February 19th to 24th
04.03.2016 11 °C
That evening I met a Chinese couple and their friend and they spoke English quite well. To my delight they invited me to spend the day with them tomorrow as they had their own car. We got up early to go to the viewing platform above and even though we were there a good hour before sunrise there were hundreds of people up there already all vying for the best spot. That is quite an experience. There were certainly some flared tempers, but I guess I can understand it as many of them have just this one chance and then are leaving. I had the luxury of 6 days in the area.
I found a pretty good spot with enough room for my little tripod and totally enjoyed the sunrise. It was more colourful than it had been for weeks apparently. What makes it even more beautiful is the mist that creeps up the valley. I happily clicked away with the 100’s of other photographers! I have never in all my life seen so much expensive and huge camera equipment. I was glad I was not carrying their load.
The fog rolled in once again about breakfast, but Du Ying, Lowfan and Jan and I set off on our day in hopes of finding some clear weather. It was a challenge I must say, but we headed over to the other side of the mountain and did find some clear spots where we were able to take in the magnificience of the terraces. Jan was particularly daring in terms of walking out on the edges of the terraces and I for some reason followed him, only to have one of my feet slip into the mud up to my ankle. That in itself was OK, but then my foot was really slippery and I found myself unable to get my footing to walk back. Luckily a man saw my plight and extended a hand to help me get back to the road. It must have looked comical to those looking on. It took two days for my sandal to dry as it is so cold and damp here.! It is all part of the experience.
Jan walking bravely out on the terraces
The view from the terrace
We stopped at a restaurant along the way and had a delicious lunch where for the first time I had tofu since I had been in China. It was great. Lowfan and Du Ying had lived in Virgina in the US for a couple of years about five years ago and so it was relatively easy to converse with them. I learned lots about their lives and their views about things. Jan didn’t speak English at all so we couldn’t say much but just looked at each others photos. As we were driving back to Jacky's, we stopped at a place where we could see our village being swallowed up in clouds.
Jan, Du Ying and Lowfan
I was really touched by their wanting to include me in their trip and ended up eating meals with them back at Jacky’s until they left. I was sad to see them go. Funnily enough, there are not so many Western tourists that stay at Jacky’s but it was great place because I felt like I was having a more authentic experience of China.
The next day was not only foggy but also started with pouring rain so no sunrise to watch that day. I went out to explore the local village that the guesthouse is located in. I decided to rent a van for the afternoon to go to the most popular sunset place, Laohuzui Scenic Spot and also because nearby the village was having a special festival day which is called a Banquet festival where the whole village shares a meal together. It just so happened that a French couple were around and Jacky asked them if they were interested in joining me which again worked out well financially. So off we went first to see the terraces as it was much clearer on that side of the mountain and it seemed smart to catch a view while it was available. I was learning that the fog is never far away at this time of year. It was a really long climb down to the lower viewing platform, but a good view when we got there. It was swallowed up in 15 minutes by the fog. I felt very blessed again with timing.
Within minutes I could see nothing........
There just so happened to be a little teahouse not far from the viewing platform so we sat there for a bit before the long and steep climb up. Finally we discovered where the village was and a young woman escorted us down once again to where some dancing was happening in the village. She invited us to outside of her home and I think would have liked us to join her for the banquet but it was getting a bit late.
The banquet consisted of all this small tables which were placed along the path and in the village squares and the meal for the whole village was prepared by the men it seemed. As we were leaving they were beginning to eat together and it was clearly a joyful occasion.
Several of hundreds of tables in the village
Man happily cooking for the Village Feast
Carrying the food to the tables at the Banquet Festival
Jacky suggested that for the next day I go on a hike which was partly on the road and partly a path which began at a village about 5 kms away called Shenzen. I loved the walk and really enjoyed what and who I encountered along the way. You do have to be very careful walking on the roads as the vehicles are not really watching out for pedestrians. They will honk if they see you, but then it is up to the pedestrian to move.
There was a great viewpoint called "Eagle's Nest, one of Jacky’s favourites along the way, but by that time it was so incredibly windy it felt scary to be too close to the cliff edge. It was hard to hold my camera still enough to photograph it. Luckily I got a chance a few days later.
The terraces at Eagle's Nest
The next little encounter was I ran into a tour guide in a village along the way who was leading a photographer’s group. He took me into the house and I met the photographer from San Francisco who was photographing a man with the traditional bamboo pipe. I got to take advantage of the opportunity and photograph him as well. I spent about half an hour there and then was on my way again.
The next folks I met were some people digging a water canal out in the terraces. It looked like exhausting work for sure as the canal was really deep. They are such hard working people and it is all done by hand amazingly.
