Getting up at the crack of dawn (well, 7am) we got kitted up and ready for the onslaught. We began the trek at 8am amid spots of rain interspersed with blistering sunshine. The first 3 hours were pretty heavy going – uphill all the way. We met some Dutch people coming the other way and bravely told them we were going to do it in a day. Their response – “are you serious?”. Undaunted we carried on. The scenery is spectacular. The photos won’t really show just how massive the peaks are but it makes you dizzy trying to stretch your head back far enough to see the top. Another 2 hours on and we were getting a bit tired so we stopped for a bite to eat at the Half Way House. Luckily though, despite the name, it was closer to the end than the beginning. Shortly after, with a fresh effort we attempted to storm to the end. After a few minutes though the path got a bit hairy. Clinging to the edge of the rockface on a narrow path halfway up a cliff-face with a sheer drop into the gorge is not my idea of fun. Especially when there’s a raging waterfall dropping straight onto said path. There was nought for it but to set our teeth and brave the torrent. I very nearly soiled my armour I have to admit but faced with the alternative of turning back and having Rich ridicule me for the rest of the trip was enough to convince me.
A further 3 hours and we were in Sean’s Guest House in the legendary Walnut Grove area having done most of the trek in 8 hours. Lonely Planet? Clearly written for Americans. We tucked into some beers with a bunch of Irish and Americans (who had incidentally taken two days) and had a great night until sleep time when we had to listen to a domestic row between two drunk Americans. If there was anything to convince me of the sheer wrongness of American life it was that conversation. Still, we had whupped the Tiger Leaping Gorge and were ready for fresh challenge.
The next day was spent traveling. We got a minibus to the historic city of Lijang which has been given a major facelift and is pretty touristy. In a good way though. I could have spent longer here. We visited the Black Dragon Garden where there is a school dedicated to preserving the ancient script of the Dongba tribe. It’s a pictorial text, in a similar vein to Egyptian. After a few hours pottering about in the company of an Aussie and a Swede that we had met on the bus we decided to get another bus to Dali. We had heard that we might be able to get our visas extended there.
Wednesday we headed to the PSB (Public Security Bureau) but they told us there was no chance of extending our visa, either here or in Kunming. This was discouraging but we decided to chance our arm and go to Kunming anyway. After the 5 hour bus trip we booked into the youth hostel where the rock hard beds made the nights seem very long indeed. For 30 Yaun (2 quid) though you couldn’t complain. Yes, I have noticed that I did just complain but by saying that you couldn’t it makes up for it.
Thursday we headed to the PSB in the company of an amusingly named Quick Wang (I don’t joke) to try to convince them to give us a visa. Wang was a representative of the travel company we had used to get into Tibet and since we still had that visa we needed to extend it or leave China to come back on a new visa. The thought of heading to Macau or Hong Kong was appealing but it would be a lot cheaper to get the extension. As usual, they couldn’t decide so told us to wait until tomorrow. In the mean time we went to the pub. In the morning we were back in the PSB. They eventually decided to give us the visa but we would have to wait until Monday to get it. We amused ourselves by buying a shedload of DVD’s (they’re between 30 and 60p here) and playing snooker. In the evening we went in search of a club called Snake on a taxi drivers recommendation. After about a half hour of walking we came across a place called Cobra. This was bound to be it. The taxi driver had promised beer and girls and sure enough there was, because it was a dancing girls club. We took a seat amoung the almost exclusively male audience and ordered an expensive beer. Gotta give it to them – they know how to put on a show. There was a never ending stream of pretty girls doing a wide variety of cabaret style routines, all in the most tasteful manner, I assure you. We were enjoying the show up until the point where the girls disappeared and the ubiquitous karaoke singer came on. He had a good voice, I’ll give him that, but the exuberance the audience showed for him was astounding. Free drinks were showered on the lad until he could barely stand up and every line he belted out was met with wild cheers from the crowd. This is “The Job” in China.
Still, after 3 songs we’d had enough and slung hook to find somewhere else. Down the road was the Boss pub. This is the ticket we thought. Unfortunately it was more of the same. It’s difficult to find a normal pub in China. The manager of the place was cool though and especially enjoyed the Chinese swear words we’d found in the phrase book. Another restless night was spent in the hostel due to a snoring fecker in the dorm. There’s always one isn’t there?
Saturday and we’re at the Land Rover garage awaiting the delivery of ours. And it duly arrives at 1pm. All is not well though. They have obviously hit a low bridge on the way because the bikes are obliterated, the mushroom vents are busted and the roof box is cracked. I had to laugh at the state of the bikes though – never seen anything like it in my life. And so the argument began. The truck driver tried to tell us that the bikes had fallen off the rack due to the bumpy road and it was our fault for not tying them on properly. A shameless blaggart this chappie. I wasn’t having it. They could have just told us the truth – i.e. that they crashed into a bridge. We would have accepted it and agreed a reduced price. But to come in unashamed with these lies was too much. After 3 hours of listening to the crap I told them they we getting 65% of the price we had agreed in Lhasa and that was it. Eventually they accepted. It was still a big amount of money because the driver had had us over a barrel when we were in Lhasa because we needed to get out quick. So not only had he taken advantage of our predicament before, he had crashed the Landy into a bridge and then had the balls to come and try to blag the full price. Some people have no dignity. So it seems Tibet managed to strike at us even when we weren’t there. In the end though, it’s sad that some people can’t just be honest and take responsibility for their actions.
Landy wise, the garage had no spare parts (they only do new models) and couldn’t get any so we have to order them from England. Sunday wrapped up the week nicely as I had a bout of food poisoning which necessitated many trips to the bogs. Got to read quite a bit of Shaw though so not all that rum and we had Monday to look forward to getting a visa extension so we could leave Kunming.