Eagles on the Rocks

We returned to Dali from Tiger Leaping Gorge and decided to go out for one more rock climb before leaving China for Vietnam. So, full of excitement, we set off the next morning in perfect sunshine with the opportunity of a glorious day’s climb, not expecting any of the little disasters that awaited us.

Before leaving the main township, we required a diversion from our destination; stopping for a brief moment to pick up a package. After a five minute wait, we all dived back into the car, put on our seat belts, and waited eagerly as the key turned in the ignition, but … nothing happened … The car’s battery held no charge.

Katie Rock Climbing in Dali

It took a further hour to find jumper leads and someone willing to jump start us and then … after having to turn around at a road block of bogged vehicles and find another route, Adam, the rock climbing guy from the US, gave us the ‘I think you’re cursed look’, followed by a condescending, or perhaps even a fatalistic shake of his head, but to his credit, he continued to the cliff-face anyway. Despite his concerns, we managed many climbs over the course of the day and we both felt good on the rock. We even made the wild bumpy ride back to town without further incident; feeling terrific about our day’s achievements.

Once back in Dali, we continued to discover more of the amazing little lanes and alleys of the old town; streets that would instantly attract a law suit in Australia, seemed quaint and interesting here. We also found a great little German Bakery called Café 88. Katrina the owner, treated us like a pair of old friends, as we indulged in a cheese platter and some very acceptable Italian red wine! We had almost forgotten what a good red tasted like, after a month of abstinence.

Dali Town

The next day, Katie discovered and participated in a one-on-one calligraphy class, run by a master named Ying; one of those rare individuals who radiate love and gentleness, despite communication difficulties. Together they produced a beautiful scroll that we mailed to Australia to adorn our home.

That afternoon we set out to kayak on ‘Er Hai Lake’, although it took more energy to get the heavy Canadian Kayak into the water and back out again through the swamp, than we could muster for a prolonged paddle. Nonetheless, it felt good being out on the water with the local fisherman and the rather large jumping fish that occasionally thudded into the sides of our craft.

Dali Town

That night we headed back out into the alleys to sample the great variety of dumplings and a hot pot indulgence featuring a wide range of local produce. It seemed like a fitting way to say goodbye to charming Dali; one of the lesser known gems of the world and a place we had come to love. We both felt real sadness watching the town, the lake and the mountains recede from our view and having to leave our friends at Sleepy Fish behind, but because of Visa requirements our time in China was almost at an end. Soon we would be heading across the border to Vietnam.

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The Eagle’s Delightful Dalliance in Dali

Our accommodation in Dali couldn’t have been more pleasing, being situated in a quiet area near the impressive ‘East Gate’, yet just a walk from the hustle and bustle of the central shopping area. The staff at Sleepy Fish, treated us like a part of their family; Max, Kevin, Jenny, Yun, Penny and Tang, and the two resident Golden Retrievers, Milo & naughty Vesper, made our stay a highlight of Southern China.

A lovely street in Dali

A lovely street in Dali

We felt incredibly relaxed and excited as we began our exploration of this ancient and historic town and it didn’t disappoint. The buildings impressed, with their mix of classic Chinese and Bai-style architecture. Beautifully carved wooden concertina panels and doorways, decorated with colourful lanterns adorned every shopfront and most residences. We strolled down narrow, interesting streets and alleyways that ran off wider paved avenues, discovering grand arches, ponds and sculptures, and calming gardens with flowing water; creating tranquil ambiance against a contrast of colourful and noisy shops.

We bathed in the light of our Chinese Shangri-La. Here we could luxuriate amongst the clamour and crush of local and ethnic shopkeepers, tourists and Chinese holiday makers, or delve into the glorious array of food, history, flora and fauna, and natural beauty of the surrounding environment.

Dali rose from a settlement into a significant town in the early period of the Ming Dynasty and is situated on the banks of the Erhai Lake, which literally means: the ear-shaped sea. This high altitude lake sitting 1,972 metres above sea level, at 41.5 km in length, by 6.9 km in width, is the seventh biggest lake in China. The lake, town and surrounding valley, is surrounded and beautified, by lush forested mountains with jagged limestone peaks.

No matter where you stand in Dali, mountains dominate the view. The whistle of the wind through their crags and forests, seems to whisper to you; ever beckoning. So, with the smell of adventure in our nostrils, we set off for the base of Cang Shan Mountain, pronounced Tounge Sen. We couldn’t, or didn’t want to find a pathway to walk up, so we decided upon the chairlift instead. We mounted our steeds and rode up through the pine forest canopy, rising close to the top of the Cangshan Range at 4,122 metres above sea level. At this point, we hadn’t considered the need for a rain coat, or even an umbrella, so, true to form, about half way to the top, the heavens opened up. Considering we still had fifteen minutes to travel to our destination, this became a problem. We arrived at the top, sodden, shivering and looking more than a bit bedraggled. The noise of the downpour on the roof made communication difficult, yet we did managed to meet a great couple from Alsager in England. We all waited for the rain to stop, so we could walk the four hour track to the top of the mountain. An hour went by and the weather didn’t abate, so we hired two very large, dodgy looking umbrellas and took the chairlift back down.

Chairlift in the Rain

These guys had the right approach to dealing with a downpour whilst travelling on a rather long chairlift to the top of the mountain.

That evening we discovered Dali’s vibrant night life, of quaint little bars, plastic chaired restaurants and street BBQ’s. We tried a new taste sensation each day, like fried beef with green chillies, BBQ beef with chilli, a Bai potato dish called grandmas potatoes, Tibetan momos, Tibetan special lamb, jiang shang bing, which is a kind of tangy pizza bread and many varying types of dumpling. We remained in taste bud heaven, hidden away from the evils of our multi-national fat dispensing, fast-food corporations. Not one in sight … yet!

The next morning we decided to go for a rock climb. Unfortunately, our day out on the cliffs fell foul of early rain. We spent the morning waiting at Café 88, a German bakery with really good products and an equally nice host. When the sun came out, we drove to the climb, despite the road looking pretty pot-holed, rutted and soggy. It didn’t take long for us to come across a bogged truck. We attempted to help and nearly suffered the same fate, yet our escape from calamity became short lived. Moments later we suffered a flat tyre.

Mud covered our boots and pants, but we eventually got going; the atmosphere in the vehicle feeling strange from then on. A CD played a kind of funky, chilled out Jazz, which seemed odd and out of place, as we bounced, slid and bumped our way along.

Rock Climbing near Dali in China

Rock Climbing near Dali in China

We carried our gear up the long, steep track to the cliff face and everybody appreciated our first magic view of the lake. We rock climbed for the rest of the day with my wife Katie scaling the face like a teenager, completing every climb. I, on the other hand, lugged a body the size of an elephant up that rock face, which ultimately caused my forearms to pump-up, harden and become useless. By mid-afternoon, my knuckles seemed to be dragging along the ground. Another hour and I may have turned back the evolutionary clock and made the stretched limbs a permanent arrangement.

Swinging out over Erhai Lake, near Dali in China

Swinging out over Erhai Lake, near Dali in China

We bounced and jerked our way back to Sleepy Fish feeling both tired, satisfied and excited. Tomorrow offered just as much adventure and we could hardly wait.