I had to navigate through the village of Malizhai to the other side and found the steps that Jacky told me to climb towards the scenic site of Bada. It was up and up and up so I took it slowly. Though it was hard work, I enjoyed being out there. I was on my own for quite a long time but felt pretty confident with Jacky’s map that I was on track. Finally, I found the way to the scenic viewpoints, which was a bit of a bonus as I didn’t have to pay for them as I didn’t have to go past the ticket counter, however the view was really hopeless and it was dark and very dull. In fact, I never did see these terraces at their best. I headed home in a shared mini-van which came along after about thirty minutes. I was getting a bit worried so felt very relieved to be heading back to the guesthouse. I was really tired again but glad to be getting in better shape.
The next morning while up on the guesthouse terrace, I met a family a woman named Leng from Malaysia. They had arrived the night before. They had arranged to rent a vehicle for the day and she invited to her family which was fabulous. To rent a van on my own cost about $75(US) a day so it is a bit expensive, but shared it was $15. Her family consisted of her mother (Angeline) and her aunt (Ca) and her husband (Mr. Ca). So we set off on our day with the driver hitting all the scenic spots in the area. I was so grateful to be getting there so easily. It was quite hazy that day, so the photography was not the best, but nevertheless I really enjoyed seeing it all. We had a great lunch that day in a place that I would not have eaten at but because Leng speaks Chinese, she was able to order for us. It was fabulous food, though as you can see the décor is a bit limited.
We arrived at the “sunset spot” named “Laohuzui“ about 4pm which is around the time you need to in order to get a good place to take photos from. In fact by that time, already there were a lot of photographers with huge long lenses already there. It was rather a long wait for sunset which was 7:30pm and sadly the sun went behind a thick cloud before it set. Still it was gorgeous there and I was so grateful to see such magnificience with my own eyes.
Sunset at Laohuzui
During the day we had done a lot of climbing and so by the end of the day we were exhausted and ready for supper and bed. But there was one more photo to take.....
Full moon over the terraces outside my window
Leng and I headed up to the scenic viewing platform on the hill above the guesthouse the next morning which started the day off with good exercise. You cannot go anywhere here without going up! Another sunrise was enjoyed and I think that many people where very happy because of the clouds that came up the valley of terraces. There was a part of the hike that I wasn’t able to do several days before so Leng’s family and I decided to first visit the local market in Shenzen which takes place every five days and then head off on this hike.
The market was very colourful with all the local’s in their traditional dress. I was tempted to buy a few things to bring home, but the prices were so inflated it seemed a bit crazy. Now I am questioning that decision but what to do……
There was so much to photograph there but it was a difficult experience for me I must say. There were so many long lensed photographers in the market that it was disturbing. In fact, because I am foreign, I found myself sometimes being photographed by 6 or some more Asian tourists!. I got a sense of what the locals must feel like. I felt very torn as I wanted to photograph people but at the same time, I didn’t want to be part of it.
In the vegetable area of the market
As much as I could I made sure that I asked for permission which I feel is important if you are close enough for people to notice. It has given me a lot to think about for sure. One of my favourite enounters was with an elderly women who is a cobbler repairing shoes with an ancient sewing machine. She was shy about being photographed so I left for a bit. I came back with Leng who was able to speak to her a bit, to find out that she was well over 80 years old. What amazed me was that she was doing her work without glasses. So Leng asked her about that. She wanted to try on my glasses to see what they were like and I happened to have an extra pair of readers in my pack. I usually carry some just for these very occasions. She was over the moon with them. It was dear to experience this. It made up for the uncomfortable experience I was having at the market.
Her new pair of glasses.
After another delicious lunch which I had lotus roots for the first time, which were delicious by the way, we headed off on our hike which was pretty much foggy the whole way.
Still it had great atmosphere. We ended up walking through the terraces but there was a stone path which made it easy to do so. It would have been great to be able to see further than ten feet, but still it was enjoyable to make the journey. At one point the fog lifted for a few minutes and we were able to make out some of the terraces.
My travelling companions that day
We had planned to watch the sunset at Bada but clearly at 5pm the fog was around and rising so again we headed back home to the guesthouse. Supper was great again and we said our goodbyes and I had to pack up my stuff as I was leaving the next morning for Vietnam going back the same way I came. It was foggy and pouring rain so it wasn’t as hard to leave as it could have been. I didn’t realize that I was heading into exactly the same kind of weather in north Vietnam at the time.
I know that I will come back here again if I can as it really is an amazing area. Next time I will come at harvest time which sounds fabulous and of course it will be warmer which would be a bonus for sure.
The trip back to Sapa went remarkably smoothly with my Chinese instructions for the bus and taxi to get me to the border. The bus ride again was a challenge with all those damn men smoking and the throat clearing that I dislike a lot. It is part of China though. We got stopped a few times on the way for security stops and they took my passport to examine it but all was well. I dared to use the toilet or the WC as they call it here and to my delight had my most pleasant public toilet experience in China! It was a relief after having been on the bus for 4 hours.
Before I knew it I was back in Vietnam and on the bus to Sapa where I will stay for a couple of days until I take the train on February 26th to Hanoi. I will continue with the adventure in the next entry. Dana