Sunday, August 1, 2010

The rest of the trip to the SW

Given how long this is taking, I'm going to write up the rest of our trip to the SW in one note and then we can move on to more current events.

We left Zhongdian in the morning and were on a beautiful and well paved road for about an hour. Then the road ended. We were on a dirt road with massive ruts from the trucks driving down it in bad weather. Josh did spectacularly and we made it through, with a few stops to take photos. The car was having trouble starting at altitude so we had to push start it pretty much everytime we stopped. Josh stopped really wanting to stop the car much, understandably.

After a late lunch in Xiangcheng, which unfortunately made Liz sick later, we drove the rest of the way to Daocheng and met Travis there. Travis is an American working on domestic tourism for his dissertation. We spent the night in a nice guesthouse in Daocheng. The guy who runs it was really nice. Unfortunately he charged an arm and a leg for coffee and we didn't find that out until after we drank it. Liz was sick all night (boo) from the meat in her noodles. Cabinet meat the came out of a cabinet, was reheated, and then put on her food. She was the only one who had it and thus the only one who got sick.

The next morning we left some stuff at the guesthouse and squeezed all 5 of us into the car for the drive to Yading, the park where Travis is doing his research. The landscape these two days of driving was spectacular and it got even more so when we got to Yading. The village we stayed in is perched on what looks like an alluvial fan which was truncated by erosion. It looks flat as you go down to it, when compared to everything else, but it is really relatively steep. After checking in to the hotel, Josh, Brian, Travis, and I took a walk up one of the valleys. We found a yak herder hut with some folks who invited us for tea and met 2 women from Guangdong. We all ended up at the beautiful Frog Lake in a light rain before heading back. We had an ok dinner back at the guest house. The guy who runs that particular hostel is a bit lazy and isn't the best cook. It was ok though. At dinner we met the other non-Chinese guest at the hostel, a very nice Korean engineer named Soong Ho. He visited us in Jiuzhaigou 2 weeks after we met him in Yading.

Over dinner we decided that all of us, except Liz, would attempt to go on a village outing the next day. the walk is 32 km around one of the sacred mountains in the park and all the local villagers do it twice a year (in a day). Basically it goes from 3800 m to 4500 m over a pass, down to 4000, up to 4500, and back down to the entrance. Being that we aren't totally used to hiking at that elevation or that distance, we took the electric cart thingy for 10 km in the beginning. The girls from Beijing rode horses for about the first 3 hrs. The hike was amazing. Thanks to our bus ride we were somewhere near the front of the village for the beginning of the trek and since we are slower than the locals, we ended up seeing just about everyone. After the first pass we climbed down a bit to a place where the whole village sat down for a picnic. They ate traditional Tibetan foods (yogurt, bread, yak) but also a huge assortment of Chinese snacks (chicken feet, tofu, candies). We had peanut butter and honey on local bread. Pretty good.

After lunch we walked basically fairly flat around the edge of the mountain and then had a steep climb up to the 2nd pass. Brian got kind of sick on the 2nd pass (asthma+altitude?) and we ended up at the end of the group. Lots of little kids were riding horses and someone kindly let the two Guangdong girls ride horses since it was really hard for them. We hardly saw them all day because it was such a rough outing for them.

Back down the pass we ended up at the other tourist site for the park and walked back to the entrance where we ate another mediocre dinner at a local restaurant and then drove back up to the hostel. Liz joined us for the trip up through the bus ride and also for dinner.

The next morning we left early and gave Soong Ho a ride back to Daocheng, where he was headed to visit a hot spring. We had dreams of making it all the way to Chengdu in a days driving and so we set out with me behind the wheel once we had lunch at the local backpacker hostel/restaurant and packed the car up again.

The driving was spectacularly beautiful. The weather was gorgeous and we were on a high plateau which I later found out had an ice cap during the last glacial maximum. It was strewn with gigantic granite boulders and really flat. Neat! About half way to Litang we saw a group of young monks swimming in a river and sunbathing (NAKED) on the side of the road.

