Thursday, October 16, 2008

Trek 2: De Ma Lo to Cizhong

(note: this trek occured after the cross-cultural kiwi/sino relationship building time but before the Meili Snow Mountain adventures).

"You are so strong, so fast" Gero gasped as we chucked our packs down. A good bit of ego stoking for two puffed tourists. Since leaving De Ma Lo we had climbed for an hour out of the valley to the mountain village. The marvellous church stands behind the basketball court, it us under active repair, or is that scaffolding holding it up?. The crops glow golden as we look back down into the valley past De Ma Lo towards Gongshan and towards the bluffs of Bingzhongluo with the snowy mountains of the Gaoligong Shan behind.

Gero is a lovely guy, full of smiles. Alou's little brother he ran away from home and school escaping the claustrophobic village life. Life was har din Shenzen though and he has returned. You sense he yearns for the action of the big city.

From the village we continue our long ascent of the Biluao Snow Mountains, we are enroute to the Catholic enclave of Cizhong on the Mekong. Up and up and up with heavy packs, but whereever we go we are accompanied by music be it bells from the animals, singing or the traditional tibetan instruments wafting up the valley. We head mainly through fallow land. Grazed extensively by pigs and mules. A hut every now and then shows where someone is trying to make a living. The adaptability of these people is amazing!

Its our first clear day in China, to see the tops all around is amazing. The top of our ridge is still in forest, a precious and beautiful remanant. Light slides into it like cheese through a grater.

We summit the ridge and peer across the high valley below us where we will camp. Tomorrows climb zig zags opposite shorn through the alpine grass. It is great to be above the cloud of the river valleys and in the fresh air of the mountains.

We descend through tall fir trees admiring the slab houses and the beautiful waterfall in a narrow gorge opposite. Our spot for the night is a little shack on the valley floor. Gero cooks us up noodles and egg and bok choi while we sit in the smoke. We tell stories and teach each other languages. Penny and I camp in our lightweight tent for Thailand, its a solid little thing just big enough for the both of us, sort of.

From here I copy from my journal, "the misty mountains drove us from their tops with fleeting sleet, we descended quickly to the fir and rhododendron forests then dropped through a succession of hanging pastures with huts. From one hut Gero emerged with fresh green apples and at the next we met a group of De Ma Lo men and their horses stopping for lunch on the long return journey.

Eventually the track sidled out of the valley following newly slashed powerlines then descended viciously through a ruined landscape to Cizhong. Someone had tried to make something of this side valley many years ago and built a water-race to irrigate it, but the soils had not held and now it is rocks and weeds, although from one part of the track Gero emerged with a pile of grapes. Gero had a plan for us to stay at the Rose and Honey Guesthosue, which we agreed with. Its a peaceful place, outside chairs and ornate carvings. We already had our post match beer but they brought us sunflower seeds and green tea to add to the chill out process. We sat on the edge of a courtyard which descended into the pig sty, waste disposal and easy sweep away.

Then dinner, we order rice, vegies and...chicken. The young man strides out of the kitchen shirt sleeves rolled up, he swoops quickly. "This one mum" he asks the old lady, complete with her traditional garb, "No, thats too fat get the skinny one with no meat" she replies. He swoops again and disappears inside. Minutes later the other chickens and the cats are fighting over the tasty innards.

They bring us rice, thickly minced chicken (bones n all), tomatoes with sugar, bok choi, fried potato, steamed squash and another unidentifiable and completely forgettable vegetable. It was a feast. Then the old lady plies with a big jar, it looks like coffee, but is actually a dark red wine, a wine making tradition still exists in the area from the influence of the French missionaires. It is very nice, but Penny has had enough, the old lady insists filling her cup and tipping the rest all over her. They give us the bill in the morning.

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