Wednesday, October 8, 2008

1st Trek: Liming to Weixi (no Lamshe)

A week or so ago now we bravely ventured forth from Liming seeking to follow old caravan trails to the town of Weixi, famous for being the middle of nowhere Yunnan. Guiding us we had 70 year old Russian topographical maps at 1:250,000 downloaded from an American website which we could look at only when the laptop was removed from the depths of my pack. We also had our mandarin skills, consisting almost in their entirety of the ability to point in one direction and hiss "Weixi"!!!

It all started off so well, a tarseal road through more of Limings outstanding sandstone formations. Picturesque villages lined by sunflowers and sweet corn greeted us regularly, their shops selling us lemonade and their walnut trees providing us shade from the early morning sun.

Out of the sandstone landscape and into more typical rolling hills the river gorged in and the road deteriorated, locals seemed more and more disturbed by our grunts and gestures of Weixi, maybe these were the people that actually knew? Deeper into the valley the forest grew less disturbed until primeval fir trees reared up above us on both side. Who said we wouldn't see a red panda? (Well we didn't). With the steady gain in height we obtained autumn, yellow, gold and the occasional bright red above the surging river.

Then all of a sudden the gorge spat us out into a massive grassy basin, and there were people. They had umbrellas but not much more. Wooden log cabins, with slat wooden roofs hewn from the surrounding landscape. Irrigation likewise, hollowed logs directing water. And fences wooden too, around special areas of cropland, glowing silver, ready for harvest! Pigs, yaks and horses graze and then there are dogs. They bound towards us from two hundred metres away "shit" teeth bared, savage. My umbrella is at the ready. Penny doesn't like the thought of rabies. The owners watch, hunched, clustered dark lumps with brightly plaited bands. Finally they call the dogs off.

The road now a track, meanders up a grassy valley towards a saddle, and there is another village. Real rustic stuff. But there a basketball hoop, wooden as well, but there, crazy.

The day is drawing to a close, we cross the saddle and camp just down the other side above the mossy murky forest. It is surreal, smoke rises from the forest at various points around us, and we hear the soft chatter of voices and occasional excitement as dogs are fed. There are people up here living, hiding in the forest. Forest people. Like the Hindu gods created out of Siamese animals we witnessed in Indonesia, again I could feel the creation of myth.

The next morning we were full of hope. I had figured out where we were on the old maps and it was all downhill to a bit of a settlement then hopefully on to Weixi maybe hitching. It went well for 20 minutes, a track took us down into the spooky forest, where we could track humans but not see them. But it got smaller and smaller, how far were we prepared to go across China on a rough bearing? Not far. We turned back and tried another road but it to faded. Nothing for it but retreat, back up the hill and into the grassy basin.

There was a new problem now, just how to avoid the savage dogs, we contoured high above the valley, heading towards what we thought was a close by village people had been mentioning "Lamshe". There were many people out in the late morning, families harvesting their crops. at another small settlement dogs blocked our way and we were rescued by an old stone throwing woman. Many thanks.

On again and we struck a road, with tread marks and powerlines heading an alternative way out of the basin, not down the long twisting gorge to Liming. We asked people how far to Lamshe "not far", "1 km". Then luckily stumbled upon a lady heading the same way with her horse, presumably to trade the goods it carried on baskets on its back. Penny reported to me "its a little bit up, then down, then up again". The little bit up was 300 metres steep through stony single track, rhododendron shrubs, underneath the fir canopy. Down unsurprisingly was further, I think about 1200 metres straight down a forested spur. The horse did well, the lady wasn't trying we kept up. She said her goodbyes at the bottom, staying at a friends house for the night, but amazingly while we were still packing our packs after giving her a little silver fern souvenir that has been travelling tucked in our first aid kit, a group of Chinese men walked past and offered us a lift, they had two spare seats out to the main road. Sure we paid $10 each, but the jeep carried us through 70km of rough road, impassable by all but the crazy tractor buses and jeeps, safely to tarseal at the little service town of Tongdian. We passed the hamlet of Lamshe a foot deep in mud 20km into this journey. What a day!

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