Posted by: Megan | August 13, 2007

Bathsheba Brown and Bill Bryson.

Touring with me proves to be an intrepid experience – as all good travels should be! Of late, I have been reflecting back on my leading days – given I am soon about to fly into Shanghai to lead and write about the North China Highlights, commencing this Sunday.

Three years of leading armed me enough classic stories to potentially bind into a book – worthy (hopefully) of publication. And then, I would just have to excogitate the motives of attracting attention to my writings. Conspire to an author name that would make me stand out from the rest. Perhaps under the persona of Bathsheba Brown (a hint of ethnic comes western)? Shelved right next to Bill Bryson – surely then not missed? Or use a name that would shelve my book slap bang amidst them all. Megan …

In the meantime one for the book? …

It was November 2000 and heavy snow began to fall before my group and I started the actual trek – on the *Tiger Leaping Gorge Trip! As a leader who often confused the nature of an already challenging trip with a very challenging trip – it was not surprising that my passengers on this particular trip gained a true essence of the intrepid in Intrepid Travel – especially due to the snow!

The real intrepidness of the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trip began not long after my full contingent of passengers and I took the local bus from Kunming – start point city – to Dali – start point endurance-testing ground for how fit the group were for the up and coming gorge trek! A visit to Café De Jacks in Dali was the initial key to the test. At first I remember being bitterly disappointed that the sexy-charismatic Langar (who was my local adventure guide on the previous trip) was unavailable due to his broken right foot (honest – nothing to do with my last trip). I then turned to the Jack himself, quickly sized up his fitness levels, and upon doing so decided that he was the one to assist me to tackle the task of torturing my group for the gorge preparation, only to later learn – 75km on, that I would in fact torture Jack himself!

The group were under a little pretence with regards to their outing – I have to say. That is, while they were aware that they were cycling, they were just not exactly aware of the distance – that’s all! I simply believed that by repeating the motto; ‘Just a little further’ would be far more psychologically advantageous throughout the day than if I had told them the hardened facts (boring) in the first place – and have them flag it way earlier, resulting in them missing out on a truly great adventure on two wheels (or possibly one – look – I never said anything about the sustainability of Chinese bikes)!

It hailed out to be a brilliant day – meandering throughout Bai Minority villages on decrepit Chinese bikes – a chance that your every day tourist misses out on and one that other tour companies charge $1000s for the experience – trust me – I have looked into these kinds of cycle trips before! A few moans came expectantly with the day – but only to be expected on Chinese roads. I did give them an option though to bail out on the ride should the need have arisen – enough local buses bound for Dali passed offering roof-top service for worn out passengers and equally worn out bikes!

As I said though, that was only the beginning. The following day I became Suzy Snow-let with a group of 11 Snowlets! Dali experienced the first snow in, well, a … number of years should we say … 12 years? Is what the first excited local we spoke to upon first fall gave the number as. 14 years? Is what the policeman throwing snowballs gave the number as. 18 years? Is what the owner of the Tibetan Café as he brushed off the snow from the cafe awning gave the number as. 24 years? Is seriously what a local who possibly had not lived in Dali for a long time gave the number as! And that was the final number of years since Dali was proclaimed to have last had snow! Clearly – either way – it was a while! And as a group – we were … lucky? Perhaps for the group as before the snow fell that day my plan was to take them all on a hike up to the monastery way up on the hill behind the town – followed by a 6km Above the Clouds Walk behind the monastery!

Heavy snow though meant that the road from Dali to Zhongdian (where we needed to start the trek) was a non goer! Smiles on the faces of my group when then thought that the trek may be cancelled made me wonder if I over did the bike trip! Personally, my preference was to wait until the snow had cleared, and my parcel of emergency supplies had arrived in the interim from head office – vegemite, freshly ground coffee, and Tim Tams … However, in the interest of my little Snowlets I had to keep the show on the road – which meant reversing the trek itinerary – starting instead from finish to end!

Snowy icy road conditions but oh so stunning scenery out of Dali took our minds off how close we were at times to slipping off the edge. “Stop, in the name of my life” were lyrics that naturally came to mind during the journey!

Stunning clear blue skies thankfully prevailed throughout the trek with rest stops spent lapping up the sun during the day outweighing the bitterly cold nights and mornings! Lapping up the warmth of the sun while we could, I remember thinking of how I would have paid a million RMB to have had the feeling bottled for those nights! The reward for the cold nights was feasting on home cooked banquets at the very local guesthouses we stayed at en-route. Haba Guesthouse was my favourite where the owner could have made a fortune if she turned her kitchen into a Chinese Cooking Show – indescribable skills – a woman who chopped veggies at phenomenal speeds – and made for one hell of a Chinese Banquet for hungry trekkers!

After the trek has ended in Baishuitai we then had to make our way to Zhongdian. Our guide Sean was on bus patrol outside of the guesthouse. Due to the weather conditions there was only one bus operating that day and Sean had to make sure he hailed it down – and we were all on it! By that stage we were all desperate to arrive at an actual hotel with light and heat and hot showers – after a week in candle lit guesthouses with no showers – like a snippet from a Charles Dickens novel! A disgruntled bus driver finally agreed to take the cash from Sean so we could secure the seats – it was touch and go there for a while based on the facial contortions the bus driver’s gave! What a ride – I’d have given a pregnant pig on my lap over a man who constantly leant over me and throw up outside the window I sat next to! He threw up on a 5 minute intervals as the bus wound its way up the steep and windy road until … it broke down – and thank god for that! Bus overload? Not enough chilli peppers for fuel? Feathers from the chooks onboard the engine over heat? I was not entirely sure why the bus came to a sudden halt. The thing is – it did and there we were amongst the locals stranded walking in competing directions to hail down what transport we then could to continue the journey!

The indispensable Sean beat the mark before the locals and got us a truck. The downside was that only 3 of us could fit inside the cabin and the remains of us had to sit in the back – as night fell, altitude heightened, and temperatures dropped. I think it was about at this point where one of my passengers, Marty, began to devise the lyrics of ‘Intrepid leader – life of danger’ … The singing though breathed out warm air at least despite his shocking vocals! Huddled up like a bunch of mating sheep to keep warm we put our hands and feet in the most obscure positions and threw all of our backpacks on top of us for shelter – to keep alive!

Arrival finally into Zhongdian was bliss – although it took a while for my jaw to defrost and speak from within my blue lips! It was certainly one of my favourite trips to lead due to the mishaps that made it an even more intrepid Intrepid trip! I would have to say that this trip was my all time personal favourite trip in China!

*This trip now runs in slightly a different direction (snow or no snow) than it did when I lead it!

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