So, I arrive in Dali - the OLD Dali, except I never really feel like I've left Xiaguan (Saikuan in the diary). Journey here was kinda cool - we descended out of Kunming for such a long time - the mountains are spectacular scenery and we must've been so high up as the road drops steadily for about an hour and a half. Then it's across a plain (grandad refers to as the Muti plain, which is rice allotments as far as they eye can see) and towards the distant mountains. A slow climb back up to these and you arrive in Xiaguan - a nice looking city, except I'm not staying here. It's a bit confusing as Xiaguan is the new name for Dali. Except everyone still calls it Dali. There's also a Dali up the road, which is where I'm headed for. That's Old Dali or Dali Gucheng.
It's a pretty old town, with a wall surrounding it and impressive reconstructed gates at the four compass points.
I have a quick wander the first afternoon and am sadly unimpressed - just tourist tat in all the shops and hordes of chinese tourists wandering the main strip and side roads. I seriously consider leaving the next day.
I'm having a great breakfast with Hash Browns (god I miss them!) when Chun Fei, or 'Alfie' sits himself down and asks be to buy him a coffee. Seems like a nice guy so I oblige and he's interesting to talk to.
Turns out his brother's a fisherman - "oh really? so's mine!" I say, and the next thing I know, we're negotiating prices for a day out with him. Y130 later, and we're on the bus to his bro's house. Then a boat, probably 4m long made out of old oil drums and 5 Cormorants perched on the side. After a few yards rowing, he kicks the birds off the side and they're off! In the water, so close up they're amazingly fast. They've all got a piece of straw tied round their neck, not too tight though, so that if they catch a small fish, they can eat it. The bigger ones get stuck in their throat and after enticing them back to the boat with a sprat and grabbing them out the water (by beak, neck or wing) you simply open their beaks and out plops our lunch!
10 fish and a few Bai (local people) fishing songs later, and we're back at his bros for lunch.I have to say, I was a bit unsure about the hygiene, but they way they dissect the small carp with their chopsticks (tail off, dorsal off, pinch the meat off the top the spine, pull the head back and the rest comes out in your rice and you're left with the classic fishbone with a head attached, which the dog under the table was grateful for!
Then it's off to a local house, where I partake in a traditional tea tasting ceremony and try moon, wind, flower and snow tea - all good stuff.
Then it's up the hill in the cable car to visit some more caves with a pretty disinterested guide who can't be bothered to speak english and just points out the signs for me... Not amazing, but interesting all the same.
Back to Dali and it's a cheeky beer with Alfie to say thanks for a top day where I write this.