Home > Uncategorized > Tiger Leaping Gorge, Part 1–The Trip Gets Awesome

Tiger Leaping Gorge, Part 1–The Trip Gets Awesome

We left Lijiang with the earliest possible shuttle, but later than one would usually desire when departing for a two day hike that first must be preceded by a two hour ride in a mian bao che (a small silver van in the shape of it’s nicknamed “bread loaf”).  We traveled through the mountains with three young Chinese students, one of whom was an English major in Beijing.  As we snaked out of the valley and toward the mountains surrounding the gorge, we passed a truck pulled over to the right shoulder (there was a right shoulder!) by two police cars.

“Someone’s in trouble with the po-po!” Megan said.

The English student turned around, his cheekbones riding high with a grin.  “What is po-po?” He asked.  We told him it was a kind of American slang for police and he burst out laughing, sputtering Chinese to his two friends until they were laughing too.

Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-La County, Yunnan

We stopped to look over the gorge at a vista point complete with Buddhist temple.  Tiger Leaping Gorge is supposedly the deepest river gorge on the planet, the Yangtze running it’s silty way between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Xueshan.  It was dizzying to look down, and baffling to see the ubiquitous high heeled women making their way down the steps to the vista point.  They looked sexier in their photos than we would after two days of trekking, that was inevitable.

We left our big backpacks in Qiaotou village at Jane’s Guest House.  The driver left us there at noon.  While we were there we saw a Chinese-featured but Western dressed couple, the woman speaking with a British accent, the man with an American one.  They paid their 5 yuan to the woman sitting next to a pile of menus and a disheveled kitten and walked out.  We bought a couple of snacks to give us trail-energy.  I got “toast and peanut butter” which consisted of a large slab of bread and a jar of Skippy with a knife stuck into it.  We soon began the hike, following the path of several green, spray-painted arrows on walls that said “Gao lu” or “high trail”.

We caught up to the couple in a big concrete yard outside of an elementary school.  They stood, debating their route in Western-accented Chinese with a confused looking man on a horse.  We stopped, asking them if he was telling them which way we should follow.  The four of us were soon walking up a paved road together, the man on the horse clopping slowly behind us.

“He’s trying to convince me that I’m going to need the horse,” said the British woman in clipped tones, “but at least I made him take of the damn bell!”

This woman, Kay, had spent the past five years living and working in Hong Kong and just moved to Qing Dao (home of the brewery…Tsing Tao is how you write it in old Pinyin) to learn Mandarin.  There, she’d met Patrick, an electrical engineer turned English teacher from Hawaii via the Bay area.  He was moving back there to get his Masters in Environmental Policy, and she was moving to Beijing to try her luck at job-getting.  We heard from her, the familiar ring of how easy it was to live in China, and how she didn’t want to leave.  We eventually figured out that they weren’t actually a couple at all.

Kay on the treacherous path!

Meanwhile, one horseman clopping behind us, listening to our introductions, to us discuss the world cup, turned into two and then three horseman.  One of them started making goat noises as we passed a flock of goats, mimicking the laugh I let out in surprised response.  The new horseman also had bells.  Patrick and Kay kept politely turning to ask them to leave but they only laughed and said, how ever would she finish the trail if they weren’t there to rescue her?

Finally we stopped at a shaded convenience store for water before the famous “24 bends”, a collection of tight and steep switchbacks that coil up the mountain.  The man working at the convenience store offered us marijuana.  Patrick and Kay looked at us in confusion, “People never offered us that before!”  Kay said.  We laughed at their indignant arms akimbo–apparently getting offered drugs was stuff only white foreigners liked.  We declined (again), preferring not to accidentally teeter to our deaths.  Instead we sat, sipping water, and looking at the horseman, who had let their horses loose to graze and were themselves squatting nearby, waiting for us to move.

“I can’t handle it if they come along,” Kay said.

“Me neither,” I said.  The goat-bleating man was starting to repeat everything I said.  I was starting to prickle.

“It’s just that we’ve asked them several times already to leave us alone and the don’t seem to want to…”

“Emily, you should go be mean to them,” Megan said.  “You know how to be mean!”

It was a theme of our trip how mean I could get.  I wasn’t mean this time, but I definitely broke the magic fourth wall of politeness by walking up to them and imploring them in bad Chinese not to come with us.  It would’ve translated to something along the lines of: “Please please please please don’t come.  Please.  Don’t.  Don’t come.  Don’t go up hill.  Please.”

They laughed a lot.  But they didn’t follow us.

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