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Our location as of 10/2/2012

Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge

Hiking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge was an incredible experience. The Tiger Leaping Gorge is the canyon where the Jinsha River flows between the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the Haba Snow Mountain. It’s deeper than the Grand Canyon, but not as wide. The name comes from an old legend about a tiger jumping across the gap to escape from a hunter.

The views along the trail were??unbelievable. In a way, it was like being in New Zealand again. Sometimes we would stop and just look around at the endless mountains surrounding us. Occasionally we had to step aside for other hikers or herds of goats, but for the most part it was just us. The path itself was well maintained and average difficulty, except for the climb at “The 28 Bends” and a loose, gravelly, steep descent to Tina’s Guesthouse towards the end. Because there are guesthouses along the way, the hike is perfect for people who (like me) enjoy the outdoors, but prefer a warm meal and a roof over their heads at night.

Most tourists only spend two days and one night in the mountains, but we wanted to take our time, so we spent two nights there. The first day we took a two and a half hour bus ride from Lijiang to the beginning of the trail in Qiaotou. From there it was only a couple hours hiking to the Naxi Family Guesthouse, where we spent our first night. Despite our dinner order getting lost in translation (which has happened more than once in China), we really enjoyed the food and scenery there.

The next day we left before it got too hot out and did the most challenging uphill part of the hike. At the top, there was a lady in a “toll both,” charging eight yuan to walk down a short??side-path??to a lookout.??We almost skipped it because of the stupid fee, but I’m glad we decided to go check it out. The path led to a ledge overlooking the thundering river thousands of feet below us. The wind was whipping at our clothes and the sun was shining right in our eyes, messing up the visibility, but even so, standing there was a fantastic, surreal moment.

After enjoying lunch (the food here is amazing; I could write a whole post about it) at the adorable Tea Horse Guesthouse, we continued on to the Half Way Guesthouse, which is actually more than halfway to the end. Our room there looked out on the mountains and that night we drank with a Dutch couple and a few Germans. (The best quote from the night: “I was talking with a Chinese man and he asked where I was from. When I said Germany, he asked, ‘Oh, do you know Hitler?’”)

The next day we came across the hairiest section of the trail, the downhill section to Tina’s Guesthouse. Like I said earlier, the path was slippery and we both fell, but not off the edge of the cliff, luckily. Along the way we passed a couple of waterfalls and Brad told me all about some interesting rock formations. Finally we made it to Tina’s, but our day wasn’t over. We still wanted to hike down to the river where the tiger (supposedly) leaped.

I didn’t think much of this extra hike until we started it. We decided to take the “Sky Ladder” trail made by the locals. It was a long, long ways down to the river and my legs were getting sore just going down. At one point we reached a fork in the trail. The sign gave us two options: “Ladder” or “Safe Path.” We went with the Safe Path and eventually made it down to the river. I couldn’t believe how powerful the river pounding through the gorge was. We sat there for a while, getting sprayed and listening to the gushing water.

On the way back up we decided to take the Sky Ladder. We haven’t been able to figure out exactly how high the Sky Ladder is. It starts quite a ways up from the river and is at least “as tall as a silo,” according to Brad. I went first and didn’t have any problems, besides getting winded by the time I reached the top. Brad, however, is afraid of heights. He started climbing the ladder, but at about the halfway point, he was shaking so much he had to stop. Then he faced the??dilemma??of continuing up higher or going back down. He decided going backwards would be even worse, so he kept climbing, wrapping his entire arm around the ladder and clinging on for dear life as he went. Finally he reached the top, safe and sound, but we had to wait for him to stop sweating and shaking before we kept walking.

There were a few more guesthouses further along the trail, but by then we decided we had done enough hiking, so we took the bus from Tina’s back to Lijiang. My legs were sore for days afterwards, but I’m so glad we were able to see the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Taking in its enormity and majesty was one of the best parts of our trip.

The Start of China

China is very different than all of the other countries we’ve visited. Crossing the border from Lao Cai to Hekou was easy and uneventful, but as soon as we reached the other side, we realized how challenging China is going to be. Nobody speaks English (at least around here, maybe on the east coast we’ll find more) and, of course, everything is written in Chinese characters. Everyday things like buying train tickets or ordering a meal have become exponentially harder. We have a translator app on our phone that has occasionally been useful. Besides that, we’ve gotten by using our guidebook and pictures. The hostels here are also very helpful and will write notes for us in Chinese and arrange onward transportation. So we’re doing okay, but it’s much more difficult than Southeast Asia.

There have been challenges besides the language barrier. I feel like there is no privacy in China, both in the physical and metaphorical sense. Bathroom stalls don’t always have doors. The first public restroom I used was just a room with a trough of water running through it, without any walls or dividers or anything. Apparently everyone here is just fine with going to the bathroom in front of each other. Besides that, there’s the creepy “Big Brother is watching you” feeling from the government. We experienced a little of that in Vietnam, but it’s much worse here. All hotels register your stay with the government. You need to show your passport to buy train tickets. Many of the roads have police checkpoints where they check and register your passport. Basically, the government always knows where you are.

With all these changes, we had an extremely frustrating first day here, but now we are loving it. Our first stop was Kunming. It’s a city of over five million people, but I couldn’t believe how relaxed and quiet it was. Between the motorbikes, car horns, and street hawkers, Asia is an extremely noisy place. In Kunming, the motorbikes are all electrical and silent. Nobody ever tried to sell us anything. The drivers do honk, but not constantly. It didn’t seem like anyone was in a hurry. This peaceful attitude is unique to Kunming, so it was a good place for us to get more used to life in China. I can’t imagine how overwhelmed we would have felt if we had gone to somewhere like Beijing first.

Then we went to Dali, which was a really fun city. The Old City of Dali has traditional architecture and is located near the Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake. The Three Pagodas are its famous landmark, but the entrance fee was so expensive, we just looked at them from a distance. Once a backpacker Mecca of sorts, now there are more Chinese tourists than foreigners in Dali. One afternoon Brad and I were having a drink on one of the main roads and all of the Chinese tour groups were stopping to take pictures of us. Too funny.

Our big adventure in Dali was renting bikes and riding to Erhai Lake. We went with Julie, a girl from Florida that we met in our hostel. She was fun to talk with and we found out that she was in the Florida State marching band. Anyway, we rode our bikes along the lake and through several small, clean, modern-looking villages. And then all of the sudden Julie’s bike tire popped and instantly went flat! We showed the tire to some old men in the village and they all pointed down the road. We kept walking down the road and showing people along the way, and they all kept pointing in the same direction, so we figured the tire repairman must live down there. Eventually we saw a shop that had some tires out front, so we went in. The lady there looked at the tire and then brought out a new tube. Brad changed a tube once, but it was a long time ago, so he wasn’t sure if he remembered exactly how to do it. The lady gave him a wrench and a screwdriver and he started to work on it. He did get the tire off, but we couldn’t figure out how to work the air pump the lady brought out. We asked her to help, but instead she just brought out three chairs and motioned for us to sit down. We thought maybe she called someone to help, so we all sat down in her shop and started eating our picnic lunches while the bike was just sitting there with the tire off. Luckily, another couple from our hostel rode by and stopped to help. The boys were working on it, but still struggling until a Chinese man turned up. Between the three of them they got it all figured out and fixed. The whole thing was pretty ridiculous.

I better stop here or I’ll be up writing all night. Brad has already taken some great pictures, go take a look at them!