I have to start out by saying Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the coolest places I have ever been in my entire life. I am so thankful that Alliance chose to bring us there during our weeklong travel, and that my classmates were adventurous enough to enjoy it as much as I did. Marketus told us that he had to gage our interest in the outdoors and hiking before he decided whether or not we would be able to handle the all-day hike, so I’m very glad that our program has a cool enough group of people to go on this hike of a lifetime.
Let’s pick up right where I left off. After lunch in Dali we boarded the bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge. It was roughly 5 hours to Lijiang where we would be eating dinner (maybe), and another 2 hours to Tiger Leaping Gorge. As long as we made it to Lijiang on time we could have dinner, but if not we had peanut butter and jelly to get us through. The problem was that we needed to get there before sundown because the roads are very dangerous. The first leg of the bus ride was very interesting and included a bus sing along to Marketus’ ipod. We ended up getting to Lijiang on time, but apparently our bus driver was still afraid we wouldn’t get there before dark so it was peanut butter and jelly for dinner! We were all a little disappointed because we wanted a break from the bus, but we forgot all about Lijiang when we started to near Tiger Leaping Gorge. To get to Tiger Leaping Gorge we had to drive through little towns near the river that flows through the gorge on probably one of the bumpiest roads I have ever experienced in my life. I sat in the back row of the bus on the middle seat so I had to put my feet on the armrests in front of me while holding onto the seat backs so that I wouldn’t fall on the floor.
Eventually we rounded a corner and saw the gorge; It was amazing! The gorge is a giant cut through two mountains with a raging river at the bottom. These mountains have roads, farms and villages cut into the sides of them in some areas, but in other areas there is a vertical mountain wall. I think now would be a good time to mention how crazy our bus driver is. He honks at anything, everything and nothing. He even honks rounding corners just in case someone is coming. At this moment we were driving in a charter bus along a thin road cut into the side of a mountain with nothing to stop us from falling to our deaths. Most of us were fine, staring in amazement out the window at the gorge, trying to capture even half of its magnitude in our cameras, but a select few classmates were freaking out. They screamed at everyone not to crowd to one side of the bus and were either A- closing their eyes or B- yelling that we were all going to die. My response was that at least it would be a pretty cool way to die.
Finally we reached our guest house cut into the side of the mountain above a two hundred year old village and a few terraced farms. We had a well-deserved late dinner and headed down to the terrace outside. It was hard to see much because it was so dark, but you could see the river far below, the solid wall of mountain across from us and a million stars in the sky. It was a very awe inspiring moment as we sat in chairs chatting under the sky. Eventually a group of people broke off to play poker with Marketus, and a few of us wandered off to explore. After walking about 100 feet we ran into a group of people dancing! They had a tv playing a video with girls in Chinese minority costumes dancing with music and they were all copying the girls on the tv. We asked if we could join in and spent a solid hour dancing the same dance over and over again with about 30 Chinese people. I finally asked a woman what the dance was for, and she told me in English(!!!) that it was for a wedding. She said that everyone here was from multiple different ethnic minority groups and two people from different ethnic minorities were getting married that weekend and they needed to learn the dance. However, Anthony asked an older man who told him that there was no wedding and they were preparing for a dance competition?! -We still don’t know. I just thought it was very interesting that the woman I talked to could speak English! It was very unexpected but maybe she was in from out of town for the competition/wedding? I have to say, dancing with people at Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of my favorite memories from China so far. I left my camera in my room because it was dead (it doesn’t work very well in the dark anyway) so I wasn’t worried about trying to capture my experience in a photo. Since I’ve been in China I’ve had my camera glued to my hand everywhere I go to document my experiences and share my memories with everyone. However, it was nice to just let go. No computers, no iphone, no internet, no camera- and just enjoy the experience. It was so freeing to not worry about getting a good picture. I relaxed and enjoyed my life, dancing in the street on the side of a cliff in Tiger Leaping Gorge, surrounded by mountains and the stars with a raging river below. No picture could do my experience justice, so I’m glad I didn’t have a camera. I’ll keep the experience in my memory instead.
Before we went to bed a group of us decided to wake up early to wander around the gorge and watch the sun rise. I’m pretty sure that was a first in Alliance history- waking up early. But we all got out butts out of bed and wandered along a path down towards what I now know is a 200 year old village. We went along a path and climbed through piles of white rocks to see the amazing view in the early sunlight. It was so beautiful! After about an hour and a half we headed back for breakfast. After breakfast we met up with our mountain guide- a small, extremely tan man with high cheekbones. He was wearing blue pants, a light coat, a man-purse and non-hiking shoes. It took us a while to figure out that this guy was our mountain guide because he was introduced as our tour guide- but spoke no english.
