11.08.2012 - 11.08.2012 22 °C
Saturday, August 11
The temperatures changed a lot as we travelled up and down the mountains. We started off at a comfortable temperature of 18 C ( 65 F), which cooled to 10 C ( 50 F) at the top of the highest mountain and rose to 30 C ( 86 F ) by the time we reached Shimian.
We had found out late the previous evening that the blockade of the road had been cleared, so we decided to leave early from our hotel in order to get a head start for our long drive to the next stop. We found people still camped on the road, however, one lane was open and we were able to get through without any problems.
We headed north to the Kangding Grasslands area, high in the mountains, where several Tibetan villages are located. The scenery was spectacular and as we started to climb the mountains, we came upon a large stream flowing through red rocks. The rocks had a vibrant red colour on them that made them look as if they had been painted. With the background of the green vegetation on the mountains, this made for some beautiful views.
We continued up the mountains taking pictures at almost every turn...and there were many turns. We eventually reached a height of 4300 meters ( 14,200 feet). During our travels I have seen many avid bicyclists riding their bicycles through the countryside and up the mountains and today was no exception. I saw a lot of people riding to the top of the mountain and I was very impressed. I have climbed Mt Kilimanjaro which is 5896 meters (19710 ft) and I don't think that was as difficult as riding a bicycle up these mountains. I was in a car and I found that the air was so ' thin ' at the higher altitudes that when we stopped for short breaks, it was hard to exert myself without feeling short of breath.
At the top of the mountains are the Kangding Grasslands, a plateau that has few trees, but there are a lot of beautiful fields of grass and flowers. Several tourists were taking pictures in the these fields. Many Tibetan families live up there with their Yaks, cows and horses...as well as a few modern conveniences. They still live in a primitive lifestyle on the land but they have also commercialized their existence by selling goods and food to the tourists. Jeremy and Nicole bought some Yak cheese and yogurt (at least that's what I think it was). I can now say that I have found something I don't like to eat, and in fact, none of us liked either one of these. The cheese tasted like a bad blue cheese and the yogurt was very sour.
We continued to a Tibetan village that offered horse back riding, which is something that Nicole really wanted to do. Jeremy and I looked at the horses and for their sakes we decided to stay behind and wait for Nicole to return from her ride. They were small horses and I would probably have broken the horse's back if I had ridden one.
This adventure had taken us until mid-afternoon so we headed south again to continue our journey. We had problems several times figuring out where we were supposed to drive because the roads had been changed and they were not marked very well. They were generally in good condition, however, there were some very bad sections, especially along the mountainside high above the river below, so we had to drive very slow for long periods of time. Some areas had been damaged by rock slides, some were under repair and consisted of gravel and large potholes and some had barely enough room for one car. At one point we were stopped for 30 minutes while a road construction crew blew up a section of the mountain on the other side of the river.
We managed to get to Shimian before dark and we found a hotel for a very reasonable price (100 RMB or $17 /room/night). In China, foreigners need to fill out a form with their passport and visa information at each hotel. The owner of the Shimian hotel didn't have the paperwork, so we had to go to the police station across the street to fill out the forms and have the owner sign us in. Of the 6 police officers that were there, only 2 of them actually did anything. The other 4 were only there out of curiousity or training and they were all relatively young (i.e. compared to me).
After checking in to the hotel, we went to the local street market for supper. As usual, Nicole ordered supper, which consisted of several plates of meat and vegetables that we cooked on a round convex iron skillet heated by a gas tank underneath the table and located in the center of the table. She told us that one of the dishes was beef but Jeremy instantly realized that it wasn't true because it had a more ' rubbery ' texture. She finally admitted that it was thinly sliced pork kidneys, but I ate it anyways.
As I have done during a few of our evening meals, I joined Jeremy in a toast of " MONS " beer as a sort of ' night cap '. His friends will know the story behind this famous Chinese beer and perhaps they will share the story with us!
Tomorrow we head further south.