Back in May Laura and I were sitting in the garden of the Moreton family home, trying to plan where we were going to go and what we were going to do in China. We really had no clue. How will we get from the airport into the city? Where should we stay when we arrive? Where should we go from Hong Kong? Should we go all the way to Beijing? What clothes do we need to take to cover winter in the north and summer in the south? How do we ask for a train ticket in Chinese? Will we get beaten up by Chinese officials if we ask the locals about politics? Will we survive 6 weeks without Facebook? Thinking back to that day it is funny to think that we've done all the things we read about in the guidebook without a. Spending all our money b. Losing all our belongings and c. Getting arrested.
“Do you think that after so many sights we might just be ready to chill out for a bit?” asked Laura, “Definitely” I replied “Even reading about all these places is exhausting!” Going back to the guidebook we searched for the best place to chill out in China and came across a place called Dáli, which the Lonely Planet describes as the ideal place to kick back and take a break from travelling. After 6 fast paced weeks we were definitely ready for that so we made Dàli our next destination and hit the Yunnan highway.
Sandwiched between Changshan mountain and Erhai lake, Dáli is a superb playground for outdoor activities. On the recommendation of Gary, an expat from St Helens, we headed up Changshan mountain the following day. We took a route that Gary promised (and he was right) to be stunning and that would be without another soul in sight. It turned out that there wasn't another person in sight because nobody else in Dáli is stupid enough to climb (with a sheer drop of 500m to their side) over a huge landslide to get to the path. The hike was truly beautiful but in true Laura and Katie style we got completely lost. Hours went by until we stumbled across a seemingly abandoned road that vaguely headed back to town and we wearily began zigzagging our way down. After an hour or so I was desperately in need of the loo and proclaimed to Laura that the side of the road would have to do. As I unzipped my shorts Laura shouted stop and within seconds a 4×4 came round the corner, sending us flying for safety. Screeching to a stop, the driver reversed and jumped out. Showing him our map he beckoned us into his car, where his wife explained in broken English that it was “no problem, we'll take you back to your hostel”. The only issue was there were only two seats in the back, both of which were already occupied. Squeezed up against two Chinese women and a tree, we set off at breakneck speed down this off road trail, Laura and I fearing for our lives in between whacking our heads on the car roof.
The week in Dáli gave us time to pull our running shoes from the bottom of our rucksacks and burn off all the fried rice we'd been eating. There was an ideal running track from our hostel entrance, giving us a decent 30 minutes circular run. As we set off I heard a bit of rustling in the bushes; on closer inspection I saw nothing so we continued along the route. Literally 3 seconds later the biggest rat I'd ever seen ran out in front of me, inches from my feet. Another one ran behind me, and another scuttled over Laura's feet. The rats continued to chase us for the rest of our run; we must have seen at least 20 in total. I've never run so fast in my life, it turns out the rats of Dáli are my ideal training partners!
Our relaxing week turned into quite an energetic one, the second to last day we hired bikes and cycled up along the side of Erhai lake. The scenery was beautiful, we had a great day exploring and sampling the local food. On the way back we stopped at an ice cream seller, bought a cornetto and sat on a bench overlooking the lake. As we admired the view, proclaiming it to be one of the most beautiful we'd seen all trip, a giant dead rat floated by. We quickly left!
On the final day we attended a Chinese cooking course, run by Luxie, an enterprising local woman. She met us at the local market in the morning, gave us a basket each and directed us to the produce we'd need for dishes we were going to prepare. Four hours and plenty of chopping, crushing, slicing, frying and boiling later we'd produced a feast of tofu salad, Gong Bao chicken and fish flavoured Aubergine. The cooking course was definitely the highlight of Dáli and I would highly recommend it. It's well organised, the setting is beautiful and the results are very tasty. Friends and family will be pleased that I have a dish other than pasta pesto a la Katie to offer when they come to dinner!
The next stop is Kunming, our final stop before heading to Laos. We're going to be very sad to leave China!
Love to all,