The Great Road Trip of China is about to commence...
Oh, hello there. It's been quite a while, I know. We've been in China this whole time, I swear. There have been five weeks of Chinese language classes and three weeks of a whole-hell-of-a-lot-of errands in between us. Now, Chinese drivers' licenses in hand, car purchased, Chinese car insurance decoded, food, camping and survival items bought off of Taobao (in Chinese!) and stuffed into the car, and our brains fully saturated in survival Mandarin, we're doing the final route planning for The Great Road Trip of China.
Of course, the last little subject to tackle is where to be off to. For other travelers this may be the first order of business. For better or worse, we tend to take our time and collect personal recommendations as they come. We throw them into a bowl, stir, skim off the major tourist destinations and wait for it to brew. We're in the brewing stage of sorts, in the quaint, albeit somewhat touristy town of Dali. Saturday, after our last run of errands and subsequent baking in the car for about 9 hours (during which we somehow managed to rack up 125 RMB on toll roads), we arrived in Dali as the sun was setting.
We really enjoyed Kunming, but we couldn't be happier to be away from the city enjoying the mountain air. To be honest, we burned ourselves out a bit with all this road trip preparation. The last three weeks were comprised of what felt like an endless number of transactions all needing to be accomplished in Mandarin. Even equipped with the relevant vocabulary, the processes and paperwork proved their own challenges. All the assessing and navigating could only have been accomplished with the help of our wonderful Chinese teacher, Li Laoshi. She graciously allowed us to call her at all odd hours in various states of desperation. When we weren't managing the Chinese of a challenged 6 year-old (on a good day!), we were oscillating between feeling exhilarated and fraught with worry. You know, dying in a local vehicle on local roads at the hand of local drivers. This we combatted with beefed up insurance, which then involved reading contracts in Chinese with only Google translate to guide us. (Which, by the way, is a surprisingly dim-witted tool and mostly illiterate in Chinese.)
So when we rolled into Dali we were feeling a bit strung out. The whole of Sunday we took off from this extravaganza we call our life to enjoy some oldschool, pure vacation R&R. To everyone around us our life seems like one big, fat vacation. Which, when you factor in the whole steady job thing, it is. But it's rare we take off time to simply explore, with ne'er a goal in sight. It's nothing to celebrate, really, getting everything in order, but we feel like a great weight has been lifted.
On Sunday we woke up in our adorable little room at the Sleepy Fish, almost forgetting where we were entirely. Moments later we were reminded -- China! -- as we were serenaded by the first jackhammers and saws of the morning. We headed downstairs and enjoyed the thrill of someone else making our morning coffee, eggs, and toast. Whenever it happens, and it's rare, I definitely know I'm on vacation. Breakfast was followed, somewhat difficultly, with our yoga practice.
Afterwards we headed out on a new road that runs along Erhai lake. It's lined with windmill and solar-powered streetlights, a testament to the tourist (and green) attention being put to Dali these days. From the vantage of the road we could look across the rice, leek and lettuce fields toward the town, with the mountains looming in the background. It's a wonderful, straight road for about .9mi. We ran back and forth for about 4mi, taking full advantage of the cloud cover overhead. As we ran we watched the women at work in the fields, bent over at the hips and toiling hard in the dark earth.
We walked back and made ourselves more presentable. Then we hopped into the car and headed to a cute, Taiwanese-run cafe. We enjoyed a few small pizzas on a veranda surrounded by chamomile, lavender, and rosemary. We almost forgot where we were for the second time that day. Of course the pizza had a heart-stopping amount of cheese and reminded us more of airport Pizza Hut, but we enjoyed it anyways.
From there we took a long drive, skirting Erhai lake and watching people collect their vegetables and till the soil in the surrounding fields. On our return, we stopped to get a closer look at some of the famous Dali stone. Matt spoke with the owner for a while, while I snapped some shots of the swirling, green and blue rocks. We were invited in for water but declined and instead chased the rain back to the Sleepy Fish.
In the evening, we went for a walk through the town, enjoying all the local handicrafts (and avoiding the touristy ones). The town is swimming in new and old styles and has attracted quite a few young artisan types over the years. In one antique shop we bought a tiny, stone figure of pixiu, the mythical creature that is our car. Pixiu is part lion, part dragon and part unicorn. In addition to having the attributes of a piggy bank (he eats gold and has no anus), he wards off evil and is very loyal to his master. So of course, the Chinese see Pixiu as a symbol of good fortune and luck.
We headed home, thoroughly exhausted, and happily passed out. It was a blissfully simple day. The next few have been so as well, if more on the productive side. We've made a few more modifications to the car and are nearly finalized with our route. While we shore up specifics on the future, you can have a look at the last few days.
Psssst... We've been using Instagram for the last couple of months and are really enjoying it's fun, casual and bite-sized format. We'll be posting there as well as we drive, so keep up on our Instagram.