No sooner said than done! There are many reasons why I’m going to dedicate this article to my cheerful French colleague and friend Virginie. Why should I address my writing on China to a girl whose heart beats for a blue, white and red flag? We are both interested in travelling, but of course many people are. This is the first reason, but it’s not enough. I think that it has definitely come the moment to tell you about my travel to China, a country I love to think to as a land of experiences.
For many years I’ve dreamt to discover the most far Chinese places. Exactly since I was enchanted by some colourful images found in an old paper smelling bookshop. The Danxia Park, with its brilliant rainbow colours captured my attention first and my soul immediately after. This is the place which encouraged my husband and me to choose China as the destination of our last 3 weeks journey. When I told Virginie I was planning a journey to China she replied in a firm tone “You have to see the rice terraces of Yunnan”, galvanizing me to collect immediately more information about further charming places in this country (this is the second reason). Tight time at our disposal obliged us to choose between the Danxia Park, in the North of China, and the Yunnan terraces at the very opposite of the country. Surprisingly disregarding our first plans (a sort of) Mauri and me bought two tickets to Kunming, in the southern part of the country, to move later around the Yunnan and the Sichuan regions. Yes it’s true, a self-made journey needs a lot of dedication, but all the efforts will be removed from your mind, as soon as the flight takes off. It is right now that I can feel a real sense of freedom. Choosing to run one direction rather than another, catching a train rather than rent a car are those ingredients that will enrich the journey optimizing your fulfillment.
For many reasons, such as linguistic ones and the difficulty to find out information on the internet about the places we wish to see, our chinese tour is not that easy to plan.
Especially when you’re travelling alone, it happens you have to face some unexpected events. This is the case.
After we land at the Beijing airport we need to collect our backpacks quickly and check-in for our final destination.Unfortunately backpacks are very late and we arrive at the desk less than a minute after it closes. My wet eyes cannot persuade the staff, no way to board. We miss our flight to Kunming.
Understood that another flight to Kunming is scheduled after 3 hours, it is now time to do my best to avoid paying the ticket twice. Moving to another desk I pretend to cry and I gain two new tickets without paying any extra. Satisfied for having saved about 500€, we take a seat in the waiting room enchanted by a stunning chinese sunset. This is the first moment we realize we are eyed suspiciously by thousand of people all around us.
We arrive to Kunming at midnight. We leave the airport immediately, ignoring everyone addressing to us. It’s of a crucial importance to avoid people who try to deceive you with captivating hotel or taxi rates.
We proceed towards the authorized taxi rank. The taxi driver doesn’t know a single word of English (as we don’t know one of Chinese!). This is why it is fundamental to have the name and the address of each hotel and place to see written in Chinese. Approximately 30 minutes later we arrive at our hotel. Our speechless communicationwith the taxi driver has definitely been successful.
Next morning we taste our first Chinese breakfast, a salty one. Including rice, bamboo, spring rolls and eggs. Immediately after we meet our local driver and guide. Today trip to the Yunnan Terraces is quite long. We will run about 400 km, most of them in the pouring rain. Luckily the tap over our heads turns off just before we get off the car.
Images follow one another out of the sedan window, telling me stories of human lives.
Roads become spontaneous gathering places for women, men and kids.
Along the main streets they drink, play cards, sell fruit, fry meat skewers in rusty binds and sit in the shade of the trucks. And when I say “sit in the shade of the trucks” I really mean wherever the shade is. Should the shadow be on the carriageway, then this will be the perfect place to sit. Very closed to the crazy vehicles driving at a great speed. I first think this is inconceivable, but I then immediately understand this is part of the culture of these people. I feel myself rather unsettled, I don’t know why. Maybe it is because of the many cars overtaking, unconcerned about the vehicles coming from the opposite direction. Each driver thrusts through the way with a never-ending annoying horn noise.
Our first stop restored my spirit.
We arrive to Tuanshan, a small walled village, with buildings embellished by wood carvings. This was the seat of the Family Zhang residence.
We are welcomed by tens of Chinese men sitting while smoking cigarettes and talking each other. They keep looking at us until our figures disappear from their view.
We enter a small local restaurant and start tasting some typical dishes. Lotus is very similar to the in Italian most common potatoes.
All dishes are served with tea, have a simple and savoury taste and are very generous.
I feel like we have captured the attention of all the other guests and actually it is so! In addition to our different appearance we are also very odd while eating with the sticks. No matter. Mauri and I are ready to catch some unusual chinese life moments as well.
Old ladies with sun dried skins and colourful hats skilfully make large wicker baskets.
A bony ancient man wearing a beam with two heavy baskets on its shoulders watches curious a girl’s phone. What this strange object could be?
It’s now time go back to our car. After 3 hours we enjoy view on the Yuanyang Terraces.
The Yuanyang Terraced fields, gained in 2013 a place among the Unesco World Heritage sites. This area is a real “land sculpture”. It’s history and preservation is due to the creativity and knowledge of the Hani people.
The landscape is a wonderful masterpiece which covers a surface of around 13,000 hectare at about 2,000 metres altitude. The very best season recommended to enjoy the landscape is from February to June. In this period the lucky voyagers are amazed by water covered fields kissed by the sun. An absolutely enchanting game of mirrors.
Mauri and I are out of the time limit. It’s August and fields are almost ready for the crop.
It doesn’t disturb me, as I firmly believe that every place in each season can feed my soul.
As soon as we arrive at Yuanyang we stop by a panoramic area. The colourful dresses of local kids stand out from the grey fog which is embracing us. The profile of the fields, sometimes rounded sometimes straight, is not well perceivable due to the steam everywhere around.
Disappointed as we can take a very few pictures, we head to the hotel. This is not the one we originally reserved from Italy, which is very hard to reach according to our local guide. The car stops in a small village where the hotel is located. We get off the car in a downpour. From here we have to walk for a short distance among the narrow alleys in the deepest dark. The third reason why I dedicate my tale to my friend Virginie is that she lent me her backpack. The 90% original one she bought some years before during a journey around Vietnam.
I think it would have been almost impossible to proceed on the slippery ground with a wheeled case. We move carefully in the blackness, surrounded by pigs, cows (a sort of), chickens living in not fully walled-up homes together with people. I do not feel very comfortable in this situation and I’m not sure I can spend a night here. Anyway what’s the alternative? We finally reach our hotel. Despite of its outer mediocre appearance the accommodation is very nice. As soon as the entrance door opens I’m thrown in the Garden of Eden.
Warming colours soften my tiredness and my concern. A familiar woody smell reassures me.
It’s the first time in my life i feel so far from home.
Cultural gaps, different features, a language I can neither understand nor speak. I definitely test myself with the meaning of distance.
Detachment from home is heightened by unknown food smells. This evening some rice will be enough!
The ambience of the small hotel Flowers Residence in very cozy and sets me back to a domestic dimension.
After having dinner we spend some time on the sofa, while drinking tea and reading a book cuddled by a soft lounge music.
It’s now time to go to bed and after this challenging day we can sleep in a warm and comfortable room.
The next morning I can see the hotel in all its beauty.
Full height windows light up the stairs and their honey coloured wood floor. They are the perfect frame for the bright green terraces outside.
The view on the landscape becomes even more magnificent from the room where we are having breakfast.
Green blades are close to each other. They raise creating a wonderful tridimensional masterpiece which mixes nature and tradition. In my spoon every single grain of rice is now telling me a story. A fascinating tale about poor hands and faces marked by the sun. But also smiles and simplicity which reveal devotion to the ancient traditions and to this amazing land.