Tuesday, 12 April 2011

One Last Hurrah for the Shoes/Four Legs are better than two

Well, If you may remember in Xiamen I had my shoes fixed by an old man for a pound, well that lasted a month and my shoes are no more. I took them on one last trip, Horse Trekking in Songpan, Many people laughed at my shoes when I showed them the damage, including our guides on the trek, and then they showed me their damaged shoes. Here is a picture of the extent...

Shows how the sole has completely come off, over the trip the right foots sole almost came completely off. They have served me well for over 8 years but have now been consigned to the bin.
Anyway, me and my horse! ...

They were smaller than English horses. Mine was called Hui Hui and was cheeky but friendly. Although I had reigns, the Horse was always in control doing whatever it wanted. On some of the steeper climbs it got a bit hairy but I had complete faith in my Steed, also what they say in Animal Farm 'Four legs are better than two'.

Day one we trekked to a campsite where they proper survival style cut down trees to make a large tent and a fire (the tea was the first thing that went on).

Next and this is just to prove how damn cold it was, it snowed heavily all night long. Here I am entering my tent at 10 in amongst the full on snow...

Next day we awoke up to a winter wonderland, and a local farmer herding a load of Yak through our campsite!

This was a day of ascending the mountain, before we left 4 of our party went back to Songpan ill. This was in itself a blessing, because now it meant we could stay in the Tibetan families house as there would now be space. we went up to Ice Mountain but could not see it due to the clouds. A short trip back to the Tibetan House for lunch/dinner/fire/cards and it was time for bed, when I wake up it would be my birthday, and as a special treat the sun shone and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We could see Ice mountain and all the other surrounding mountains. I hadn't seen a proper blue sky in China for a very long time so this was quite unexpected.

That's my horse trekking trip in brief. It was totally worth it and the freezing night in the tent only makes you stronger, Tibet may be even colder so this should be a good warmup. Am back in Chengdu while Tibet is sorted out, its warm here, like england, t-shirt and shorts weather. Yesterday I ate Scorpion, Centipedes, beetles and worms. Then we went out to a club where westerners drank for free.

Next up as mentioned is Tibet, all is going fine just waiting for a permit before an 8 day tour of the famous land, including a trip to Everest base camp. Then a flight to Beijing and a train to Qingdao for a boat to Korea, I will be sad to leave as I love this country but it's time for something different.
In responding to a message from David, I realised my response might be of note, more observations of China. He asked me about the Royal Wedding, China as an unfathomable place, changes and signs of dissent so here we go;

'I've got oddly patriotic about the queen actually. Guess its being away as usually im a staunch republican.

Its still as unfathomable, some things just don't make any sense; Traffic, shopping, customs, and drinking all seems to vary from place to place. Its hard to go in to but this country is crazy and awesome at the same time. I.E Westerners drinking Whiskey (Chivas Regal) in a club for free just because we are western and they want more westerners to drink in their club, no idea why, it was busy and full of young, hip and rich Chinese. But I won't complain when the drinks are free :)  

Sichuan is closed to foreigners in places due to it being too tense but we've seen no trouble here at all. So apparently there is some dissent. But otherwise theres none what so ever, things are going well for China so must rich people don't give two hoots, and well the poor are quite happy just to go about there business.

I went to Songpan which was affected by the Earthquake two years ago, there were signs that said things like "Freeway 217 earthquake Ruins" and then you'd see a huge rock lying in the middle of the old road or a bridge halfway over a river and the rest lying in the river, was quite epic, there was as usual massive construction going along almost the whole 5 hour trip to Songpan.

China is different than before, but its also very similar. Tourism is going to change the place over the next few years and not in a good way in my opinion. Imagine one nice tourist town in Britain, then Clone it and turn every other tourist destination into an exact replica. Thats what China are doing with the 'tourist' sites. Identical roads of shops selling the same knock off souvenirs. It doesn't make any sense and im kinda pissed off with it. One of the unfathomable things I guess. In Songpan, Emma who ran the restuarant and tour advice was annoyed too, as they'd had a lovely sign made by some French guys for her restaurant but the government is forcing her to remove it and have a sign exactly the same style as every other shop/restaurant in the whole street with the same facade on the front too.  

