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Published: October 18th 2012
Wow! It feels like we haven't stopped for the last few weeks. It's been a very busy time getting through Western Sichuan (way back when we were in the mountains) and Yunnan (from Shangri-La until now). There was a lot to see and that meant only stopping for a few days at a time in one place. While we have been constantly on the go, we were able to see a lot and definitely made the right choices along the way. This section of China has also been the most difficult mentally; after we left Chengdu (the city with the Panda reserve) we also left English menus and English-speaking locals behind. The only time we came across English-speaking locals in the last month was at our youth hostels front desk or the odd student wanting to speak with us to practise their English.
Since our last update (by the way, photos have been uploaded to the Shaxi/Dali and Kunming blogs) we have been in another extremely rural area, Yuanyang rice terraces. While the area is called Yuanyang, the two towns we spent our time in were Xinjie and Pugaolao.
From Kunming we took a bus directly to Xinjie and
spent two nights there. Most people skip Xinjie since it is merely the beginning of the rice terrace views but we wanted to take our time and get to know the culture a bit. The area is mostly inhabited by the Hani people. The women wear bright colourful handwoven accessories; they will weave colourful wool into their hair and even sew coins into their clothing. When we first saw the embroidered sashes they wear on their head or hang from their belt we thought they had to be machine made until we remembered we were in China (and saw a few women sitting on a stoop making their own). They are so colourful and intricate! It's unbelievable what they can do with a needle and thread.
Most of our time in Xinjie was spent walking around the many cobbled alleyways or exploring the back roads to get a sneak peak at some rice terraces. Tyler also decided one night to accept an invite to hang out with the older local men that stayed around our hotel. They didn't speak any English but were very generous with a spread of food and local spirits. We really enjoyed our time there
since it was quiet, affordable and had amazing views of the valley and mountains.
Next we were on to Pugaolao which is the village right beside the Duoyishu rice terrace viewing spot. The minibus dropped us off at the viewpoint first and while we were a little perturbed he didn't drive us all the way into town (we had all of our bags with us) as soon as we saw the terraces we were speechless. What a sight. There are thousands of little terraces, some no more than 50 square feet, that are all used to grow rice. The ancient engineering they use is brilliant.
The rice is planted in the spring, grows full and green through the summer then turns a bright golden yellow before being harvested in the fall. We just missed the harvest but that didn't take away from the beautiful landscape. We are by no means experts on the topic, but we're thinking the harvest goes like this: at the time of the harvest there is very little water in the terraces; first they cut the rice about 10 inches from the mud, then they bang the rice stems on huge woven baskets to
get the rice grains off of the long stem; the long stems are then set on the shorter stems (that were left in the mud) to dry for a few days while they carry the more valuable rice out of the field; the rice is then spread out on rooftops or any available flat surface to dry before being stored or transported out of the area; once the stems that were left in the terraces dry, they wrap the them together in smaller bundles that are carried back to the village (this could be a few kilometre walk uphill); when the rice and stems are out of the terraces they sometimes burn off the remaining stocks then allow water to stream down from the mountains to fill the terraces in with water; at that point the farmers will do what they need to rebuild/reinforce the walls of the terraces with mud before bringing in the water buffalo to help turn all the mud and stem remnants. All of this is done with pure man power and the aid of domesticated “machines”, the water buffaloes. We saw all of this happening within a few days. They obviously can't harvest all of
the fields at once so we were were able to see farmers at all the different parts of the process. When the fields have been turned, they sit full of water all winter until spring comes.
This process has been passed down through families for thousands of years and these exact fields have been harvested this way for hundreds of years. The entire community works together – young and old – to complete the harvest. It's beyond amazing! They have manipulated the mountainous region this way because otherwise they wouldn't be able to plant anything.
After spending a couple of nights in Pugaolao we wanted to break up the trip back to Kunming so we spent a night in Jianshui. Jianshui was another town with an “old” feel but rather than being overwhelmed with tourists it was quiet with alleys of barbequed skewers and fruit vendors.
We spent less than a day in Kunming before hoping on another 24-hour train ride. This time we skipped through three provinces to get to the Li River in Guangxi Province. The Yangshuo area is known for it's karst peaks that are so famous they appear on the Y20 bill.
We have about 10 more days in China and since the last month has been so busy we really want to get cozy in one spot for 4 or 5 nights and explore the area. Please forgive us if we don't get you as many updates in the coming weeks. Once we get some R&R we will be heading to Nanning to get our Vietnam visas and then finding our way to a brand new country.
We promise to get you an update when we can but want to enjoy the last few days we have in China. That means hiking along the Li river, biking through the gorgeous scenery and spending our evenings in night markets tantalizing our taste buds.
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