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The Adventurer’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 25 Feb 2007

Location: Kunming, China

MapTashi dali! That's Tibetan for hello. I have so much to say, but I'll have to give you the reader's digest version of things. Let's see, I last left you when I was stuck in this little town of Zoige waiting for a bus to leave for Chengdu. I got away fine. Once again, the scenery blew me away. There we were, driving along this high mountain pass, teetering to the right and to the left and passing huge trucks with maybe an inch between the edge to the one side and the truck to the other. Fantastic! We made it to Chengdu the next day by 11 am. We left the snow-covered area and got into the beautiful green mountains with bamboo trees and all other kinds of plants and trees. The weather in Chengdu was beautiful. I found my way to my hostel, and unloaded my bags, had to break out the shorts because everything else went into the laundry, but the weather was definitely warm enough. Tried this very popular Sichuan dish called hot pot. Had it with beef and vegetables--very tasty, but very spicy! I walked around just enjoying the atmosphere a bit, and it was great. I totally recommend a visit to Chengdu, yep, it's must see! I managed to get my bank card deactivated. Was also told I would have big problems taking out advance cash with my credit card, if at all. I panicked first, but after a few phone calls and emails, decided that I had enough money to get me through my side trip and that I'd deal with it later and enjoy my travels now. Joanne arrived from Shanghai, and we met up with our friend Troy, who just arrived in Chengdu to teach Engish. The next day was perfect. We went all around Chengdu visiting temples and parks and a statue of Mao Ze Dong. The atmosphere was so laid back here, the weather was perfect, and the people so friendly, out enjoying the day spending time with their families and friends. You see people playing cards and mahjong in the parks, and enjoying Chinese New Year. It was my favorite place thus far in China.

Joanne and I left for our side trip--Lhasa, Tibet at 6:18 pm on the new train that was completed in 2006 linking Chengdu to Lhasa. The plateau is considered to be the roof of the world, so indeed we were riding a train across the roof of the world. This was a 48 hour journey and was absolutely amazing. We had a sleeper compartment all to ourselves, and the scenery was breathtaking every step of the way. We reached altitudes over 5,000 metres on this train. Arrived in Lhasa on Tuesday at 6:18 pm, right on time. We arranged a guided tour (again I'm not a fan of this, but for Tibet, you kind of have to make the exception), so our guide, Tanzen, and driver met us at the station, welcoming us with a white scarf, a Tibetan custom for welcoming people. Our hotel was perfect. Two beds with a nice bathroom with hot, running water, and a bathtub.

We saw the famous Potala Palace, where the Dalai Lama used to come in the winter but is no longer allowed there, and temples and monasteries. The people are very friendly, but to be honest, I think I felt more of a Tibetan feeling in Gansu province because the Chinese have developed Lhasa so much (though I'm proud to so there is no Starbuck's yet!). I recommend a visit to Lhasa before it gets too developed if you plan to go there. And we tried not to use Chinese, but Tibetan instead, as it is their culture. We drove out to a beautiful lake at the top of a mountain about 2 hours away. This was awe-inspiring! Absolutely. Stopped at a Tibetan home on our way back. They live a simple life, but are so friendly and seem very happy. Kind of makes me feel ashamed at what materialism is doing to this world.

The food was delcious too. Thick noodles (Thukpa) with veggies, momos (dumplings), Chang (barley beer--very good), and yak butter tea (ok, this was really gross--like drinking melted margarine). We experienced some effects from the altitude--both of us had shortness of breath, and light-headedness. Joanne got really dizzy to the point where she almost fainted in Potala Palace--the monks kindly helped out with some water and candy. I caught a headache, sore throat and runny nose remedied with some Chinese medicine, chang, lots of water, and taking it at a slow pace.

I'm not sure how to put Tibet into words. We expected magical and mystical, and it was, but with modernization infringing on that feeling. However, the whole time I kept saying, we're in Lhasa, Tibet. I'm sure you were sick and tired of hearing this Joanne! It was just unbelievable and I do wish we'd had more time there. We were also lucky because it was low season for tourists, but busy with locals because of the Tibetan New Year. The temples were full of monks and pilgrims prostrating, praying, chanting, circumambulating around the monasteries, and I'm happy to say that we got to see Lhasa at it's busiest with locals.

Joanne and I split up on Saturday, she flew back to Shanghai, and I flew to Kunming. The flight was ok, and I arrived in Kunming at 6 pm. Went straight to the hostel. I've only been in Kunming a day, and already I can tell this is my favorite city in China (Okay, so I"ve said it about Shanghai and Chengdu, but I hadn't seen Kunming yet!). I wish I had more time in Yunnan because it is a truly beautiful province and I will be visiting this place again someday. As much as I loved Tibet, I'm happy to say that I'm finished with the cold weather--today I'm in a subtropical place wearing my shorts and a shirt, loving it loving it loving it! I'll be sending the winter stuff home soon, either here or in Hanoi, haven't decided yet. Oh, and the bank stuff worked out. The advance cash on the credit card was a piece of cake, so whoever told me that had no idea what they were talking about. After a nasty email, my bank reactivated my card. All is well. I leave for Vietnam on the 28th via sleeper bus.

I've seen and done so much this month and I'm kind of on sensory overload, so I'm taking it easy, just enjoying the atmosphere here and getting my bearings again. Until next time.... day mo! (Tibetan for good-bye).