Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Executive Hikers take on Tiger Leaping Gorge

No one warned us. They all knew what we were getting ourselves into, and still, neglected to tell us. It was mean, really. Those 'nice' folks at Mama Naxi Guesthouse in Lijiang, smiling as they booked us a ticket on their mini bus to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. 'We would like to book a ticket to..' we started. 'Tiger Leaping Gorge,' she had finished. How did they know? Probably because its the exact same thing that every traveller does. The gorge is conveniently on the way between Lijiang and Shangri-la. Hiking it is like a right of passage for a traveller in China. What they didn't tell us is that hiking Tiger Leaping is for expert, executive, experienced 'hikers' (more accurately mountain climbers) from the western Canada or Switzerland, or those who just really excel at the stair climber. Namely- not me. Nope, they didn't mention that. Not even a hint. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We figured we were in as good of shape as any other of these beer guzzling, dumpling eating travellers. Even though we would be hiking at a high altitude, we'd be ok. To quote Joel, 'that was the essence of stupidity.'

Thankfully, our good friends Joel and Sonia were going to meet us at the starting point and we were going to hike it together. By the time we got to the gorge, deposited our bags in storage, bought an entrance ticket and applied our sunscreen, it was noon. The sun was high in the perfectly clear, blue sky, and at the altitude we were at, it was close enough to burn us almost instantly- and make it really, really, hot. Our spirits were high, though, as we started the slight ascent. This was Tiger Leaping Gorge! It was epic! Joel had bought Snickers! A man leading our horse was on our tail. But he didn't want to pass. No, he and Sea Biscuit were going to follow us up the whole way, bell jingling... jingle, jingle jingle, a constant reminder that, as usual, we could buy our way out of our predicament.

The path continued skywards. What we had heard about, and were aptly terrified for, was the '28 Bends.' Twenty Eight switchbacks up a mountain. It was to take two hours. What they don't tell you is that to even get to these '28 Bends' you had climb up approximately 5730400 other pre-bend, bends. Still up a mountain. SO, more accurately, the path should be named '5730428 Bends.' It was hot and sweaty in the midday sun. We stopped at the first scenic, mountainview Guesthouse for lunch. Naxi is the minority in these parts and they make some pretty tastey bread called 'baba.' We continued, with full bellies, to hike up. 'This must be the 28 bends!' we thought as we slowly clambered up over the dusty, rocky steep path. Back and forth, up and up. Gasp, sigh, gasp, sigh, drink water! It was hot. It was steep. There was a lot of sweat. We crawled over the last rock and found a little hut selling water and not-completely-melted Snickers bars! Like it had dropped right out of heaven! What a way to celebrate our accomplishment! But, then, something from heaven surely wouldn't lie, and this little hut said 'Start of the 28 Bends' in spray paint on the outside wall. That couldn't be true! How could all these other bends not count as any of the '28 Bends?!' Who decided this anyways. I was beginning to wonder if they had just picked a random number out of the air.
I plopped myself and my ooey gooey Snickers down in disgust. I don't even really like Snickers and we STILL haven't hiked up the 28 Bends! I mean, Snickers will do in pinch, and this certainly was pinchy, but really, all those peanuts and cookie bottom or whatever it is, just take up room where there could be more chocolate! Not that this stopped me from eating it, of course. A girl's gotta get her energy. But I wasn't really that happy about it all.

We started up again. Was this bend number one? When could we start counting? What actually constituted a bend? Who counted these and had they failed grade one math? Who's idea was this hike anyways? Pondering all these questions was distracting- for about five minutes. And then it was back to the sweat-gasp-for air-fest. Does anyone actually enjoy hiking up hill? Just then Sonya called out from high above us. 'This is bend #1 up here, guys!' I almost turned around.

The scenery, though, was absolutely fantastic. Snow capped mountains, green hills, sheer cliffs, the Yangtzee snaking its way through. Really spectacular, and, despite all my moaning and groaning, totally worth the sweat and snickers.

Having survived all 592948932908528 bends, as well as crossing a decent size waterfall (which fell over a cliff) we decided that we could be promoted to 'Executive Hikers.' We did have quite the fantastic team, after all. There was The Trail Master, Sonya, or 'The Cheerster' named so because of her constant encouraging and positive attitude, her husband, Joel, or 'Snappy', as he is an observant photographer, Ram, or 'Chino-Indino', as he is an Indian who speaks Chinese, 'Miss Morocco', who is, you guessed it, Moroccan. Then, of course, Jonathan or 'Werewolf Jack,' for obvious reasons, and myself, 'Chocolaté', no explanation needed. The company along with the scenery made the Tiger Leaping Gorge the amazing adventure that it was.

Chino Indino had lived in China for the last five years. His Chinese, although he claims was mediocre, at best, was a fantastic help a lot of the time. He also let us in on some fascinating facts regarding life in China. An opportunity to speak to someone who lives in China and could view the system as an outsider was really interesting. Chino-Indino had worked as a engineer at a cell phone making factory for his first few years in China did a great job in describing what factory life was like. About 400,000 people lived and worked in this factory/village. The compound where everyone worked and lived had its own supermarkets, stores, everything- it was it's own self contained compound. Most of the employees were young and everyone slept in dorms together. He said the factory made phones for many of the cell companies. Many series of different brand names could all be manufactured, seemingly identical, at the same factory! I suppose this isn't really that surprising.
Also, Chino Indino says that it is illegal for Chinese people to live or work in a province that is not the province that they were born in, without special permission. This rule is meant to minimize the ghetto-effect of big cities around the world. If its true, imagine not being able to move around your own country? Or technically being illegal in your own country? Crazy.

Anyways, after all this chatter, we arrived at our mountain view guesthouse as the sun was lowering itself behind the mountains. The views were spectacular. The snow capped mountains encircled us and we were so high it felt as though we were in the peaks, not just admiring them from below. The best part of the evening though, was that we were going to celebrate Joel and Sonia's Wedding Anniversary! They had come across a bottle of the exact same wine that they had served at their wedding four years ago (same vintage) while travelling in Vietnam and couldn't help but pick it up for dutifully carting the bottle around for about a month, waiting for the perfect celebration. It had now, miraculously, been carried ALL the way up here, a bagillion feet, and now we were all going to get to enjoy it!! Are they fantastic, or what? We ordered a feast to go along with it and gathered around a big, round, wooden table. The wine was superb. So rich and such a treat! We toasted and reminisced, sharing Wedding stories. What a memorable night! A highlight, for sure.

The next day, the day where most of us couldn't feel our thighs, was all down hill. At least we would be working a different muscle group that I hadn't killed, yet. It was slippery and a little dangerous, with so many loose rocks. Thankfully, Cheerster Sonia kept us motivated and entertained with some of her great life stories. Slowly but surely we made it back down to the main road and felt like we had actually accomplished something! Wooohooo! We had survived (and enjoyed) the Tiger Leaping Gorge! Named so, by the way, because it is said that long ago a tiger once leaped over the gorge to escape a hunter. There aren't any tigers left there- or any wildlife, really, so I'm not sure what the moral of that story is. The moral of my story however, is clear: Don't attempt a middle-of-no-where hike without your own, substantial chocolate bar supply, or you'll end up with a strange addiction to (what you formally thought as sub par) Snickers.

ps. Happy Birthday Em!!
pps. Happy CANADA DAY!!

1 comment:

Parentals said...

Hope you received an official certiticate for your hiking expertise and accomplishment!
Never leave home without your chocolate and PMA( Positive Mental Attitude)