Arthur’s birthday was coming up and he planned a 5 day Yunnan trek with friends from Shanghai joining us. I was more excited to see my friends than the actual trek I have to admit. Back in the city, I was always hopping into cabs, zipping around on my scooter or bicycle – walking was the very last option. So I was pretty sure that trekking for hours on end was not going to be my favourite thing. However, it would help to shed those extra kilos I picked up in Europe the month before and that was incentive enough.
We met up with our friends in Lijiang before heading towards Shi Tou Cheng (Stone City) – the starting point of our trek. Crammed into a tiny van, five long hours and a flat derriere later, we arrived. This little city perched on top of a hill quietly resting beside the Yangtze River was breath-taking. It felt as if time stood still and we were in this magical place unfazed by the outside world. We rested for the night and would set out early next morning for our first day of trekking. I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. I already felt the strain in my legs just from walking down to the guesthouse with my bag, which was all of 15 minutes, downhill.
Next morning came and we got some good news – the owner of the guesthouse had found a mule for us! Perhaps he took one look at us and thought these slackers aren’t going to make it. In any case, I was relieved. We filled two bags to the brim, loaded it onto the mule and set off with a spring in our step quite literally. Each person had still to carry their own 2 litres of water. No one could help us with that. Not even Mr Mule.
Day One: Shi Tou Cheng – Liu Qing
Duration: 9 hrs
Terrain: Extremely varied
We started off slow, making our way through the lush greenery and beautiful streams. The scenery was magnificent and as we reached each peak, we were rewarded with grand views. The terrain was very varied – we went up, down and all around. I remember thinking how Chinese mountains really are unique and looked exactly like those in Chinese paintings. The Yangtze River at this time of the year was brown and it looked like it was a giant flowing river of cafe latte. At one point I even felt like Frodo inching my way to Mordor. The weather was cool for most of the day. It did start to rain a little at some point, but we didn’t mind it, it made us feel hardcore. Luckily the rain stopped just in time for lunch. We had local bread called baba, boiled eggs, saucisson and cheese from Paris. Best lunch ever! Eventually after 9 hours, we reached a local farmer’s home where we would spend the night. We “showered” with a hose in the forest, went in pairs to the “toilets” a-la-nature, played card games and slept altogether in a room on thin mattresses. It felt like summer camp.
Day Two: Liu Qing – Feng Ke
Duration: 6.5 hrs
Terrain: Generally flat but with a slight yet steady incline
After having survived the first day, I was more confident that I was not going to keel over and die halfway through the trek. We set off after a quick breakfast, recharged and ready. The trek was much more flat compared to the first day but the path was littered with small rocks which was a pain to walk on and the sun was out in full strength very early. I felt like I was in a dessert and imagined how insane it would be to be stranded in one with no water. I immediately took a big gulp of water and started to wonder about lunch instead. The views along the way were again spectacular. They were panoramic views and you really have to be there to take in the grandeur of it all. I tried to capture it with the panoramic function on the iPhone but it didn’t do it justice. 6.5 hours later, we reached our guesthouse for the night. It was a shorter trek than the first day but the sun sure didn’t make it easier. The ice cold beers, delicious dinner and actual shower room at our guesthouse offered much needed respite.
Day Three: Feng Ke – Zhuang Zi
Duration: 3 hrs
Day Three was a breeze as we didn’t trek at all 🙂 We travelled in a truck (the kind that transported pigs!) towards Zhuang Zi, a small and idyllic village in the mountains where we were going to relax for 1.5 days to celebrate Arthur’s birthday. We stayed in a local farm which got us excited. But the novelty soon wore off when we saw the gazillion flies in our rooms. In the afternoon we went for a walk, heading towards the massive river which cut through the entire mountain village. When there is a crazy river and there is a crazy Spanish person in your group, you know you’re ending up in the river one way or another. One by one we stripped down and went in, some with more ease than others. Being a tropical person, I cannot STAND the cold. But again, it was like summer camp and I didn’t want to be left out. It hurt my feet just to stand in the water but there was no turning back so in I went. As I dunked myself into the freezing water it felt as if all the blood in my veins turned to ice and every bit of the warmth in my body was sucked out in an instant. I jumped out of that water like a rocket and was left breathless but strangely invigorated. After we flexed our muscles for a group photo, we headed back.
