Lijiang: the South door to Tibet.
This story tells how instead of get on the public bus that from Lijiang arrives to Lugu Lake – the homeland of Mosuo people, last matriarchal tribe, – we trusted a crazy driver and reached the lake only after ten hours of vicissitudes.
From Dali to Lijiang
We leave Dali to reach Lijiang in a comfortable minivan packed with German tourists, their flip flips and a some Yunnan campesinos.
The driver is annoyed because we are five minutes late. I stare at him with a guilty sight, but we really had a mandatory task to accomplish: Feng had to paint her nails black…
We didn’t tell it to him. And anyway he regains his cool when he sees our 160 kuai settled the day before (Lily, the lovely owner of our hostel, booked the tickets for us the night before).
The ride Dali-Lijiang – about four hours of motorway – flows quietly with Feng that takes improbable pics from the window and the driver that strikes up Tibetan pop songs.
Once in Lijiang we lose ourselves within the maze of alleys called “Old town,” a pedestrian neighborhood rebuilt with the clear intent to bring a huge amount of tourists between paved streets, houses of wood and stone, canals surrounded by flowers, small waterfalls and even a mill. It looks like… a Disneyland for (not that) happy couples.
I mean, everything is really nice; in Lijiang every stone is in the right spot and I’m not surprised at all this is one of most popular destinations within Chinese tourists. However I’m not at ease in a place where every house has been transformed in a restaurant, souvenir shop or both. I enjoyed much more Dali, maybe less elegant, certainly dirtier but at least authentic. In Lijiang I don’t even feel like to take some pics…
Then, maybe as a punishment for my laziness, it starts to pour down and we spend the late afternoon in a small bar of the old town, drinking tea and writing absurd postcards. We conclude the day with a dinner of vegetables and meat sticks (串，chuan = stick, a very explicit Chinese character).
From Lijiang to Lugu Lake
Back to the hostel, the International Youth Hostel, we book two seats for a minivan. The girl at the hostel tells us that we will reach Lugu Lake in about seven hours. From our dull point of view, the minivan offers several advantages, with respect to the public bus:
- We don’t need to bother looking for Internet connection (often a problem in China) and verify the time table of the public bus.
- The minivan will wait us only two minutes walking from the hostel.
- The driver will let us in Lige, the village on the bank of the lake where is our next hostel. The stops of the public bus keep being a mystery.
The morning after we wake up at six a.m. and arrives to the meeting point on time. What a shame that at the last moment Feng decides she needs some white bread with eggs before traveling and disappears before I can chain her up on the seat. The drive gets mad at me but since we hadn’t paid yet he decides to wait for us.
Feng comes back ten minutes late singing and trotting with her bread. I stare her with an homicide sight but I don’t say nothing. She makes me a big smile and asks:
“Shenme?” As for Ulysses’ sirens, nobody car resist to Feng smile, not even the driver (be careful with Chinese girls guys…). Anyway, everybody is happy now… Let’s go!
We are seven on the minivan. Me, Feng, the driver and other two happy couples. I’m the only one with big round eyes but I don’t complain.
Better the Chinese than the German with flip flop : P two hours of dirt road and twenty kilometers later we stop for the firs pee break. Here the read that is waiting for us:
“At least we got tarmac…” I think. But it’s still soon. About noon, the driver makes us a proposal that ends up in a ten minutes discussion where I don’t understand absolutely nothing. There is only a thing that I get: they reached a decision without even asking the opinion to the stupid white devil (that is me). I ask some explanations to Feng, which explains to me:
“The driver told us that we have to pay a fee to enter the lake territory, one hundred kuai. However he knows a secondary road that to bypass the entry gait. And he only wants fifty kuai!” I’m not happy at all:
“Wait, let me understand. Are you telling me that we are going to follow this guy in a mule track for saving five euros? And please, do not talk about secondary roads because this one is already more than secondary…” I cannot say why, but I don’t trust this driver.
“Yeah, I’m not that enthusiast neither,” she tells me “Wait, I ask again.”
And here we are into another long discussion in Mandarin but nothing changes. The drivers is really stubborn (he’s thinking about the 300 kuai he can earn…) and the others travelers are with him. me and Feng are the only ones that are not convinced but we decided to follow the majority. I tell myself that after all the driver came recommended by the Youth Hostel, he must know what the hell is doing. As it often happens, I was wrong…
The drivers tries to squeeze between the truck and the ravine.
In the meanwhile two happy family and their respective minivan had joined us. The drivers are all friends of our driver, not really something that makes me feel safer. At some point we turn right and start to climb the mountain in order to bypass the entry of the lake. Till when we find a nice surprise: the road is closed because of some works. In fact they are building the road. maybe I think:
“Cool, now the driver will understand this is crazy and will comes back to the main road.” However the neurons carrying my thought cannot reach my brain on time cause the driver, still thinking about his three hundred kuai, accelerates and points right between the blue truck and the gavine (see picture above). It rained all night, the results is that the minivan starts to skid and we have the impression to fall right on the gorge. I don’t know how, but the drivers is able to stop on time. I’m really angry now. I insult him in Italian – my Chinese doesn’t allow such a elaboration – and get out the car taking Feng with me.
This is the perspective from my window.
The drivers start to confab between them. The “official” road is the one we can see below the ravine, they explain to us. With my hands, I tell them I will climb down walking instead of follow them through the “secondary” road with all these brain-damaged people that risk the life of their children for the seek of saving fifty kuai. The Chinese look at me as I’m crazy:
“Why are you angry? We are saving fifty kuai, you should be happy…” they seem ask.
Whatever. At the end everybody decide to climb down walking. The drivers will go back, pass through the gate with their minivan and recollect us after the paying checkpoint: the were born on Lugu Lake and don’t have to pay the (in)famous one hundred kuai.
Tourist that would like to die on the way to Lugu Lake… Furio is smiling now.
Half an hour later we are again on the minivan. The driver point in front of us:
“We are almost there, the lake is behind these rocks.”
He’s telling the truth. The only particular is omitted is that to arrive “behind these rocks” we still need three hours of hairpin bends. They are still building the street, there is no guardrail and the driver is hungry: a deadly combination that made us risk the life every time he decides to surpass a truck in a bend…
Then we arrive. Lugu Lake welcomes us with a wink.
It was worth? Yeah!
Would you do it again? Yes, but on a public bus : )
This story is part of a broader series of articles that describes my summer holidays 2011. To read the full story since the beginning click here: Traveling: South West China.