The long way round to Congjiang and Basha

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February 18th 2013
Published: February 27th 2013
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Leaving Zhoaxing was as challenging as arriving in the village. We had checked with the hotel owner re a bus onwards to Congjiang and he advised us that one left every morning at 7.30 and we just needed to hale it as it drove past. When we went to leave the hotel next morning we had to wake the owner who in his fetching fluffy dressing-gown and slippers unlocked not one, but two, doors to let us out. In most hotels in Asia you are locked in at night - something we try not to think about as it is a hazard re fires. He locked up behind us and presumably went back to bed. Usually there is somebody sleeping on a couch right beside the door, but not always. We were greeted on the street right outside the hotels front door with the frenzied squealing of a pig - group of men were holding it down and bleeding it into a large bowl. It was horrific to listen to - thankfully there was a car between us and them as they next, after ten minutes of squealing, killed it. Unfortunately a second pig suffered the same fate whilst we waited. Not a great way to start the day!

At 7.40 a bus clearly marked with our destination in English drove past and despite our waves wouldn't stop. Jerry chased him down the street and he told him 'no bus'. Another bus pulled up behind and Jerry spoke to its driver - next minute our luggage and us was pushed on board and it set off. Neither of us had any idea where it was going to.... Ten minutes later we realised it was heading in the opposite direction - to Liping, a 100 Klms north of Zhoaxing and we needed to be heading east. The bus lady told us 'ok' so we took her at her word and just waited to be put off the bus somewhere on the road - from past experiences we knew that would. An hour later it did - as we left the freeway which we had been on for a short while the bus stopped and waved us to another one going in the direction we had just come from! Half an hour later we were again dropped on the highway - we recognised the spot immediately. The same spot we had been dumped with all the rude taxi drivers two days before - a fifteen minute taxi drive from Zhoaxing.... It had only taken us and hour and half to get there!

One consolation of this long route had been the big fields of rape in flower around Liping. Very pretty as in seemed to be in full bright yellow blossom. Anyway two hours later we arrived in Congjiang - after a fifteen minute petrol stop just outside the city. Congjiang is a long thin city which stretches along the banks of the Duliu River. It seemed to be a new town as all the buildings were designed with a similar exterior - they were multi storied white buildings with all the windows covered in dark brown metal grilles. Before leaving the bus station we bought tickets onwards to Kaili for next morning. Lonely Planet recommended a hotel across from the bus station but after being grunted at by two very disinterested teenage boys who wouldn't take their eyes off the video game on their computer we headed half a block up the street to the best hotel in town.Best in this case was certainly comfortable if rather tattered around the edges. We were very careful our bare feet (or our socks even) touched the carpet on the floor. It was putrid to say the least though the rest of the room was clean. For 168 yuan I guess we couldn't complain.

As we had not eaten breakfast that morning we went across the road to have a meal. There was a line of tiny eating places where the cook was stir frying food. We were handed a plate and it was gestured that we took a small piece of everything we wanted to eat off the central table which was covered in bowls and baskets of raw vegetables and meats and the cook would make us a meal from those ingredients. The meal was fabulous and we enjoyed watching him cook dish after dish for customers as they came in. A lot of the fresh produce was unidentifiable - and much of the meat was offal. We looked forward to dinner that evening as we waved him goodbye. Our reason for coming to Congjiang was to visit the tiny village of Baisha, 7.5 kilometres up the mountain behind the city. We took a taxi up (40 yuan) and had great views of the steep terraces on the drive. When we arrived in Baisha (passing the village ticket office which was closed) we were met with a large group of teenage girls dressed in pristine traditional dress - very beautiful but obviously done for the tourists. There was also a 'tourist' meeting place at the top of the village. Baisha consists of five conjoined villages where a few thousand of the minority people called Maio live. The Maio people who live in Baisha are considered to be the oldest group of their minority in Guizhou Province and they are known for their very distinctive style of costume. As with all the minority groups today a lot of western clothes are worn instead, particularly by the male populations. In Baisha though the men still favour traditional clothes - three quarter length baggy trousers worn with a loose tunic top and sandals. They are made from the same fabric we saw being hammered in Zhoaxing, but in a pale navy colour (almost with a silver sheen). They wear their hair long twisted into a topknot on their heads and carry a long thin rifle. They were also very good looking - tall, thin and with distinct European features.

We wondered whether the costumes were only for the tourist but after climbing down some stone steps and sliding down a muddy slope we wandered one of the villages away from the road. And yes - most of the girls were dressed in traditional clothes - they were faded, grubby and very well worn. The children were dressed in western clothes mainly though we did see a couple of tiny girls with embroidered clothes. The women in the village were spinning cotton (maybe hemp) and weaving it into long narrow strips of fabric on looms which hung from their waists. The cotton lengths were running from house to house (the poles acting as supports to hold the dozens of long strands of cotton in place) while three or four women help led the woman at the head of the lengths handle the waist loom. The costumes the women wore were tunic tops and skirts made from Zhoaxing fabric, but dyed a coppery sheeny colour. They wore strips of the same fabric around their lower legs - they were held on with lengths of coloured braid. The tunics were very heavily trimmed with machine made trips of braid but I guess for special occasions the dresses covered in hand embroidery come out. We certainly saw very young girls with tiny strips of cotton on which they were practising their embroidery stitches. I heard no hammering of the cloth so presume the women don't do it here. As in Zhoaxing the women had long hair which they coiled into various shapes held in place with combs or pins. All the babies were with their mums but instead of being strapped on mum's back they were supported upright in bamboo baskets which rested on the ground. We've not seen them used anywhere else.

The villagers weren't the slightest concerned with us being there and were happy for us to photograph and watch them work. Surprisingly there was only one tiny shop that sold any souvenirs, none of which were produced there at all, and everyone very faded and dirty and most unappealing. We wandered into another one of the villages but the mud got the better of us so we left and went back to the road hoping to catch a lift back down to Congjiang. Luckily one of the shop owners gave us a lift down an hour later for 30 yuan. I spent the time watching a group of women weave lengths of cotton, the end of which they had tied to a lamppost on the main road. It went down the road, passed the local clinic full of traditionally dressed women with children and old men, most of whom were attached to drip bottles - basically the first form of treatment that is given to you at any hospital or doctors in China.

That evening we enjoyed a beer and stir fry before walking across the bridge to check out the rest of the town on the opposite river bank. There was a very wide footpath stretching along the river, it was lit up with LED strip lights, as were both the bridges and all the buildings lining the river. Memories of Guilin came back, but all the trees in Guilin softened the effect somewhat - trees were sadly lacking in Congjiang. The flashing purple lights which covered the newly built drum tower on the hill were a total overkill though. Another oddity in the city was the lack of cold storage in the two large supermarkets we visited - we really wanted a yoghurt and they just weren't available at all. Another grocery item we haven't been able to purchase since Yunnan are tea bags. We enjoyed our time there and pleased we made the effort to stop. Next destination is Kaili, in the middle of the minority region where we had a car and driver booked to take us around some of the smaller villages in the area.

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