Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tiger Leaping Gorge

I arrived in Qiaotou and took a room in Jane's Guest house. I couldn't sleep and sat outside my dorm, at around 2am, dragging on a cigarette. The lights were out and from my bench seat I watched as a party ended and people filed out from a room upstairs and onto their motorbikes or into their cars. Before closing up Jane came over to my table and sat down. I offered her a cigarette and we chatted briefly. She asked why I was up. I told her I couldn't sleep etc. Then she got up to go and she touched my face in the dark. An unexpected gesture. I thought of this Jane, as a very sweet lady. She walked off to bed.

The following day a middle aged English couple arrived. They were interactive with me, which I reacted to, as they informed me at noon that they were going to start on some beers. Their friends were going to arrive sometime during the afternoon. Another couple from England. They turned out to be a little younger. The woman being mid-twenties and the man possibly early thirties. I joined them for this debaucherous day activity. I bought a smallish bottle of baijiu and consumed that with lemonade, which lasted me until sun-down I guess. But the drinking went on till past mid-night, with myself moving to bottles of Tsingtao beers. At our peak us three men were singing heart felt renditions of the Queen song, containing the line, "Mama just killed a man...", and the chorus of "garramoosh, garramoosh won't you do the fandango", harmonies included. At some point during the night I brought in my air guitar. Crazy drunken english! As the place was beginning to thin and it was getting late, the man of the younger couple went to bed. Then the older couple shared a cheeky toke or two with me and went off to sleep, or whatever.

It was me and the young pretty English girl. My left leg rested against hers and I enjoyed the leaning of our heads close together as we listened to Frank Sinatra and tried to sing along. After three or four of these close up croonings, it seemed appropriate to end the night. As we were going to depart our separate ways she turned to give me a hug, and her stringy body was pressed into mine and I tucked my cheek in close to her ear.

The next morning I doused my cells with caffeine and then joined these two couples for the beginning of a walk along Tiger Leaping Gorge, following in the steps of the great Michael Palin in his Himalayas series. The couples were slow but I lagged with them. I wanted to go on ahead. I had nothing to say with my hangover taking away any desire for interaction. Stopping for some lunch, after what would have taken me perhaps one and a half hours walking max but in the group about three hours, the older couple dropped out. The woman didn't feel she could make it and decided to sleep over in one of the guest houses along the way. As they discussed this together I climbed a rock and squatted and then stood surveying the valley below, the wide and slow moving waters, as they were at this point, running by a road far below.

I bid them farewell from my vantage point and then about ten minutes on in the walk called back to the other couple that I would go ahead. So I launched myself into my most energetic of hiking rhythms, passing numerous people on their slow ambles. I strode up what is called the twenty-seven bends, or a number close to that, as it snakes up the slope. The scenery was impressive but less than what I'd experienced in Deqin and I was fighting my alcohol logged body. It was a walk to be completed. I stayed in a guest house called half-way. The English couple arrived about 40 minutes after me and that evening I drank with them and three other English people. I went through the motions of talking with them, and heard some interesting tales of their travels, such as eating rats in Vietnam and seeing the dogs caged in markets. But in the morning I was glad to get away alone. After just over an hours walking I'd dropped down onto the lower road and from there walked back to Jane's guest house, a gruelling three hours in the heat, clambering over a recent avalanche that had blocked the road at one point. At Jane's I had the finest cheese sandwich I've ever tasted and some strong coffee, before showering and catching the bus to Ligiang.

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