In my experience, you generally get the quality you pay for, so we shouldn’t have been surprised when our cheap hard-seat ticket from Chengdu to Kunming, turned out to be ridiculously hard. The estimated time for the journey, meant 19 hours crammed on a small seat with your knees jammed under a table. To compliment this arrangement, two young men sat on the other side of our table, who we named ‘Laurel and Hardy’. Why? Because of their ability to play cards and argue for eight continuous hours without a break.
Despite the noise and the multitude of humanity wedged into our carriage, including people standing and lying in all the corridors, who didn’t have a seat, one heavily pregnant woman spent the night sleeping at the top of the stairs with people walking over her while she slept. Over the course of the night, we witnessed some of the most amazing contortionist acts, whilst listening to a fifty odd person choir, whose chorus of snoring, spitting and wind emissions kept us awake. I did manage to nod off at one point, but the sound of a loudspeaker woke me. It turned out to be an extremely loud salesmen with a microphone, trying to sell tiger balm. We couldn’t understand his dialogue, but even in the wee small hours, people roared with laughter.
In the morning a lovely Chinese girl called Esther, an English speaking teacher based in Bangkok, came past and struck up a conversation. She asked if we would like a sleeper for the rest of the journey. What a question? We practically ran to keep up with her. Esther, the Angel, showed us how we could upgrade on route, which meant we spent the next nine hours sleeping comfortably, a world away from the unfortunate people left in the not-so-nice smelling cattle carriage. We also very much enjoyed the company of Esther and her friends and a young man who we nicknamed Louis, because of the large array of Louis Vuitton accessories he carried.
We thought of Kunming as a quick stop for us on our way to Dali. It seemed like just another busy city, until we discovered the best dumpling house in the world, in a back street. Actually, now that I think of it, almost every second restaurant we attended gained the same title. As we arrived, Lucy, the maître d’, a rather articulate girl of eleven, who spoke perfect English, greeted us and acted as our host for the evening. She asked us about our Australian universities, but insisted that she would only attend Harvard when the time came. As we walked back to our hotel that night, we were confronted with a six-story high poster of Nicole Kidman and ‘almost’ felt a little homesick!
That night we left Kunming for the mountain oasis of Dali, on an overnight sleeper. This being a relatively short trip, allowed us to arrive fresh and ready for the adventure of old cultural China. Disappointment! We arrived to find that the growth of Dali Town into a modern city, was well underway. Fortunately, a forty-five minute drive brought us to Old Dali Town. Our excitement grew as we took in the Bai style architecture and beautiful archways.
The taxi dropped us in a lane of concrete structures, but we soon found our accommodation snuggled between buildings. Sleepy Fish, was an apt description; peaceful and tranquil, and crackling with travellers energy and excitement. Our Bai style room provided a spacious verandah, which over-looked beautiful well-kept gardens. Wow! This would be our home for most of the next 10 days, while we kayaked, trekked, rock climbed and headed into the mountains to walk the famed ‘Tiger Leaping Gorge’.