We woke up before dawn (5.30am) to catch the sunrise over the rice terraces. It was a wet and foggy morning and as we drove up to the view point we hoped it would clear up. It was cold up the mountain, we had not prepared for it as had limited our luggage to a day pack. We were at the top of the mountain for about an hour and were unsure as to what was going on. But luckily our translating friends explained that the drivers didn’t want to proceed to the next destination as the roads were too dangerous. At this point it was raining quite heavily and there was limited visibility (making it hard to see where the edge of the cliff/road was and what different sized animals were strolling along the middle of the road). We were quite grateful that the drivers were concerned with some health and safety issues as we doubted the general safety (or road worthiness) of the cars we were in. It was quite reassuring that they didn’t take risks in this weather.
The drivers had a great knowledge of the area and were keen to take us around to find the best views. We stopped at various high points and trekked through woodland to openings that only locals knew. We sat back and went along with everything, not knowing what we were going to do next. It was amazing and very exciting, we thought we would not have had the same experience exploring these places had we been on our own. For the whole day it seemed we were waiting round for the sun to burn through the clouds so we could get the most out of the view points. The weather had a huge effect on our mood, as soon as we felt the warmth of the sun through the clouds we felt uplifted and realised this trip was well worth it. We were no longer shivering either (didn’t think to pack warm clothes for the mountains – DOH!).
We killed some time exploring the minority villages. The dominant ethnic group in the village where we stayed was Yi (pronounced E). The men smoke cigarettes through bong-like metal massive, metal tube-like devices with water in them. The women have very colorful clothes, which are heavily embroidered and obviously all hand made. It was interesting to see how they lived, the women pitched in with the men, building, farming and carrying heavy baskets up and down the mountain. Both men and women don’t really retire, they continue working to a very old age and believe they are youthful as a result of their active lifestyle. They used traditional methods (not many tractors or any machinery – just people and baskets), however were influenced by modern times in other ways, as every house appeared to have TV aerials, power cables draped the streets and connected houses to electricity. The village was set on a hill, at the top of a hill they had the butchers and at the bottom of the hill was the grocers (all on the ground on the side of the road). We saw animals being prepared at the top of the hill, then their juices ran down past the fruit and veg for sale down the hill on the floor. The smell was unbelievable, and the level of hygiene was horrific. Needless to say, we didn’t eat there. They seem to have a low value of animal life. Claire witnessed a dog being hit by a bus, the animal was not killed but disregarded into the gutter still alive. The dog was in a terrible mess.
After a long day of exploring we were taken to a local restaurant recommended by our drivers/ tour guides. We treated the drives to lunch as a thank you for all the effort they put in we asked them to order their favorite dishes and we ordered a few dishes and then all had a big feast of deliciousness. You could tell that they really wanted us to enjoy ourselves. They had even gone to the effort of calling the bus station early in the morning to reserve our bus tickets back to Kunming. This meant we did not have to mess around in the morning trying to sort it out ourselves, we could enjoy the day. The food was very fresh, we saw them prepare the chicken meat from the whole body (not so good for the vegetarian girl). Through the translation of the American girls we spoke to the drivers about life and the future of their village. We learnt that they are pleased with tourists coming as it gives them a better life, economically. They see their children going to school/college then returning to the village to work in the fields. As they are ethnic minorities the one child policy does not apply to them. They are proud of their village and don’t see environmental problem; such as litter, as a problem. They feel it is the government’s responsibility and that the children learn about the environment in school and they are encouraged to influence the parents. This idea of working/educating from bottom up (starting with the children) seems to us a good way of approaching this change in modernisation.
We experienced our first sleeper bus, it was more comfortable than we originally thought, but only if you were happy lounging back. When it came to sleeping Claire had a bit of trouble with the length of the bed. The drive home was not as scary as we thought it would be going down the mountain (they often like to free-wheel down hills to save petrol – even though it’s ridiculously cheap here - for us, not for them), we had to purchase extra insurance for the journey. I think the roads are a little more dangerous here than other roads in China. We had a whole family of Yi tribes women behind us, they were quite noisy, smelt fresh out a farm and one was sick throughout the journey (sick in a bag by our heads and then spitting on the floor of the bus), this didn’t help Nicky who felt travel sick on the windy roads. The other annoyance about the trip was people smoking on the bus. It’s such a confined space and it really affects everyone but people just smoke everywhere.
It is quite disorientating falling in and out of sleep every time the bus stops (drivers have to legally stop for a rest every couple of hours even in the middle of the night). The last time we woke was 4am, the bus was stationary. Following Nicky’s remark ‘why have we been stopped for so long this time?’, we looked around and the people who we had spent the last 24 hours with had vanished, however there were a few other people on the bus. We were surprised that no one had woken us to tell us that we had arrived. We worked out that we must have been asleep at the bus station for about 3 hours, unnecessarily. We decided it would be best to save money on the hostel and continue sleeping on the bus until the ticket office opened, then we could buy our next bus ticket to Dali for later that day.