Trekking along Tiger Leaping Gorge was such a wonderful experience. I had been a wee bit apprehensive about heading off on my own after reading about how many eager tourists die on the trek. My hope was that I’d meet people along the way and quickly convince them that I was so fabulously interesting that they’d let me tag along. That way if I did fall off some precarious edge there’d at least be a record of the event.
As it turned out it was very easy to meet people and I wasn’t alone for one moment. I befriended a Chinese/Australian professional poker player whose language skills became extremely useful. I even learned some Chinese characters from him which was just enough to give me the taste to learn more. Of course the best part of meeting him is now being able to tell people that I have a friend who is a professional poker player!
Before starting the most GORGEous part of the trek I came across two charming girls who were being mistaken as edible by some local mountain goats. After helping to establish that they were definitely not food I quickly befriended them and ended up spending the next few days in their welcoming company.
One of the more interesting moments on the trek was when we came to a vertical ladder which seemed to run about half a kilometre up the mountain that we had to take in order to leave the bottom of the gorge. Dragging my foot to the first of the many treacherous rungs took a whole lot of courage I didn’t know I had and a touch of insanity that was always too apparent. I was the first in the group to begin climbing, figuring that if I didn’t tackle the fear straight away the likelihood was that I’d still be at the bottom of the ladder staring upwards to this day.
Not daring to look up or down, slowly but surely I made progress figuring that it would, at the very least be a very interesting way to go. I had few other thoughts apart from move left hand, don’t fall, move right foot, don’t slip, move right hand, don’t die, move left foot, don’t cry…When I finally reached the top my overpowering sense of delight and achievement was instantly and dramatically overshadowed by the below sign which was the first thing that greeted you when you got both feet on solid ground again.
After another quick stop by Dali with my mountain food girls I headed on the spitoonmobile back to Kunming where I overnighted before flying to Beijing.
Beijing was fiercly cold, dull, wet and grey apart from one day when I went on a wonderful hike along the Great Wall. It was an unrenovated stretch that wasn’t bothered by hoards of tourists and hawkers. In fact we saw not another soul during the five hours we spent walking the wall, which for China (let alone the wall) must be a record. This day was certainly a highlight of the China leg for me. The sight of the wall stretching out in front of you for miles and miles is simply awesome. I had to stop every few minutes and just gaze out at the scene ahead saying to myself lest I took it all for granted I’m on the great wall!
Back in the city I explored Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in the cold and rain. The rest of Beijing I found largely uninteresting apart from some of the older Hutong areas. Chinese cities are among the most modern, soulless I have ever come across and I have yet to see one which I liked enough to want to return to some day. All in all I couldn’t wait to leave Beijing and China in general although I will gladly come back some day for more hiking and walking in the countryside.
The fact that I was leaving for North Korea added to the excitement. The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea was at the top of my list of countries I’ve wanted to visit since I was very young. With a head full of expectations and bucket loads of apprehensions I set off to Beijing’s main train station where I would get the train to DPR Korea and indeed meet the group of people I’d be travelling there with.