Last weekend I took an epic (long) weekend trip. Getting to Shaxi was a day-long ordeal on twisty mountain roads and multiple bus transfers. First, a sleeper bus from Kunming to Dali (~7 hours), then a city bus to get to a different bus station in Dali (20 minutes), then a minibus to Jianchuan (~3.5 hours), then another minibus to Shaxi (~1 hour). Good thing I had my friend Hanna (and some new music and podcasts) to keep me company!
The bus rides were not fun, but when we arrived in Shaxi, I knew it was worth it. The quaint town was a mix of beautiful cobblestone paths, a main road lined with canals that people used to wash vegetables and clothing, and a mix of little restaurants and guesthouses. Historically, this town was one of many trading stops on the Tea Horse Road that stretches from Yunnan into Burma and Tibet. It’s easy to see how a growing tourism industry is influencing the town now, with more guesthouses than necessary and lots of new construction, but when we were there we only saw a handful of other Western tourists, and none of the giant Chinese tour busses filled with obnoxious groups all wearing the same colored hat, following a guide with a flag and microphone. Every evening as the sun went down, businesses closed up and people huddled around fires or under blankets. The stars were the brightest I’ve seen in China. I didn’t have a computer with me, so I was left to spend my time thinking, grading papers, and reading. It was a great retreat.
Around Shaxi there are some amazing hikes to be had, and I was counting on joining in on the free hike sponsored by our guesthouse on Saturday morning, until I was informed that due to low occupancy, the hike was cancelled 😦 Boo. Hanna and I did rent a car (after some serious bargaining) to go see some of the grottoes and temples perched high up on the mountainside (Shibao mountains). We had pretty much everything to ourselves. It really felt like autumn, with some orange and red leaves and lots of crisp, cool, unpolluted air. There were tons of pine trees turning brown and dropping their needles. We scavenged a few pine cones to decorate the Thanksgiving table!
During our two days there, we drank several cups of coffee/hot chocolate/hot water, sat in the hot sunshine as much as possible, and wandered around with no real plan, admiring the peacefulness of country life. For dinner two nights in a row, we went to the same small restaurant (if you could call it that). It was actually an elderly couple’s home, and they took us in like grandchildren. We sat with the grandfather and watched the evening news (recaps of the 18th Party Congress and the speech by China’s new leader- Xi Jinping) while the grandmother cooked us some simple and satisfying Chinese dishes. Then she brought the food into the TV room, while we ate at the coffee table near the little coal fire. All of that hospitality for only US$5!
On our last night we stayed at a hostel in Dali that had a playful golden retriever puppy and two adorable kittens. Hanna and I both had headaches and uneasy stomachs from the bus rides, but we enjoyed dinner in the hostel (cooked with organic veggies they grew!) and cuddled with the animals for some animal therapy. The next morning we both woke up refreshed and ready to be back in Kunming. It was nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, but I was glad to get back to my bed and rest up for classes on Monday.