where the hell is Li Ping?
By 9am tomorrow, I would have been out of Xi'an for 60 hours including:
-23 hours on overnight trains
-11 hours on truly spectacular (and truly bumpy) buses into the mountains
-9 hours sleeping in the only hotel in the mountains (I'm the first foreigner to visit in 2006!!)
-4 hours on local buses visiting a lake mostly without water and an old path along a spectacular gorge (now re-built in 'wood' -i.e. concrete painted like wood)
-3 hours jogging/walking in the mountains (6am-9am!) seeing wonderful mountains, gorges and villages
-2 hours at the lake and 2 hours at the gorge
-1 hour being stared at in 1 of the mountain villages whilst an alternative bus (i.e. crappy chinese minivan with 9 people stuffed on 6 seats) was sought, since the public bus was cancelled (I was the only one that wanted to know why... -must be normal)
...and another 7 hours eating dinner cooked on an open fire, waiting at more bus stops, trying to buy slippers (my feet are too big for china), buying train tickets (such a performance, as always) and writing in my blog :-)
I feel very privileged to have been to such a beautiful place that no-one has heard of. I am sure that it will be different in 5 years either from an influx of tourists or continued droughts! One of my favourite quotes -in fact, probably THE favourite quote- is "life is about the journey, not the destination". It is something i think sums me up very well, and this trip has broken all records (that were already pretty high) for time spent travelling vs time spent doing something else -but the 11 hours on those buses and minibuses into the mountains were spectacular.
Over the journeys it was so clear that the crappy shops selling mobile phones, bric-a-brac, hairdressers that are all over China -started to disappear. Then there were less brick buildings with garish white tiles on them. The road became a track. The motorcyclists disappeared, then the cyclists disappeared. Then the houses were made of brick coated in mud, the few people on the road were over 60 with bags on their backs full of vegetables (most people were still in the fields working); then the bridges became broken fords.
All this happened as the scenery started changing. From small towns along the road to villages where they dry their grains on the road to vegtables growing along the river plain, to terraces in the hills to mountains of just trees and occasional dwellings along the river. It was a combination of all that i saw in southern yunnan (border of Burma) and in Guilin (towards hong kong); but somehow, what was different was that not too much was changing. In southern yunnan they are building roads because of the growing trade with burma (mostly in drugs, illegal timber, people etc!), and in guilin there are tourists everywhere. Both places are beautiful -more so than lowly Li Ping National Forest Park on the border of Shaanxi and Sichuan, but all that was changing was more natural. As people got a bit more money, they were improving their houses; buying minivans etc.
Even in remote China, its almost unheard of! There is so much to be said for pointing at a map that has a mountain marked nearby and just turning up! There is always some kind of lowly tousim available, someone to take you somewhere cheaply and somewhere to stay. We did it last weekend by picking a mountain no one had heard of to go to -instead of 1 of the big 5. The difference? Less people, less steps and more footpaths, lower admission fees :-). I have though decided that I have to go to the remote mountains of scotland hiking. Something I have not done yet, and something I really should do -at least there will be signposts in English!
And to top it all off... I had no mobile phone signal for 2 whole days.