Two day hike of the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
We lock up most of our luggage at a guesthouse at the beginning of the trail, Jane’s Guesthouse. Jane looks like jack sparrow’s lesser cousin, and speaks in a mix of american and British accents. While Lulz uses the toilet, Jane chats me up, asks me if Lulz is my girlfriend. Nope. Then. she. makes. a. pass. at. me. I’m visibly revulsed; she smirks and pats my cheek, whispering “cute” as she walks past me. Lulz is no counsel when I tell her; she takes the piss out of me about it for the rest of trip.
Locals trail us the moment we get off the bus, offering car and horse services. One sees Lulz, thinks girls=feeble, and figures she’ll tire out by the first switchback. He follows us with a horse for the first 2 hours of the hike. His persistence– while symptomatic of the region’s poverty– pisses me off and I want to punch him in the face. We finally ditch him at the first checkpoint, the Naxi Family Guesthouse.
The high trail is not well marked at its head. It’s marked only by red and yellow arrows painted by guesthouses wanting your business down the trail. No national park blazes; there’s zero local interest in what is a breathtaking hike along one of the most dramatic gorges in the world.
“28 Bends” and another two hours to reach the high point. Most of them are mini-switchbacks. The final viewpoint features a gentlemen that charges you eight quay each to take pictures from the spot, under the questionable authority that his buddies and him were responsible for carving out the lookout point. Lulz bargains down.
The view from the top is jaw-dropping. Down below, the emerald rush of the Yangtze River. Across, the snow-capped Yulong Mountains that rise and drop dramatically to the river. The range fills your vision so totally that it reduces cameras to exercises in futility.
The day fades. We arrive at the Tea Horse Guesthouse. 2 more hours of hiking , but only 1 hour left of daylight. Lulz wants to keep going. Lulz is fucking crazy. Executive decision to crash here. We will sleep beside the mountain. I know what you are wondering: no, there is no wireless here. Sometimes, that is okay.
Hikers– all Westerners, Chinese don’t hike– trickle in.
Stefanie and Charlie met while in grad school in PA. Guess which one was born and raised in Macau, speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, and smiles with faint wrinkles; and which one is white, from Philly, a bio physics major and does a mean Polish accent. Charle and I geek out over cameras. I’m jealous of his 16mm wide angle and he eyes my 30mm f/1.4.
Andrew is tall, hunched like a man who grew unexpectedly. He is a jazz guitarist from Brooklyn, roaming China on the laowai (foreigner) musician circuit. He sleeps in the dorms for $2.50.
Porter is American, lean and scruffy, and talks in an even-keeled manner that suggests either a deliberate indifference to his fellow man or one helluva marijuana habit. He travels with Ding Ding, a Shanghainese club girl that greets you with sunglasses and iPhone headphones. Trail gossip says they met on the Internet. She speaks little English, and he, scant Mandarin. Their method of communication is unprintable here.
Sunrise in the mountains. Finish the hike by noon. Hit the low road. Hitchhike our way back to the trail head. I fall asleep, missing the view seen by the tour groups. Fitting. Luggage in hand, we flag down a bus headed for Zhongdian/Shangri-la.