I returned to struggle again with the mountain, and the mountain won.
I’m just back from three amazing days staying at the wonderful Higherland Inn on the side of the Cang Shan. The Inn is run by Li Ping (sp?), who could not be nicer or more helpful. It’s peaceful up there, and beautiful. It’s cozy and the food is great. I wanted to live there, but all good things must come to an end.
My first night, there was only one other guest – David, from Mexico City via San Fran, who’d been up there several days and is about to do a 10-day silent meditation in India. It poured all day, so we sat around the main room, which is a glassed-in dining/sitting room, with a great view, a woodburning stove and a sort of sitting platform with cushions and blankets. At 7:00 every night, there’s a big family-style dinner, and afterwards Li Ping taught us how to play mah jong.
I’d planned to hike the peak the next day, but it was still pouring, so I ended up drinking tea in the lodge all day, chatting with the drenched tourists wandering in from time to time. I was served three meals without moving an inch. Throughout the day, other guests arrived: Abby and Adam, two young guys from Colorado on a round-the-world, and a very quiet German girl who studies in Kunming. All the guests were exactly who you might expect to find in such a setting: backpackers heavily into outdoor activities and Buddhism. That night, over mah jong, we all (except for the German girl) determined to get up early and hike that peak, weather be damned.
Thursday morning was beautiful. We all had breakfast, and Li Ping made us sandwiches. We set up off the trail in good spirits. Everyone else was in nylon clothes and boots, with daypacks. I was in jeans and running shoes, wearing a pair of David’s socks, and carrying my purse with a huge bottle of water sticking out of it and Li Ping’s raincoat sort of jerryrigged onto it. I really need to go shopping for gear. We hiked for about an hour, and it began to drizzle. Then it stopped. Then it started again. Then we arrived at an outcropping of rock, and our joy at the unbelievable view (an entire unbroken mountain range spread away at our feet) was somewhat dampened by the storm clouds rapidly rising up from the valley.
We continued on up the trail, which by now was a series of rock cliffs needing to be scaled. It started to pour. The trail turned into a stream, then a creek, then a river. We’d been hiking in pretty consistent pattern: Colorado boys and David up front, me straggling along a bit behind them, Abby and Adam bringing up the rear. So I was by myself for each new challenge, and when I reached what was basically a rock wall with a waterfall crashing down it, started to scramble up it and nearly lost my lead-heavy and drenched jeans, I decided I would not be conquering the peak that day. I waited for Abby and Adam, and told them to tell the others I’d turned back. Not long after I’d begun gingerly picking my way down the river, I was joined by everybody else. We all slid down the mountain in the pouring rain. I was the last to reach the Inn, mainly because I stopped to eat my tuna sandwhich mere feet from the door, thinking there was a lot longer to go.
Li Ping, after she finished laughing at us, spent the afternoon constructing an elaborate forest of clotheslines and chairbacks around the stove, and tended to all our wet things in a sort of rotation system. All the other tourists who came into the Inn that day got to have their tea and cake under a dripping forest of Cool Max and North Face fleece.
Next morning, everyone said their goodbyes. Traveling is so strange – you spend a good bit of time with people, and then you exchange emails and all go off to other countries. It’s a lot like summer camp. I was in no hurry to leave, because it was still pouring. I’d thrown away my soaked and muddy jeans, and my sneakers had only just dried (and been sort of burnt) by the stove, and I didn’t want to start all over. David and I, and this really interesting older guy named Larry (who had come up the night before, and who’s lived in China for six years now and all over the world before that) had lunch, and then sucked it up and took the chairlift down in the rain. It wasn’t raining when we alighted in Dali.
Yesterday was the Moon Festival, and Li Ping had invited David and me to a party she and her friends were having at the Bookworm Cafe. It was a lot of fun. I ate until I couldn’t move, and drank a good bit of this weird, mint green Yunnan liquor that makes your throat numb. Met a very interesting fellow – an older American with a long white beard who goes up to the Inn every Christmas dressed as Santa and bearing presents. He lives part of the year in China and the rest in Ireland, and has been in mainland China since 1980. I guess he has some bucks; he seems to have provided the seed money for a lot of the cafes and hostels and so forth run by the other guests. Li Ping’s friends all seemed very cool and artsy. I didn’t feel any more awkward than I always do at parties where I don’t know anyone, even though at this one I also couldn’t understand anything anyone said. It’s amazing how little that matters: you just laugh when everyone else laughs and try to look self-sufficient and comfortable. And before long, everyone has too much to drink and starts to make fools of themselves, and then you don’t have to speak the language to get it.
In a little minute here, I’m getting on a bus to Lijiang. I’ve really sunk into Dali, but it’s more than time to get back on the road.