Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sichuan Bamboo Sea

Matt among the ferns.                                 The countryside near the Bamboo Sea.
Cable car ride above part of the Bamboo Sea.

Pathway in the Bamboo Sea.

This photo is not fisheye or distorted, it just looks like that.
Bree on the cliffside steps.
Buddhist temple carved into the side of the cliff.

The view from above.
Sleeping Buddha.

When we arrived in Chengdu we still did not know what our future travel plans were. Tibet was uncertain, and we thought we might head south to finish out our 30-day China visa.

We found out that we had received permits to visit Tibet (yay!), and that we would be leaving Chengdu for Lhasa on the 28th. We decided to get out of town for a few days and see a bit of the countryside.

Even as we arrived at the bus station we were still unsure of our final destination. As we arrived at the bus station we saw that a direct bus to the Bamboo Sea in Southern Sichuan was leaving soon, so we got on it. Six and a half uneventful hours later we arrived in Changning. Apparently since there were only three of us going to the park proper (half hour outside of town, but where our tickets said we were going) the bus didn't feel like making the trip. The drivers were nice enough to secure a taxi (and pay for it) to the nearest hotel (of the cabbies choice) inside the park. We were extremely lucky was that there was a guy who spoke English (a rarity) on our bus who could explain to us what was happening. I think we would have figured it out, and accepted the cab ride eventually, but it was a rainy night in the middle of an intersection surrounded by pedicabs jostling for a look (at the white people). The hotel was, as expected, a little on the pricey side, our most expensive room yet at $48.  A busy resort in summer, we were its only guests that night. It was getting late (9:30 is really late around here) so we agreed to stay, and were thankful for a room at all.

The bamboo sea was more spectacular than expected, and save for a few mini buses of Chinese tourists we were alone most of the time. Well, that's not entirely true. I'm skeptical that you can ever be truly alone in China. Even when you're on a deserted mountain path you come around the corner and there is an old lady with a table of food or trinkets waiting for you.

As we came off one of the trails, a little later than we had hoped, (delayed by good time-lapse conditions) a bus pulled into the parking lot. We recognized the characters for the town of Yibin, our desired destination. According to the guidebook we had missed the last bus at noon, so we felt pretty lucky. Once in Yibin, we were pretty sure we had missed the bus to Luobiao, the town closest to the Bo Hanging Coffins, but the guidebook said we could get to Gongxian and then find another bus there. I showed the ticket lady the characters for Luobiao on a whim, and she sold us tickets for a bus leaving in half an hour. Again, pretty pleased with our good fortune, we actually enjoyed the 4 hour bus ride farther south. All the buses have movies playing constantly, if you're lucky you see them from the beginning, but sometimes it doesn't really matter. They seem to play a Kungfu movie, followed by a rom-com, with some music videos interspersed. When we arrived in Luobiao, the driver pointed across the street to a guesthouse/hotel. The place was clean and friendly and the girl at the desk made the effort to draw a double bed, then two little twin beds to find out our preference. There was no heat, but the ever-present electric heating mattress pad, big white comforter and kettle made it comfortable. The next day we walked to the Hanging coffins (see next post), through some even smaller towns (Luobiao is one main street, but it has a fork in the road). We finally got to see terraced rice paddies and gardens and old farmhouses.

The attendant at the hanging coffins scenic area office was a old lady who was cooking when we arrived. She opened up the village police station to sell us the ticket, then ambled next door to open up the museum. We were definitely the only tourists to come by in a while and, judging by the reaction of the people we saw along the way, one of a few foreigners they had seen.

We walked back to town, and tempted as we were by offers of a ride, we just couldn't see both of us fitting on the back of a motorcycle wearing our backpack (lame, I know). When we got to the empty lot that was the bus station a bus was idling. We asked if he was headed back to Yibin, and he didn't say yes, but he also didn't say no. He indicated we could buy a ticket from him, and that he would leave in 10 minutes. We figured we had no other option so we got on. After an hour he apologized, and kicked everyone off the bus sending us to another bus parked in front of ours. Another two hours later this new bus stops in a good sized town and kicks everyone off again. We soon establish we are not in Yibin and cross the street to get directions at a hotel. This town definitely doesn't get many foreigners, people stop in their tracks, mouth agape and snap pictures of us with their cell phones. We hadn't showered in a couple days, but didn't look that bad.

The desk clerk at the hotel confirms this is not Yibin, but can't even use charades to help us figure out how to get there. We have noticed that the less familiar people are with foreigners, the less adept they are at charades and miming and pictionary to get their message across. It's a learned skill I guess. We leave the hotel, starting to feel a little concerned about how to get a bus out of this mystery town, when one pulls up outside the hotel, bearing the characters for Yibin we are glad we memorized. Almost too easy. This bus takes us to the the wrong bus station in Yibin, but a city bus and some more Chinese character matching gets us to the northern station. We had missed the last bus to the Giant Buddha at Leshan, and decide not to push our luck trying to find lodging in Yibin, but catch a bus back to Chengdu.

The bus let's us off on a highway. Literally. It stops in the outer lane of a 4 lane highway (no shoulder) and lets everyone out. It's obviously not the first time as there is a line of taxis that pull up immediately. We get in a cab, hoping we are actually in Chengdu, and head to what feels at this point, like home.

We are a little worried that we used up some serious travel karma the past couple days. Things just kept working out. That is why we changed our blog subtitle from "traveling" to "stumbling".

- Bree