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Tuesday, 12 April 2016 17:46

NiHao Yunnan - Training for the tropics Part One

Author: Eni

Translated by: Pál Capewell

As we rolled out of a tunnel on route G213, we entered Yunnan Province without realizing it. The mountain ranges behind us grew greener and more alive. Balazs and I were really interested in exploring this province as well. China has 56 minorities (!!!) altogether, 28 of which are in Yunnan. More than half of the inhabitants of this province are not Chinese (or Han, as Chinese refer to themselves). One can find Buddhist Dai, Muslim Hue, Naxi and Mosu inhabitants. (People who are not familiar or knowledgable in the minorities can’t see much, or any at all differences among these different people.) The most significant difference we could observe between the Chinese, Tibetan or Uyghur people was that people here had darker skin, wider noses, and started to look more “South-East Asian”. Besides Chinese, people in Yunnan speak languages that belong to the Tibetan-Burmese language family. But what is Yunnan like? Where did we wander about and what did we find?

Let’s see one by one. 

We rode for days from Yunnan’s northern corner on an under construction road, in a rather off-road style. Our route did not go along the popular biking trail of Jumping Tiger Valley and Dali (for which we do apologize!). We spent our nights in parking lots and playgrounds when we arrived in smaller towns and villages. Guide books do not exaggerate: the rich flora is accompanied by unparalleled fauna. By that I mean fluorescent and non-fluorescent spiders, insects, night butterflies flicker and wander around in all shapes, sizes and all different colors. As beautiful and natural it all may be, it made settling down rather challenging and erased all chances of setting up a tent. So we had to find a place with some sort of roof over us, which caused further problems. It was difficult to find a good spot in a narrow valley, filled with hanging this, that and lustrous trees everywhere.  Fortunately for us, we were somehow always heading toward the right direction.

In the border of the “small” town Sijuan, next to ZhaoTong, we decided to hop on a bus as countless hours of hitchhiking were fruitless and we were afraid of running out of time visa wise. In order to get to the station though, we had to bike through Sijuan. A dusty spot, somewhat surrounded by fences, posed as the regional bus hub. Using our pocket dictionaries, we enquired about the fares like it was the most normal thing in the world. What can we say, it was quite expensive and out of our budget but Balazs and I decided to swing for it, having had no other feasible options. Luckily the bikes were transported for free, which was quite the relief. Being short of time, afraid of completely missing out on stuff because our visa runs out, we bought the tickets. Next task was to look for some accommodation as the Kunming bus was only due to depart the next morning. Well, when I mean accommodation I really just mean a reasonable spot where we can cozy up and pull through the next morning. It ended up to be a hospital’s garden area, where we convinced the guard to let us sleep overnight. Fantastic!

Ever since the Emei Mountain adventure, my leg has been itchy, full of red spots and irritations. First we thought they were just bites of some sorts, but these burning, ugly spots didn’t disappear and one day I counted 44 on one and 79 on my other leg. The constant itching turned unbearable and we decided to stop by “next door”. In the parking lot I asked a young fellow, with the help of my super dictionary of course, to assist me in finding an English speaking doctor. From then on, he assigned himself to be responsible for me, led us to the first floor of the hospital and got two nurses to help. The nurses got one English speaking and five (!!!) Chinese speaking doctors. Somehow, don’t ask me how, I was surrounded by 9-10 people by the time I took my seat in a doctor’s office. Other patients and relatives came by to see the newest attraction in town - me. The doctor examined my leg, then with a shy smile, admitted his English is really not that good. Further questions, phone calls followed and even a computer appeared. Someone even tried using a speech-recognition app, and others tried online translation. In the midst of all the craziness, the doctor announced I have skin allergy and quickly wrote a prescription. With the prescription came good wishes and we thanked them for their priority treatment. The youngster from the parking lot took us to the pharmacy, picked up and paid for the meds and didn’t even let us pay. Naturally we thanked him left and right for his care and support then he said his goodbyes with a smile and left. Balazs and I returned to the garden, did this and that and Balazs’ ukulele performance attracted a few passersby.

The next morning we packed up and headed for the bus station. Our bus to Kunming took off at 08:30 sharp and due to the knock-out effect of the allergy meds, I slept through the 12 hours ride.

We arrived to Yunnan’s capital around 18:30. We had some arrangements with a Warmshowers user, but they had to cancel last minute (unfortunately this happened a few times). What can one do in this scenario? After overcoming the initial shock and slight anger, you decide to look for the cheapest possible hotel in town. Just like in Chengdu, we opted for a hostel in Kunming too. So far we only had pleasant experiences with Chinese hostels. They are some of the cheapest available here, there is wifi, and you can even wash your clothes at an added charge. (We used hostelworld.com and yhachina.com. The latter offers 5-10RMB discount for YHA card holders, which can be exchanged in all hostels.) Balazs and I only counted a few days for Kunming, which we planned to use for rest, chores (washing, bag cleaning, etc) and city exploration. One attraction of the many in Yunnan’s capital is the 1300 years old Eastern and Western Pagoda. It’s enormous, has 13 storeys and it dates back to sometime in the Tang Dynasty. These gigantic towers offer a unique sight in the middle of the asphalt jungle.

We checked out the hidden passages further from downtown. This is how we came across the bird and flower market, where it’s obvious the merchandise used to be much more plentiful. Here one can find everything from the waterlilies to bamboo collections. If one ventures deeper inside, they can find bunnies, turtles, scorpions, snakes and all sorts of clothes, bags, jewelry, etc. This is the kinda place one goes to awe and explore but where one never buys. The tables were collapsing under the cheap plastic trash.

It would have been nice to get our Laos visa in Kunming. We were not certain whether Hungarians would be granted visa on arrival upon arriving at the Mohan-Boten border. We called the Laos Consulate, only to be told “we are not sure, please come in personally”. Unsatisfied with the answer, I began my own investigation and found the contact of the Hungarian Honorary Consulate of Laos, and sent them an e-mail. I didn’t expect much or anything really after the initial failure, but the Consul has answered within a few hours, reassuring us that Hungarians are granted visa on arrival but have to pay a 30USD fee (+2  USD administration fee).

Great, we thought, and set off for the South of Yunnan.