THE STONE FOREST
June 15 2006
Shilin (Stone Forest, Yunnan Province)
Today was the best roads we have had so far in China, although the road quality wasn’t consistent. At the beginning we drove through some serious off the beaten track routes, which consisted of a stony dirt track. Sam and I exited TT and left Ants to navigate the best route herself.
We now know for definite that we cannot drive on the Expressway during our time in China, which is pretty soul destroying. Consequently our average speed is reduced by at least half and we will be forced to miss at least two sights that we had in our itinerary. We are hoping that our time in China can be increased by 10 days, because driving for 11 hours a day is not practical or safe.
The last three days have consisted of driving, sitting in the back of TT and sleeping in hotel rooms. For me the days seem to blur into one long drive punctuated by different but ‘same same’ Chinese cities. The advantages of this are twofold: we get to see some amazing scenery rather than flying down the Expressway and we get to stay in cities that are very Chinese and not frequented by foreigners. The disadvantages are that we are very tired and under constant pressure to make up the time that we have lost from driving at an average of about 30km/hour. We are currently three days behind on our proposed itinerary.
Today we tried to pull a slightly cheeky one. To cut corners on the ‘old road’ (i.e. slow road) we tried to enter the Expressway so that we could exit 300m from the entrance onto the old road so that we would miss out a few miles. We pulled up to the Expressway entrance and several vehicles pulled up behind us. What followed was several phone calls to the managers at the Expressway as the lady at the toll booth did not want to let us enter as were not allowed. The cars and trucks behind us started beeping frantically and one driver looked at us with pure fury in his eyes. After about five minutes they all started to reverse and enter at a different entrance. In the end we were told that our sly ploy had failed because there were some police just down the road and we would get in serious trouble with them when spotted. So, Ants had to reverse TT back into the flow of oncoming traffic and we had to carry on and find the old road. This is when we ended up driving down the aforementioned dirt track. Oh well, at least we tried.
Eventually we came out on the old road and to our great surprise there were no potholes and we could cruise along at 40mph. This made for a smooth journey and a total driving time of about 3 hours, which made such a pleasant change. However, we were still very tired from our previous few days and felt steamrolled.
We parked TT outside our hotel in The Stone Forest, unloaded and then actually had time to go for a walk and be proper tourists. The Stone Forest is a huge area filled with amazing natural karst limestone rocks and trees. The scenery is like nothing I have ever seen before and quite spectacular. The rocks have been there for 270 million years and at that time were under the sea. Their structure (jagged, narrow and spear shaped) has resulted from millions of years of natural erosion, the retreating ice age and earthquakes. The latter makes some of them look like someone has glued an extra piece to the top, where the earthquake has obviously fractured the rock. We went on a well trodden and paved tourist trail through some of the rock formations. There were quite a few other tourists, all of whom were Chinese. We took some very cheesy photos (well, I did) and ended up buying a load of authentic hand made articles from the local Yi people, a minority in China to which our guide belongs. A very weather beaten old women clad in the local dress offered us some aprons and bags for sale. I bought an apron and have been proudly wearing it all evening. I think the locals think it is a bit strange. We spent an hour tasting teas unique to Yunnan province and purchased two different varieties, one that is good for digestion and the other for your liver and general well being. A couple of the teas tasted very strange; there were about three different flavours that hit different parts of your mouth in three hits- tip of the tongue, middle of the tongue and finally the back of the tongue. Then we went out for a meal with Sam and the lady who had sold us the tea and we enjoyed the best meal we have eaten in China; it was absolutely delicious and I honestly believe that some of the best food you will eat in a country like this is not in the posh restaurants and 5 star hotels, but just at a small local restaurant.
Today has been the best day so far in China, apart from the fact that I feel sad as one of my ferrets had to be put to sleep. Pebbles had been poorly before I left and I hadn’t expected her to survive while we were away, but of course I hoped that she would be OK. Her adopted mother Lara did a great job giving her a happy extra month of life and I am so grateful that she took the decision not to let Pebbles suffer. There have been a few tears shed and last night my snuggle blanket and Ants were well and truly covered in tears. I feel guilty that I wasn’t with Pebbles when she most needed me. Mum and dad have arranged for her to be cremated and they will scatter the ashes in the back garden between where Zed and Amber (two that died last year) are buried. Death is very strange and is one of my biggest fears. I am not scared so much of my own death, but of the death of the people I love, particularly my parents and my brother. I feel like if they died then my life would be over. Whenever anyone I love dies, whether it is a human or animal, then I think a small part of me dies too in my heart that will never be replaced. Anyway, enough misery because I am going to start crying again- a lump has developed in my throat and I don’t want to cry anymore.