This was not my first trip to the area, named Nujiang after the mighty river flowing south through these towering mountains. I came here in the summer of 2001 on a trip of several firsts. My first ride on a sleeper bus. My first stay in a village for longer than overnight. My first time to eat an entire mango straight off the seed, juice dripping down my arm.
I had also just completed my first full semester of Chinese study in the provincial capital, and a friend from the English department invited me to her village during the summer break. Looking back, I’m surprised I went. Really, I’m sure I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Starting with the 17 hour sleeper bus from Kunming out to Nujiang. Ahh, the sleeper bus. Imagine the sleeping compartment of a train, and then shorten the bed by at least a foot. And back in those days (did I really just say that?) the beds were arranged differently. Now, there are three beds across the width of the bus, with a tiny aisle in between, four or five rows to the back of the bus. But in 2001, they were configured in only two beds across, with two people per bed. If you knew (and liked) the person you were traveling with, great for you. If not, it would be a long trip in that little bed.
On the way out to my friend Celia’s village, she and I shared the very back section of the bus with three other girls. One big bed across the back of the bus, five girls, a 17 hour mobile slumber party. What Celia didn’t tell me before I got on that bus was that she wasn’t coming back with me to the capital in a week like I had expected. I found out a couple of days later that she was planning to stay longer, and I would be making the return trip alone. Well, me and the stranger (a lady, thank goodness) I shared a bed with.
I spent the week visiting with her family and friends in the village, sitting on their porch, watching the clouds and sunlight change throughout the day on the surrounding mountains, basking in the serenity of a week away from the city. I walked in the nearby forest with Celia and her younger brothers and sister, using banana leaves as umbrellas when it started raining. One afternoon we walked two hours one way to see a waterfall, the banana leaves no help in keeping us from getting soaked on the way home.
The bathroom situation left much to be desired and was a bit of trial by fire for me in getting used to village stays. There was no toilet, only a small shack over a pit right outside the courtyard of Celia’s parents’ house, two planks to squat on, with a space in between. Think Slumdog Millionaire. I did a lot of praying that week that I wouldn’t trip and that the planks would hold.
Next in the “A Different Trip” series: ”Nujiang (part 2)“