After preparing our backpacks we all left for our day hike along tiger leaping gorge. We walked down through the two hundred year old village and along terraced farms. Eventually we reached an area where we were walking along a thin path cut into the side of the mountain which was covered in brown grass. The wind was so strong it blew dust into everyone’s eyes and we had to stop multiple times to shield our eyes so we wouldn’t fall down the mountain. After this leg of the trek we reached a scraggly forest where we stopped to have a little break. Eventually we exited the trees and reached the first major un-livable opening of the gorge. This area was even more beautiful than the area near our guesthouse! It was straight up and down cliffs with the river below. We all stood there in awe staring at the amazing sight before us.
After we managed to close our mouths and use our legs again, we started on the trail cut into the side of the mountain. A suggestion for anyone considering going to Tiger Leaping Gorge: If you are afraid of heights you might have a serious problem. Some of our paths were literally tunnels cut into the side of the mountain! Next to our trail was a complete vertical drop to the river below- a 12 second drop according to the rocks we let fall. We also had to walk along little make-shift driftwood bridges, which was scary! They were very rickety and with 6’4″ Nate behind me I made sure to get across the bridges fast just in case they broke under the weight of multiple non-Chinese people. Along this trail we encountered a cave, which we explored. Our mountain guide told us the story (in Chinese) of Tiger Leaping Gorge. Apparently this cave was inhabited by a male tiger who would leap across the gorge to visit a female tiger who lived in a nearly identical cave on the other side of the gorge, hence, Tiger Leaping Gorge.
After trekking across scary bridges and pick-axed tunnels through the side of the mountain we made our way down to the river. On our way down we passed a sign “WARMING. DON’T COME. DANGEROUS”. We didn’t heed the “warming” and continued down anyway. We had to climb across giant rocks and down wooden ladders until we finally reached a giant slanted rock right next to the river. You had to use a chain to get down the rock to a small wooden fence that was the only thing separating you from falling in the river. After resting in the river mist for a decent amount of time, we began the climb back up. The climb started off innocent enough- a decent workout, but eventually it became a trail that zig-zagged up the entire length of the mountain! It was crazy! Apparently we were hiking up the “down” portion of the trail because our crazy mountain guide had us hike tiger leaping gorge backwards to save the best scenery for last. As we were going up this trail- basically dying, Chinese people in sandals and jeans were walking down yelling “加油加油“ （jiayou jiayou- aka keep going!! You can do it! or literally, “make an extra effort!). I had to take my inhaler multiple times to make it up to the top without dying, and as we were all puffing and wheezing our mountain guide, who had been chain-smoking the entire hike, basically ran up the mountain. We joked that he would end up carrying us on his shoulders one-by-one up the mountain. FINALLY we reached the top and were completely exhausted! After taking a rest, waiting for everyone to finish, we walked the road, about 10 minutes back to our guest house. On the way we petted some cows and Anthony and I made friends with the most dog-like bull I’ve ever seen in my entire life! -not that I’ve seen many bulls. We stood on the road looking down into his pen below and yelled “mooooo” and he would moo back and ran over to the side of the fence looking at us like a little puppy who wanted us to throw a frisbee for him. He was so cute!
After eating lunch (Marketus had to keep ordering more food because we were starving) we boarded the bus to Lijiang. As soon as we got on the bus we passed out! I tried to keep my eyes open as long as possible to take in the amazing scenery we were leaving behind, but eventually I, too, succumbed to sleep. I have to say, in terms of beautiful natural landscapes it takes a lot to impress me, especially when it comes to mountains. Growing up in Washington, we have some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the United States. We have gargantuan mountains with raggedy cliffs covered in pine trees and capped with snow as waterfalls stream down the sides to a raging river below. We have the only active volcano in the continental United States, islands that are actually submerged mountains, temperate rain forests etc etc. From my house you can look out into Puget Sound and Whidbey island, which has it’s own mountain range and every night the sun sets behind the mountains and the water. The city of Seattle itself is nestled between two natural lakes and the Puget Sound on 7 giant hills. So when I say it takes a lot to impress me in terms of mountains, etc, I am not exaggerating. However, Tiger Leaping Gorge blew me away. I have never seen anything so beautiful or majestic in my entire life. Just the sheer magnitude of the cliffs make you feel so small. There was no way I could capture all of it in one photo. I even tried taking video with my camera, which didn’t do it any justice either. I’ve never seen the grand canyon but I almost wish I had seen it before Tiger Leaping Gorge because I don’t think any canyon or gorge can compare with what I saw in China. Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life and I’m so thankful that I got to experience it with all of the amazing people on my program.