At this point in our adventure in China, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you how a big part of me was hoping, really praying, for some semblance of solitude. Not truly solitude in that I wanted to be alone (I am an extroverted introvert), but more that our run ins with large crowds would be more infrequent. I was hoping that down south was more sparse, feeling a little more like Burma or Tibet. But, as we picked up our bags in the Kunming airport, I quickly saw that my hopes for less human traffic had been squashed. Whether big or small, Chinese cities are packed with people. PACKED. But, on the bright side, it was warmer outside and we had officially landed in the Moutain Phase of our own trip!
Our first night in Kunming, we met up with Anastasia’s friend Wyatt and his English girlfriend. Both lovely people! They gave us some tips on travel down south over my first veggie burger in China! So good. After dinner, they took us to their local bar, which had a girl punk rock band playing. We could not tell whether they were “singing” in English or Chinese. Either way, it was good entertainment over 2 beer Laos.
The next morning, we slept in a bit and then went and grabbed breakfast. A real freaking expresso- amazing. As we chatted about our plans for the day, we realized we didn’t have anything we absolutely had to see in Kunming and therefore decided to give ourselves some extra days in the mountains. From Kunming, we planned to travel to Dali, to Lijiang and from Lijiang hike China’s biggest gorge- Tiger Leaping Gorge! I couldn’t have been more excited about the adventure ahead.
As we arrived in Dali, my spirit lightened, as it always does when I am surrounded by mountains. You know that look dogs get when their heads get to stick out the car window? Yeah, that’s how I feel when I get to go “home” to the mountains.
Dali and Lijiang are both wonderful little cities by themselves. They are competely geared towards tourism and have beautiful highlights to be explored. Imagine stone roofs, pointed edges, small alleyways, rivers through town, flowers, lillies, birds in cages, mist hanging above the houses, surrounded by mountains- that Chinese magazine look… yeah that’s Dali and Lijiang. But that is also the exact reason these cities are Chinese tourists winter hotspots! So, we stayed only 2 days in Dali and used Lijiang as the base for our 2 day hike around Snow Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Now here is the part I have been itching to get to.
In our hotel in Lijiang, A and I each packed a small overnight rucksack. The basics. New underwear, tooth brushes, small sleeping sheet, and water. We read Lonely Planet’s basic description a number of times. From our understanding, it was going to be a moderate hike with one hella hard section that contained 28 ascending switchbacks. I believed that would be manageable for both A and I. And truth is, A is not a fanatic hiker like I am, so I was treading in tricky water. But, she said she was up for it and knew that I didn’t know too much more than what Lonely Planet had described and what our hostel owner explained. So we made it an early morning, having bought some breakfast items the night before. As I failed making French press coffee, A failed by pouring a Chinese tap water into our yogurt. So, instead of the pleasant morning coffee and fruit, yogurt and granola we imagined…we had grainy coffee, and stale cereal with some fruit. Not the best start, but I laughed anyways and crossed my fingers for a gas station on the way.
By about 7 -ish, River, our hostel owner guided us to the bus stop. We piled in and took a 2 hour bus ride to the trail head in Qiaotou. From the moment we stepped foot out of the bus, onto the trailhead, we began a steady ascent. The first part was more like walking along the side of a mountain road, but after about 45 minutes, of a steady cement ascent, our feet began to roll over orange dirt, stepping up stone by stone, in pursuit of nothing but the moment. When the sun shine just a bit too hot, or our legs began to tire, there was always relief in seeing the smiles of the local Naxi people selling snickers, Cola, water, toys and hash. Hehe.
In total, we hiked for about 7-8 hours on day one (some 11 miles), and I hiked another 4 on day two. For me, hiking is a moving mediation. My feet, knowing without thinking where to place each foot, my breath in, my breath out, spaces between thoughts, listening to the earth move around me, people passing by me, birds flying over me, the sound of the gorge in the distance carving its way through the empty valley. A constant smile rising in me for the entirety of the time. Feeling guided by an inner intuition. Present. Happy.
And every few minutes, the thought would pop into my head about how much Rob would love the hell out this hike. How the challenge and beauty of it was so our thing. Army life is hard. I sure do miss him.
And the views, oh so worth the energy used to climb.
We truly did not know what we were getting ourselves into. But, isn’t that where the excitement is after all… Not knowing. Of course, knowing the perimeters, I find, is comforting. But I love knowing that whatever comes, I am strong enough to take on the challenge. That my body is capable, and my mind even more so. And yes, I know, hiking is not everyone’s cup of tea. But it is mine. It exposes my strength, my courage, and brings in a clear awareness- an inner wisdom of the the unity that lies within me connected to everything around me. I see and feel that abundance. And I am so greateful.