“It’s all about the journey” has got to be one of the most overused expressions on the planet, and for good reason. Sometimes when you travel, the journey is the most amazing experience. Today none of this applied. As we found ourselves crammed onto an overfilled bus filled with barf worthy body odour with very little leg room we only had to hope that the experience at our final destination would be worth the hassle.
Meiqi’s “slightly swollen lymph node” had swollen up like a balloon over night, making me worry that we were dealing with something a little worse then a head cold.The poor Canadian traveller, who had just wanted a pleasant adventure out to China to visit her best friend was not having the best of times. We had scheduled the three hour bus to the dragon bone rice terraces the night before, and unfortunate circumstances or not, we were determined to carry on as planned. As miserable as she was, Meiqi did not want to miss out on the experience she had flown for 15 hours to see.
Usually China’s crowded stinky buses don’t bug me too much, but today my stomach was not happy, and the smell and body odour only made things worse, and at our bathroom stop Nate saw a man jerking off in the men’s bathroom.
The Karst mountains were left to wallow in the mist behind us as suddenly the landscape transformed into limestone peaks, like we’d crossed a threshold between and another. Again, with very little warning, limestone cliffs transformed into piles of terraces stacked on top of each other like a staircase with no edges through the hills.
I was pretty miserable, feeling weak and bloated. The altitude change was getting to me as well, the air felt thin and unhelpful. The path was steep in some sections and I was left just to focus on one foot after the other. Meiqi was ahead of me, but I could tell that she wasn’t doing so well either. I can’t remember exactly how far of a hike it was to our hostel for the night, but it was at least an hour or two. We had planned on all sorts of elaborate hikes once we’d dropped our bags off as well. At that point however I would have been just as happy with a game of cards.
Ahead of us, finally, was the village we would be staying at that night. Our hostel was at the top. I looked up in relief, knowing that our hike was nearly over, and that’s when I realized where I was.
My mom had boxes of National Geographic magazines in the basement, and I remember going through them as a child. The pictures were amazing and so insanely different then the life I knew that they felt like something from one of the fantasy books I had become addicted to from an early age. Suddenly everything felt very surreal. I had been transported into the pages of one of those books. My senses had been shut down, everything focused on walking, but all of a sudden I could taste the tang of earth and water, I could smell to cold moist air that filled the space around me, I could hear the silence, such a contrast to the city life and the constant rumbled of traffic I’d grown accustomed to that the silence almost overwhelmed me. I could see the bright green rows of growing plants below me and the stripes of brown on the edges of the terraces above me. I could feel. Air rushed passed my body, and filled the vastness of the hills, whispers of the days of labour that created this place and that kept it going today. Each fold of terraced ground was like a wrung in a tree, marking the years.
I was almost dizzy with exhilaration, but there was still some hard climbing to go as “the last sprint” was also one of the steepest sections of our hike. At least I managed a small smile when I caught up to Nate.
We stupidly hadn’t anticipated the temperature difference. It had been so hot in Guilin that we hadn’t though to bring more then one set of warm clothes, and now the sweat was starting to chill us down, and the hostel was not well heated. We ended up buying some gorgeous hand weaved scarves, and that made a huge difference. All of the locals were wearing traditional chinese clothes, unlike the flashy hello kitty outfits we’d grown used to on the Jinan locals. We weren’t sure if they were required to wear these outfits for the tourist, but it felt like time stood still here.
We went for a short hike, though nothing as intense as I would have liked if I had been feeling more alive. Really we didn’t need to go anywhere, the view from our hostel was breathtaking. We ended the day with cards in our room with the heat blasted.