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Published: April 4th 2010
石人湾 or Shi Ren Wan- Stone Man Gulch
Wa sei! That was what I and my manager kept saying whenever we saw the next rise we had to climb on our mountain today. It's kind of like saying, "Whoa..."
I got up in time for an 8:30 breakfast with Amy (my manager), and discovered upon reaching the cafeteria that the time for meeting our guides had been moved up, and we were now running late. I wolfed down a boiled egg and grabbed a cup of yogurt. We jumped into Amy's car and were off.
Amy drove like a bat out of heck. Traffic in Huhehaote is normally kind of chaotic, and the right-of-way seems to be "whoever gets there first;" but I was actually feeling a little nervous about the way she was driving and trying not to press my invisible brake.
We met our "Team Leader" at the airport and from there drove into the countryside. Now that I was in a vehicle moving at a normal rate, I was able to relax a bit and take in the scenery. This is the first time I've seen 农村人 (country folk) and their houses and land
Up to 300 years old
upclose and personal. Our Team Leader, who is actually just a hotel manager who likes to hike, stopped several times in one of the villages to ask directions to Stone Man Gulch.
The villages are made up of houses with courtyards that are right on the highway; the road becomes really narrow and dogs, cats, children and bikes are the only other traffic. Cows loll casually in front yards, sometimes with no fence keeping them in. A herd of sheep at one spot we stopped became spooked and disappeared through a slightly-ajar door leading into one of the courtyards.
Out on the highway again, we narrowed in on our target destination with the help of some farmers. We parked in an obliging field and went to investigate the namesake of the Gulch before heading up: 300-year-old headless statues that may mark the location of an ancient tomb. They stand or lilt in the middle of a farm plot.
We crossed a still-frozen creek and headed up into the hills. The mountains in this part of the region aren't very high; I think they are made of mostly loess and some rock, my companions were calling them 黄土高坡
, slopes of yellow earth).
Amy and I got farther and farther behind, mostly due to my anticipated difficulty with climbing steep hills. (The only mountains we have in my hometown are mole-hills). Finally, our Team leader came back to check on us and lead us up to the peak. We went up singing a famous Inner Mongolian ballad called "My father's steppes, my mother's rivers;" Team Leader could sing.
Amy pointed out a plant particular to our area called 沙棘; the berries are used to make juice and medicine. The plants, sans
foliage, give a gray-bluish shimmer to the yellow hillsides, a most lovely effect. I appreciated it very much until we began our descent: around that time I discovered the plants are covered in wicked thorns. I got a few scratches but managed to keep my hands above the worst of it.
The view from the top was beautiful, hills as far as the eye could see, and terraces which I presume are man-made for grazing animals. The descent was a bit dicey because part of the "trail" (there wasn't one, by the way) was full of scree and very steep. We finally made it
to a dry creek-bed in the gulch and walked on flat ground back to the cars.
Lunch was at a small country diner; I tasted donkey meat (mostly out of courtesy) and passed on most of the meat dishes and indulged on the fish. Our crowd were mostly business associates, so this meant that someone brought baijiu
(rice liquor) along for the meal. This particular brand was especially fiery; I can usually down a few shots without a problem (they're much smaller in size than in the West), but just sipping I was feeling it.
On the drive back to town (yes, my driver was safe) I had that happy, been-in-the-sun-exercising kind of feeling, like how I feel after a day at the beach. It was a great day; but I'm hoping to get in shape, keep on trekking, and look for higher mountains with longer and better worn trails. This taste of the countryside will definitely have me coming back for more.
Video to come when I figure out how to compress it.
Tot: 1.441s; Tpl: 0.052s; cc: 15; qc: 102; dbt: 0.0518s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.6mb