I have never felt more alive.
Sure, my shoes and socks were soaked, my nose was running, the skin on my feet was starting to break open into sores from hiking while wet, but I have just finished the highlight of my trip to China. The entire three months, the visa extension, the bad weather — all of it has now been validated by one of the best experiences of my travels: trekking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
After a legendary leaving-Lijiang party, which included bai-jiu (Chinese rice wine) and waking up a very grumpy Baba at the guesthouse three times, I decided that, weather or no weather, I was not going to leave Yunan without hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The bloody gorge I had waited three months to see, a mere two-hour ride away, and I was going to tuck my tail between my legs and leave Lijiang? No way!
A few others had made the same decision. And so we left Lijiang by minibus around 1 p.m. Baba (Chinese for Papa) saw us off with a smile, but only Vicky from Australia received the gift of fruit and a Naxi good-luck charm around the neck. She was the only one who had not woken him up while partying the night before. I packed only a change of clothes and my silk sleep sheet into a small daybag, and left everything with Mama Naxi. I still had a chance to make peace with Baba.
After purchasing tickets for 50 yuan, we reached the Tiger Leaping Gorge around 3:30 p.m. and started up the steep trail. It was no surprise that the trail was a muddy mess, and within minutes my boots were covered with mud and horse poo — apparently animals use the trail quite a bit as well. We were planning to invest three days and two nights on the trail. The entire trek is only about 27 kilometers, but the trail crosses waterfalls and gets quite steep in places. Not to mention the fact that you want to take your time, grab pictures, play with the goats, etc…this is not something to rush!
Within the first hour of our adventure, the weather turned and down came the rain. The trail became an actual river, with ankle-deep water and mud rushing over our boots. Even with the North Farce (fake Chinese North Face) gortex I had purchased for $30, I was soaked to the bone within minutes. Add to this the fact that you could see your breath, we were not such happy campers. The weather reminded me a lot of March training when I was in the Army, only I was paying to be here this time!
For almost two hours we slipped and slid our way through the slime up the trail until we reached a small Naxi guesthouse called the Naxi Family GH. There was very little conversation; it took concentration not to find yourself busting your bottom or worse on a rock because of the slippery terrain.
I am not a travel writer. I don’t make money from this blog, so I do not offer reviews. Naxi Family GH deserves it, though. We were welcomed inside and out of the rain by the smiling Naxi family, and within minutes had all the green tea we could drink, great cheap food, and pots with hot fire coals to keep us warm in the chilly, mountain air.
The scene reminded me of something you would have seen hundreds of years ago when weary travelers came to a stranger’s home and were welcomed as family. The staff were incredibly friendly and always willing to help us — I highly recommend this place. Not once did they ask for money: they trusted us to pay for everything in total the next day before we left!
We sat for hours around the fire pots, telling stories and burning our clothes in a futile attempt to dry them out before a long day of trekking tomorrow. There were a couple of other wet and tired trekkers, from Germany and Montreal as well. Pretty much everyone had just met hours earlier, but we sat huddled together as friends trying to stay warm, and sharing travel stories to keep morale high.
We joked about being miserable, which is easy to do when your shirt is clinging to your tight skin and you can see your breath, but not a single person there would have chosen to be somewhere else. We all climbed into our cold beds under huge duvets that night with smiles on our faces, eagerly awaiting the morning mountains.