When we go to Litang we filled up the car with gas and Josh started driving. Heading out of town (at about 4000 m) we started smelling gas. Figuring it wasn't a big deal and not wanting to stop because of the car-starting-problem, we kept going. The smell didn't go away. Eventually we go to the top of a 4700 m pass and Josh stopped the car. There was gas gushing out of the spot where you fill the gas tank. We opened it up and for about 30 min gas gushed out. We think that because it was stored underground and was cool but heated up in the car plus the 700 m climb, it just expanded too much. Once the gas was ready to stay put in the tank we pushed the car to get going and hoped back in.

We had a relatively uneventful drive, although the roads got worse, as we pushed on towards Kangding. By 6 pm it was clear we weren't going to make it past Kangding and I called and made a reservation at the hostel Travis recommended. At about 7 pm we got stopped because a tractor with a bunch of logs on back had the trailer tip over in the middle of the road. We tried to help out as he cleared up the mess and got the logs to the side of the road so he could reload the tractor (I guess a rope broke and destabilized the load). At about 9 we pass the Kangding airport and got pretty excited to almost be there.

Then 13 km from town we saw a line of parked buses and trucks. Bad news. But no cars, so maybe the way was open for cars. We drove past all these parked vehicles for a while and eventually decided that we'd better stop too. Josh and I went up and talked with some folks and found out that there had been a landslide which washed out the road and we weren't going to get through for 3 days. We went up and looked at the landslide. Then after talking with some folks who couldn't really undrestand me ("where are you going?" "Chengdu" "oh, Changdu?" "no, Chengdu" "Changdu is the opposite direction" "No, Chengdu" "Changdu isn't open to foreginers" "No, the province capital, Chengdu" "Oh, Chengdu") (Changdu is the major city in Eastern Tibet), we finally found out that there was another road we could take up near the airport, but we'd better spend the night in the car and wait until tomorrow because it is dangerous. Walking back to the car we talked with some other drivers of small vehicles and decided it would be a good thing to try, despite the rain, since some police officers told us it was open and passable. Liz had met someone who told her there was no alternative and for 50 RMB he would have someone pick us up if we walked across the landslide. We consulted with some more drivers and decided to risk taking the new road. So we turned around and followed the line of small cars to the airport and onto a road that was actively under construction. At some points the road was ok and had been graded, but at others it was totally miserable. One time Josh stalled the car and we had to get out in the rain and ankle deep mud to push start it, but fortunately it started. After about 2 hrs we had gone 10 km (max) on this miserable road and got to the pavement at the other end. We got to Kangding at 2 am after a 4 hr detour. The lady at the hostel was so nice to us and got up to make sure we could find the place and get in.

The next morning after a fantastic breakfast (pancakes!), Josh and I decided to get the car fixed while Brian and Liz hung out at the hostel. It was making some funny noises and needed to be dealt with before continuing our drive. We went to drive out the way we got in to the hostel and discovered a pile of bricks and a tractor in the way. They told us to go out the other way. Then we ended up on a road too narrow for our car and a kind tractor driver backed us up that and got us turned around to get back out the first way. We helped the people to load the tractor until enough bricks were gone for us to get through. Turned out that part of a muffler had come loose (still haven't fixed that) and our skid plate (hooray for that!) was dented and filled with dirt. They took of the skid plate, pounded it out, and put it back on for 40 rmb. While at the car repair place some other dude getting his car fixed was trying to tell us what was wrong with our car and what to do about it. Finally I asked him if he worked there, he said no, and I said, "I am trying to talk with the man who works here and is fixing our car, can you please let me have that discussion" and the car repair guy agreed with me and the annoying man left. We went and got Liz and Brian from the hostel (along the walking path since we didn't want to drive back up that narrow road again) and headed back towards Chengdu. The roads weren't great and then in Ya'an we had trouble finding the freeway. Eventually we got back to Chengdu before dinner time and had a nice dinner with Mark, a friend of ours who also knows Brian.

After a day in Chengdu, an easy drive to Jiuzhaigou, and 2 days here, Liz and Brian were off.

This concludes the SW China Road Trip Series.

We're a bit behind on our reporting and may have to skip over Jessi and Justin's visit and maybe Kathie and Jerry's visit as well. Hopefully we'll write a bit about hiking on the great wall.

We miss you all and will upload photos soon (maybe tonight?)

Amanda :)

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