Day Four: Zhuang Zi
Celebration: Arthur’s birthday!
Day four we stayed put to celebrate Arthur’s 30th birthday. Being the special and complex man that he is, he wanted something different this year – a day of silence and meditation. He gave his reasons at dinner the night before and it touched on how we are all so caught up in our lives these days we don’t give enough thought to most of our actions or words. He wanted to slow down for just one day and contemplate. “Silence,” he said, “is golden. So effectively, you’d be offering me gold!” My first thought was “who the hell did I marry”. But admittedly it was admirable and inspiring, so of course we all agreed. Our friend and trek master, Jean-Yves, was going to mediate the day, he was the only one allowed to speak, mainly for logistic purposes.
So we had our first silent meal of the day which felt kinda wierd. All I could think about was how silent silence was. D-uh. Breakfast was quickly followed by another surprise – Arthur decided to shave his head! I had the honour of giving him this new look, but someone had to take over after I almost scalped him. After the somewhat spiritual makeover, we got ready for a session of kundalini yoga. This yoga focusing on breathing and mantras was a little too abstract for me, I’m more of a downward dog kinda girl. Yoga was followed by a short trek to visit a temple atop a hill. The monk kindly let us roam freely around the premises and I felt bad that we couldn’t say hello. He must have thought we were from some deaf and dumb foreigner association or something. After a couple of hours, we decided to head back to the guesthouse for an hour of free time. This time was meant for us to reflect and just be with our own thoughts. I decided to return to my room. I tried to lay quiet and close my eyes but I could not ignore them blasted flies. Five minutes later, my roommate comes into the room to find me mid-massacre with flip flop in hand and a crazed look in my eye. She closed the door quickly behind her, removes a flip flop and joins me in my quest. No words needed. So we didn’t reflect much in the end, but I did feel a deep sense of calm knowing our room was a fly-free zone.
We headed to dinner at a local home, made a bonfire, broke open the bottle of Ricard as we broke our silence. It felt gooooood to speak again. For me, I felt this experience made me appreciate my friends even more and the fact that I felt comfortable being silent around them was in itself very comforting. I was also very proud of Arthur for stepping out of his comfort zone, leading us on a journey to experience something new. The rest of the night we joked, sang and danced around the fire, under the stars and with each other. It was so simple yet extremely joyful.
Day Five: Zhuang Zi – Li Ge
Duration: 9 hrs
This was the last stretch of our trek. We didn’t have Mr Mule anymore which saddened me greatly. It turned out to be the most challenging day of all! We had to climb up and over the mountain before we could start our descent to Li Ge. The scenery was different this time as we were inside the dense forest, but it was still very beautiful and enchanting with wild strawberries sprouting from the ground and moss hanging from the trees. The trek was long and hard. Every time I thought I was nearing the peak, hundred more meters of uphill would suddenly appear before me. It came to a point where I stopped looking up and just trudged on. I was moving so slowly a granny snail could have passed me by. I was just focusing placing on one foot in front of the other, left, right, leeft, riight, leeefttt, riiiightttt, Stop. PANT. Start again. After going up for almost 4 hours, we finally reached the top – 3500m! The gratification was immense. I felt so happy and empowered the tiredness disappeared. Apart from a few slips in the mud and lots of giggles, the rest of the journey was smooth sailing. We caught mini busses for the last stretch to Li Ge where we were warmly received by my friend Panda in his beautiful guesthouse. We ate glorious home cooked food, drank lots of beer and plum wine, went swimming in the lake, played games and continued to laugh the whole time through.
So a big kiss to my husband Arthur, this great trip was his brainchild. It was a priceless experience to remember. Also to Yanoush, Vilay, Nico, Jean-Yves, Minou and Pincho – the perfect group of adventure pals. I still don’t know if I enjoy trekking, but you guys made it really awesome and so much fun I would do it again in a heartbeat.
A special thank you to our trekking guide and friend – Jean Yves. Check out his website if anyone wants a tailor made trek in Yunnan! http://www.amiwa-trek.com/
Also, a huge thank you to my ex-colleague and friend, Panda for his generosity and hospitality. If anyone is looking for the best guesthouse in Lige, there is only one place to be. suimeng2012.taobao.com