Sunday, 1 June 2008


So, whilst the readers at home are getting to meet Donald (and each other), I'm in the net cafe (next to Wal-Mart!) in Kunming.

I leave for Dali tomorrow so thought I'd better drop in a quick update! Got the bus from Guiyang to here - not loads to report to be honest. Leave Guiyang (and the smell) behind and the karst scenery that surrounds the city becomes more sparse as you break through. One or two peaks close to the roadside and then it's more rice paddies and china's favourite allotment sites.

Crossed a couple of gorges, but no real treacherous hillside stuff as the road now tunnels through most of the hills. Stopped early for lunch and saw my first Chinaman using a squat toilet without a door. He didn't seem that fussed puffing away on his ciggy, but I obviously didn't hang around and left before I wretched from the (existing) smell again. Outside was the biggest dog I've ever seen. The locals have obviously managed to mate a long, black-haired alsatian (German Shepherd) with a horse - I was just glad it was tied up!

A freeway is underconstruction for the short part of the route where we went on the old road (rest of it is new freeway) and we descended one side of a gorge before climbing up the other. This was something else, as across the top were two huge suspension wires spanning hundreds of metres across the top. There's no road there yet, just a few monumental pillars (easily 200 feet high) and these massive cables. I've no idea how they got the cables, or how they're going to get the actual road across...

Into kunming and I like it here already. Lots of english spoken (good for me) and they seem to have embraced the tourists too and are friendly like Guilin. The hostel's great too. Day 1 is being shown around by Keegan (but I think I've mentioned that already?) Very little of the old Kunming exists, literally just an intersection of two streets with buildings that are falling down and also in the process of being replaced, albeit with 'traditional' architecture. Had 'across the bridge noodles' which is basically a bowl of really hot chicken broth, you scrape your ingredients into it and the hot water cooks them... Chicken soup - ta da!

Day 2 and I hook up with Matty (female) and Philip (two American's I bump into at the bus station, trying to organise a trip like me) for the Stone forest. En-route, the driver manages to wangle another Y140 out of us and adds in a trip to Jiuxiang - gorge and cave network. This is our first stop.

OMFG! The gorge is awesome - looks like something straight out of Indiana Jones - the walls are straight up out of the water, which has a 15m marker scraped into the wall and it's a step back in history. Until you reach the ford that is which is like a mini version of the Thames flood barrier. Then it's into the caves and these are breathtaking. You've got your ususal 'guess the shape' and the chinese sure have a vivid imagination when it comes to naming some of their rocks, but Rick I've got a cracking photo for you mate (the old 'finger on the top of the object' shot) and some amazing video too. you descend a gorge, and the walls get higher and closer together at the top until they form the cave (named the Bat Cave - seriously) instead. Then it's off on a wander among dodgy neon lights (but they do make he formations stand out) and next to underground waterfalls and rivers. The circular holes are my favourite (ooh, er missus) - created by a whirlpool and a smaller stone, the look like they're made by man, not nature. A cable car back up to the top sees us back in the car park and on our way to our original destination - the stone forest.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, I was expecting it to be similar to the pinnacles in WA - not at all. They're sandstone and yellow and small, these are enormous, made from hard rock and are much closer together. Eroded by millions of years of water pouring over them, we leave the main path and descend into some claustrophobic places, tight squeezes and 'one at a time' cracks to make it up to the top (via a very precariously balanced piece - on all fours here) for a photo at lotus flower peak. The view from the top is even better. It really is magical and I'll post a photo or two when I get the chance. We're still on paths, but it's not for the faint hearted, or fat, or people who don't like heights, rock climbing or a feeling of danger (though they had carved steps and handholds into the rock for you...)

We reached the viewing pagoda, highest point in the centre of the park at sunset, and it was magical - no shouting chinese, crap music blaring through mobile phones or small women hocking up a huge grolly to spoil things, but it only left us with 20minutes of daylight, so we made our way back to the car, where happy f*cker tried to tap us out of anoher Y120 for the road toll (otherwise we'd get back at 11PM he threatened). 21.30 and we roll into Kunming via the old road for free, so he can shove his toll.

A cold beer on the veranda and I take Philip and Matty to the night market for dinner as we're all starving. "Erm, we've kinda been on a Western kick" says Maddie when I ask her what she wants - admittedly, I find this a little strange given her chinese roots and the fact she lives and studies here and they've also been on the road for three weeks, so I order a plate of maggots for them - nothing like jumping in at the deep end! The food here is great; fresh, cooked well, no bones and is all really tasty - including the maggots "Mmmm, they're just like french fries!" exclaims Phillip, scooping up another load in his chopsticks - I couldn't agree more.

Bit of a chill out day the next day, visit the Kunming museum of history and whilst all in all it's pretty unimpressive, the fact they've got a Yunnanosauras and Sheczuanosauras (which look remarkably like two dinosaurs I've seen in the museum of Natural history) the guide there is convinced they're unique to the two areas. I wonder if I could discover a Bexleyosauras or a NewElthamadactyl if I dug deep enough!? I take the discoveries with a pinch of salt, but they've got some excellent other objects, stones and wooden carvings on display.

The guide (Nina) is very helpful and also shows me round the local 1200year old temple as well. There's a platform covering a cave with two dragons in it and the central pagoda is surrounded by walkways and a huge pond. People put fish and terrapins as an offering to Buddah into this pond, and it's then that I notice it. A small terrapin stands out from the rest because of a funny marking on its back. I zoom in and some joker has only painted it up - it's got a picture of the disney character 'Tweety Pie' (you know the yellow bird) with the text I thought I saw a puddy cat!? across its back. Made me chuckle, but I'm not sure the locals will get it and my Grandmother will be distraght - imagine the shock, horror if that happened to Farthing Nan!?

Kunming is important as it's the start/end (depending on which way you're going) of the old Burma road. Not much to look at now I'm afraid (just another 8 lane slow road Dick) covered with buses and ready for much more traffic than is on it, but I catch some video of it and it's back to the hostel to make plans for the trip to Dali.

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