A wasted day- then Yuanmou
I wasted an entire day due to the confusingness of the train station & my less than stellar mandarin communication skills. I didn't wind up getting in to Yuanmou on the 17th until 4pm, which put me a full day behind. Plus the most exciting thing I did with my day is walk 3 miles to McDonalds with 50lbs on my back only to learn they don't open for breakfast- I cannot possibly eat lomein & hotbuns for breakfast one more time without going crazy! Ugh real chinese food is actually pretty reminiscent of the greasy hood kind, and only at upscale places anything like the light & fresh tasting stuff I prefer. My soul for an egg mcmuffin, I swear.
Oh well there is always plenty of fruit around, you can buy it by simply pointing & it is wonderful. Have had some really wierd fruits tho, green skinned clementines, things that look like pink artichokes but taste like banana, little purple sour juicy things that dye your teeth blue, big reddish purple bowling ball shiny things with 3 impressions on them like a coconut (or bowling ball) with a sweet canteloupe -like white flesh & all sorts of 'normal' fruits, but covered in warts- the cucumbers too taste normal, but covered with nasty looking warts like halloween gourds!
Anyways, I made it to Yuanmou, and it is a beautiful, hot hot hot, arid desert town. It is ofcourse, an oasis in the desert, and frankly I prefer not to know if that is natural (I doubt it) or some insane feat of Chinese engineering.
As a side note, I have yet to see 6inches of land in this country that has not been manipulated by human hands, perhaps simply because people have been here for so long? Or because the Chinese, despite their nature worship roots, seem to have an overwhelming need to conquer nature.
The ride to Yuanmou was four hours of amazing beauty. It was the colors of my dreamy little fantasy house terracotta soil dotted with lime & aqua plant life. The mountain peaks were yellow ochre, and I saw immediately that it was hot & arid on the peaks & moist hot spring in the valleys. And oh the fertile valleys, there is no mechanized farming to speak of here, its all little terraced farms. Corn, tomatoes, tobacco, cucumbers, squash, soybean, & even rice patties. I was so excited, it looked just like Morocco.
When we got to town, I realized suddenly that because this was not a town in the guidebooks, I didn't know a damned thing about it, like, where was the train station in relation to the town? Where was the earth-forest I'd come to see? etc. So I took a little gander around the train station & seeing no town, wandered back to the station to find a taxi, having just the very beginnings of a meltdown, knowing there were no more trains for 20hrs & seeing no sign of accomidations of any kind... So I made the hotel gesture to the cabby & he took me to a quite nice, obviously new hotel about 40 minutes of trecherously potholed dirt road away- where as usual they tried to sell the Lawai the $60 room but I got the $20 one(no hostels here), a bit to the chagrin of the taxi who surely didn't get much of a kickback. A brief convo with the reception clerk, who was terribly american looking, but spoke not a syllable of english, revealed that I was the first caucasion woman to ever stay at the hotel, she'd had half a dozen male australians the day they opened, about 8 months ago, but other than that, nope. She ended with a phrase I'd hear over & over but did not understand until this morning... But they'll be here soon. At that point I just thought, oh not tourist season yet, shame bc the weather is fabulous, and went to my room to change for exploration.
So 5:30-6 ish I get settled & set about my evening, planning on finding a place with a picture menu & hopefully getting some of the prickly pear cactus I'd seen on the train to make my favorite fruity tea (btw all Chinese hotel rooms come with a hotpot that plugs in & boils water in like 45 seconds, totally getting me one of those when I get home.)
I walk out of the hotel & start to notice fully built buildings that are eerily empty, big fancy office complexes, a family planning center, even buildings with the communist label on them, government offices of various kinds, completely empty. These are all set along dirt roads, with farmland in the middle. Further there is a huge apartment complex in the skeletal stages, 28 buildings so far. But I am set on finding a place to hire a car or a tour company & some friggen dinner, so I walk. & the pattern continues, the dirt road of the htel intersects with a broad palm tree lined avenue.
