Excerpt From My Travel Journal to Yunnan
The police had closed Tiger Leaping Gorge for four days due to inclement weather. This was my last chance to do the walk before flying home.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is immense. At one point it is three kilometers deep. The official start of the popular hike is a town called Choutou. With some weather coming in police had set up a roadblock to keep walkers off the trail. From Choutou guest houses line the route: Jane's, Naxi, Teahorse, Halfway (which should be called Most of the Way), and Tina's. Everyone finishes at Tina's. But there was no roadblock at Tina’s so we stayed there first and made a leisurely start at 9.15 the next morning. My plan was to overnight at Naxi, hike down to Choutou, hitch to Lijiang and fly home the same day.
The journey to Halfway started easily enough but then we encountered the ledges. The path was narrow with a steep drop into the abyss on our left and the mountain wall to our right. Heights scare me. These drops were sheer and deep. One wrong step and adios. Along with my companions we all carried packs so made our way carefully. We met no others walkers and I held my anxiety at bay. At least it wasn’t raining.
We make it to Halfway and reckon we can do the whole thing in a day so we head towards the next stop. There is not as much ledge walking and there are some flat stretches. We talk a little but mostly we are in silent appreciation of our stunning surroundings. We reconnect at Teahorse over sweet and sour pork, fried eggplant with garlic, stir fry tofu and vegetables, and spicy cucumber salad. I’m walking with three fine companions.
After lunch we start the journey to Naxi and it is more of the same: spectacular views; some ledge walking; and impossibly steep drops. And then it starts to rain. We are not supposed to do this hike in the rain. It's dangerous. People have died. My anxiety edges up as I try not to slip on the now oily rocks. If I fall from this height, and this is not good, I’ll have time to consider my death.
We endure the now steady downpour until we come to a space wide enough to put on waterproof jackets and waterproof bags around the backpacks. The rain is now sheeting down hard. We are also climbing again so I concentrate on not losing my footing and not losing my mind by looking down to my left. The path has now become a water course and is up around my ankles. Everything is slippery, my glasses are fogging up, my pack is getting heavier and my acrophobia has emerged.
Nothing to do but keep moving. So I climb on, Noa behind me, followed by Effi and Sebastian. Maybe I'm the only one scared, but I don't think so. Finally, after about 20 minutes of this tense-jawed walking, the path curves away to the right and away from the gorge. The ground levels off a bit. The rain slows and stops. Deep breaths. We put away our rain gear. Weird silence. Move on.
Naxi is not far. It’s a flatter walk, more inland and relaxing, gentler slopes. Then the downhill starts. If you do this trek in the official direction, you have a rocky climb just after Naxi called the 28 Bends because of the switchbacks as you ascend. It's so tough locals wait at the bottom with donkeys and ferry hikers up. It’s easier for us coming from the opposite direction but the stone path is wet and I've got a heavy pack. Every time I step down, my foot has to stop cleanly and catch both my body and pack weight. If I slip on a stone, I am going to take a hard fall. I won't die but it won't be pleasant either.
After the 28 Bends, we greet the bored local guides (still no other climbers), pet their mules, and soon get to Naxi. Effi says she needs a coffee and I think that's the best idea ever. We relax, have a laugh, and enjoy the accomplishment. From here, it's just a bit to Jane's and Choutou. We relax with none of us eager to end the experience knowing that soon we'd be splitting up.
Down to Choutou where Effi, Noa, and Sebastian find a car to take them to Shangri La. I’m going in the opposite direction to Lijiang and wait on the opposite side of the street. I wave down vans and buses hoping one has space. An empty tour bus stops and picks me up for the two-hour trip. Got the whole big bus all to myself where I get to reflect on a heck of a day.
Tico always wanted a nomadic life full of travel. His Cuban parents were the same. His earliest memories were when his US Army father was stationed in Italy, and they traveled throughout Europe in a mustard-yellow 1968 Volkswagon Camper (with a pop-up top of course). He does not have memories of staying in hotels.
The itinerant lifestyle continued. Tico has lived in eight countries and moved 20 times and has traveled throughout the world. After university, Tico taught English in Osaka. His first solo international trips were from there to Thailand in 1993 followed soon after by Tibet, a magical place that left a lasting impact.
His favorite recent destinations have been Yunnan, Nepal, and Morocco all of which he has visited multiple times. He tends to backpack alone, usually carrying a small chess set, camera, Kindle and frisbee. The most enjoyable part of traveling has been finding connections with locals and with other travelers. Tico speaks five languages well and he looks forward to more adventures regardless of age.