On the way to Songpan we had to change buses at Zoige. This being central China, changing buses meant a six hour lay-over in the slightly creepy frontier town of Zoige. There wasn’t much to do. We found a muslim pool hall and Stin (G) set about thrashing the locals while Pumba (Spinks – current nickname refers to the fact that when hiking we can’t stand downwind from him) and I took an hour to play a frame of pool. Pathetic. Afterwards we ate at a noodle restaurant that contained a curiously large jar of hazy liquid populated with bobbing chicken’s feet and fermented plums. We drank three glasses of the stuff each. I’m not sure what happened but I woke up on the bus to Songpan with all my bags. Unfortunately, Stin has a video of me during the previous three hours where I am seen kissing an old woman. She was willing, mind.
So we arrived in Songpan worse for wear. After an evening in a potential gay club where there were far too many topless Tibetans high-fiving us we awoke the next day to book some horse-trekking.
The horse-trek was interesting. We set off at the crack of dawn up a pretty steep mountain. I quickly named my horse Cliff as he seemed far too attracted to anything steep and deadly. We climbed and we climbed until we came to a small entrance gate where we were told we would stay until the next day. It wasn’t even midday. The guides quickly made their way to a nearby hut and started watching TV. Pretty underwhelmed we wandered around until we found some apparent hot springs. They were cold. Nevertheless we whiled away the time perfecting synchronized back-flips and being splashed by some rowdy monks. Tibetan monks are way better than ours.
The next morning we headed back home. The inadvertant highlight of this was Stin falling off his horse, which had led our pack confindently the whole way. His steed stumbled on some pretty innocuous looking ground and almost in slow-motion it lurched to it’s knees, thereby launching the farmer forward where he performed a perfect textbook army-roll. Except it wasn’t. It turns out the formerly invincible Stin had cracked a rib. (Or had he? See the apparent hernia episode in Xi’an for some skepticism).
Next stop: Jiuzhaigou (I have no idea how to pronounce it). An unbelievable national park in northern Sichuan. It’s like New Zealand had a baby with Yosemite National Park. Actually it’s almost better than that. Whole valleys are taken up by water, which flow downwards through impossibly blue lakes, waterfalls and everything inbetween. We walked around it for over 30 kilometres (or clicks as I have been trying to stop myself saying). We also cheated the shuttle bus system thanks to a tip-off from a Belgian couple we keep bumping into, saving us 90 RMB each. However by the end of the hiking all was not well. Stin and Pumba started sitting down at every interval, eyes glazing over, mouths sagging. By the time we got home, Pumba couldn’t get off the toilet and apparently Stin was hallucinating. I bought them some water and went out for some food, reckoning that upon my return they’d be soundly asleep and safely on the mend. No. When I opened the door I was greeted with sounds last heard in a medical tent in 1940s Burma. Spinks was violently spewing into a bucket in between gurgling trips to the now suffering toilet, while Stin could only manage deep guttural groans and wails, like a dying giraffe. It was a messy night.
So, we didn’t make our bus to Chengdu today – unsurprisingly. With Pumba much healthier, and poor wee Stin recouping in his pit, all should be well for our final hurrah to Chenggers and a big welcome hug for Marcus. Fingers crossed.