I walk & the avenue is bordered by a few repair shops, as well as car & motorcycle sales, occasional tea shops, noodle eateries, insurance sales places & furniture stores. Quiet. And I am being stared at, so much so that I ducked around a corner & took a picture of myself to verify their was not an egg in my hair! (In fact I looked lovely, its amazing what a bit of desert air will do for the complexion) So I keep walking, more finished but empty buildings, no signs but look like hotels & apartment buildings. A clinic which is operational (and freaky beds of sick people lying in what looks like an industrial garage, 20 feet from the street!) next to what appears to be a ghost hospital. And there are certainly not enough people to fill all these buildings, most of those I've seen are dirty, bedraggled & half inbred looking! Then I decide, finally (despite the fact that should I get lost I'd never find my nameless hotel on a nameless street!) to turn off the avenue, and I find it, the real town. About the size of Middlesboro (my old KY hometown) & with just 3 stoplights, its lively. No picture menus here, even at the one little burger joint of a small regional chain, I find the market & indulge in strawberries, kumkwats & fresh made potato chips. I step into a grocery & all the women giggle @ my terrible Chinese, one asks me if I have eaten the heart of a man(slowly 4 times till I got it), for I am in China alone & do not speak the langauge!
I also stop into a seed store & buy seeds for those wonderfully warty cucumbers (I will have to hide these deep in my suitcase, technically illegal...) and again am giggled at, people crowding the shop to laugh, stare & point at me! The woman at the desk rebukes their laughter, and again I hear, they are coming...
The long & short of it is I find no tour guide, & no english speakers, so I finally just ask the desk clerk to hire me a taxi to take me to the earth forest. 160 yuan (30 bucks) later I am heading the brand new highway to the brand new byway to the earth forest. Per what little info I had, I'd have to walk about 10k in & out, because there were no closer roads. Um yeah, there is no such thing as a guidebook thats not outdated in China!
The taxi would have taken me to the 'gate' but for them laying pavement, so I took a donkey pulled cart. Over the hill & there it is - a skeletal city of hotels & restaurants in various states of construction, and my pristine little earth forest, surrounded by gates & dressed up like an amusement park. I nearly hurled. Had I really worked this hard to get to this??? At least it was abandoned!! I would be its only customer today- 80 yuan to support 20 employees and a half dozen oversized cafes and souvenier shops!! But it was actually pretty neat despite the paths and concrete tunnels & trash & grafitti left behind by Chines bastard tourists. The woman at the shop told me I was the 10th or so foreigner she'd seen this year. They've gotten Chinese tourists, but not many, but when I was ready to leave, the road had been lain & my taxi came all the way into the park & got me. Now the tourbuses can come through- next spring holiday, the chinese tourists will come & once the tourguides are revised, so I'm sure will the Lawai.
Because the farms are still often run as co-ops they schedule when each food is to be harvested & brought to market, which explains why each woman I saw coming out of the fields yesterday (often in high heels, carrying a hoe, Chinese are obsessed with how they look) had big yellow onions in her basket despite the broad variety of produce being grown on each acre. I wish I could speak chinese well enough to talk to someone about the farm system, I have a book on it but never got to it because it seems so neat. Anyway the women take their onions to a little area where they are packaged in mesh bags about 4ft by 2ft by 2ft. Those are put on a horse cart, which brings them to a truck, which brings them to a bigger truck, which brings them to the train station where better than a 1/2 a square mile of area is stacked with them neatly 20 bags high. Each onion is nearly the size of a 6 year old's head. And now, they are being loaded onto a train, to go where, I could not discern, my language skills lacking.
I booked a sleeper cabin on the train, about 60 bucks, but it is a 14 hour journey. I certainly felt a little bad spending that much money in a little town in front of people who don't make that much in a month. And yet they were so helpful- and sweet, and teasing me about my lack of Chinese ;) So my little room is maybe 8x8 and has four bunks, 2 on each side. Unfortunately, I have no neighbors & am completely alone in here. So tomorrow to Chengdu, & perhaps to Leshan, or that may be the next day. I must get to Guilin by the 24th, so I can sail the Li river & catch my 8pm flight to Beijing on the 25th, we'll see if I get there sooner, or later...