Then they go ahead and label the place an 'old town' which can't be any further from the truth. Its stifling originality and makes no sense, why visit a town that looks the same as the last town you visited and sells the same knick knacks?Like I've said previously, China will be a very different place in 5 years. I wonder if they will see the error of their ways, but I doubt it, homegrown tourism is booming and no one seems to care that these roads all look the same. But this is why I go and do different things, climbing mountains, horse trekking, biking etc.

Also ironically everytime I have one of these 'Chinese Tourism Rant's' I inevitably end up doing the chinese tourist thing. Going to Tibet on an organised 8 day trip with a guide (minder) and driver. But the exception here is Im not allowed to do Tibet any other way.  

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Chengdu and Around

I've been in Sichuan for a week now, I've also been in Chengdu for almost a week with a three day gap, this is partly because I didn't know what to do and secondly because there is a public holiday on, five days long so going anywhere is a massive hassle, we shall see how busy it gets later on. This time though I should be able to wrangle a photo blog diary update! excited?

A step by step account of Chengdu, Le Shan and Mt Emei.
First up a trip to the Panda's, here we learnt about the breeding programs - Male Panda's are sedated and then massaged with 'electric stimulation'. Fun. Anyway there were many Panda's hanging out in the reserve, mostly eating, with a few younger ones sleeping in trees.

Second day in Chengdu and it was a cycle tour time, usually the best way to get to see a city. Despite the crazy traffic, we all survived and ended the day in a very Sichuanese style spending too long drinking green tea in the Bamboo park. Other sites we saw included a church(Chinese on the outside, normal on the inside) a statue of Mao and a market with alligator meat and snakes for sale.

In the tea garden place you could get your ears cleaned, the impliments the people who do this carry, you wouldn't want anywhere near your ears!

Next up time to leave the city for Le Shan, Home of the Big Buddha. Photos shows this best. Then a quick bus trip the bottom of Mt. Emei for a two day trekking excursion. I slept on the mountain and walked about 40km plus over two days. Sleeping in a temple for one night. I met many Chinese and very few westerners walking the route, I also met some unruly monkeys - I had been warned about these monkeys from a couple of Danish girls in the hostel (they ate rice with ketchup :s) one of the monkeys had bitten her and stolen her Oreo's so I bought a stick which I have named "dragon beats monkey". The mountain itself is forested and very foggy, at the top it was snowy and icy. The Chinese family who I had bunked with and walked some of the way bought me a red Buddhist bracelet, before I decided I had walked enough and didn't fancy another cold wet night on the mountain and got the cable car back down to the bus stop.

Those padlocks on the fence in the last photo are placed there by young couples as good luck emblems. I have some artsy photos of them with the ice hanging off them. But this isn't the time for that.

After I returned to Chengdu I went on the countryside walking trek organised by the hostel, to call it a trek is a laugh after what I'd just done. It was basically an easy two hour jaunt around a country park(imagine Ashton Court) - The real fun was visiting 'Ancient Street' a typical Chinese tourist road selling nothing but souvenirs and mock costumes to take photos of yourself in. This being holiday weekend, was absolutely rammed (as shown below), it also meant that quite a few Chinese not so accustomed to westerners were set to take photos of us. We milked this and happily posed with them jokily charging five kuai (50p) a picture, one girl actually gave me some money but I gave it back. It was very fun being the centre of attention, its easier to enjoy the photo taking if you embrace it, I also took photos of the Chinese taking photos of us.

Thats most of the stuff I have done in Sichuan, one last thing Hot Pot... A big bowl of Chilli's and oil in which you cook your own food. Quite fun and entertaining, tonight I am going to traditional Sichuanese Opera which involves mask changing and fire breathing apparently. After that I will have the other good food in Chengdu, BBQ - also very spicy.

Tomorrow at the bright early time of 730am I am off to Songpan for Horse Trekking, and I am also tentatively looking into going to Tibet... Interesting times now I have a little direction again...

Until next time :D