The Honeymoon-Diaries, Part 4: The Eternal Optimist at the Tiger Leaping Gorge

This is the fourth installment of our honeymoon diaries, simply because the experiences we had were far too many to pack into one single or two or even three blogposts. We probably should have taken the first 24 hours as a definite sign that we weren’t meant to be in Lijiang, but we decided to stay despite the power outage, almost no heat in our hotel-room and severe health problems. And while trying to find stuff to do in and around Lijiang, we came across a few daytrips, that we thought sounded interesting. Little did we know that we would ride what A described a deathtrap waiting to snap (an in 15.000 feet altitude dangling gondola lift), battling altitude sickness on a glacier and trying to avoid getting puked at on the gondola ride down. But we survived. After a somewhat relaxing next day, where the only thing that seriously could harm us were a few sketchy bridges, we awoke early on day number four. Wednesday.

Today was the last day trip that we had planned for our stay in Lijiang. Given that the day before could generally be described as a somewhat relaxing day, we were looking forward to some easy hiking at what the locals called: THE TIGER LEAPING GORGE. Sounds intriguing, right? That’s what we thought. The pictures we saw, that ultimately made us want to go on that trip, showed a statue of a tiger, a leaping tiger. We figured, we could do that. Maybe see a few waterfalls and rivers along the way, yes, that sounded doable. Here is what we based our decision on:

The Tiger Leaping Gorge. With a Leaping Tiger.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge. With a Leaping Tiger.

We were picked up at the same spot we always were picked up, right on time and then drove for about 3 hours before stopping for lunch. We were the only Western people on the bus, which we by then had gotten used to. People quickly understood, that we don’t understand a single word of Chinese (other then “ni hao” and “wo bu shuo hanyu”, which means “hello” and “I don’t speak Chinese”) and accommodated us as much as possible. Before lunch the tour guide came to us, informing us, that he only spoke little English and then decided that any additional breath would be wasted on us, so he ignored us entirely.

After lunch, the guide packed us back into the bus, which I imagine in its’ 40 years of operation has never been cleaned, once. The guide then, I assume, told stories about the tigers that were leaping (not really), and then, for what ever reason, that goes beyond my understanding, he started singing songs. I am not quite sure why, maybe because he wanted to distract us from the reckless driving that was happening at the same time, as well as the unbelievably gross smells coming from the bus, as we were making our way up a mountain on a two lane road that in most places only was a one lane road because of fallen boulders that no one ever cared to clear the road of. And why would you attempt clearing the roads, if any day more boulders could be falling?

While the left side of our bus enjoyed the views of little goats climbing up these fallen boulders and rocks, ultimately probably loosening the rocks and making it possible for them to fall in the first place. On the right hand side we enjoyed the views of  a steep cliff side that would only make cliff jumpers happy, and only if they just signed their death sentence. I am generally speaking more laid back about things than A is, e.g. no embankments on the side of the road, no barriers that could at least attempt to catch us if we would fall out of a curve, and what little barriers had been put up, would not even be able to stop a three year old on a tricycle going a quarter mile an hour. Generally, I am okay with what we saw on our way to the leaping tiger, but these scenes paired with a driver that watched Speed one too many times, made even me desperately hanging on to dear life. A kept his eyes shut tight, not responding to anything, I guess his mantra was, “What I don’t see, I don’t need to worry about”, while his knuckles turned white as he held on to the handlebar in front of his seat.

Little protective barriers
Little protective barriers

Thankfully, after 1 hour and 45 minutes we came to a stop. From the now extremely harsh demeanor our tour guide had, I quickly gathered that what ever awaited us next, won’t be pleasant and it quickly turned to me developing a very foul mood. Also, this is were our tour guide left us. He said, he would meet us later, not telling us when or where. My foul mood irritated A, because he still figured we were on an easy hike enjoying the gorge, taking a few pictures and what not. Meanwhile I refused to acknowledge but deep inside me knew, that we were not on an easy hike, I was already fearing the next stage of our day trip. As we slowly walked down a small path I tried to tell A, that it might be better if we stayed behind, but he refused to listen and said, “We made it this far, what’s the worst that could happen?” A thousand scenarios went through my head, none of which A was having any, being the eternal optimist that he was.

No tigers, lots of leaping
No tigers, lots of leaping. The top of the Gorge.

Here I also want to add, that A has been battling with a stress fracture in his left foot, ever since Hong Kong. It has only gotten worse since we left Hong Kong, but he refused to go to a hospital in Hong Kong and in Beijing and in Lijiang. Fearing that this trip could be a potential serious danger (is there any other?) to his health, I tried to bargain with him, that we might be better sitting this one out, but he urged me to move on, practically pushing me down the narrow pathway that turned into a steep and rocky hiking trail, constructed some odd 70 years ago. You see, I am not a daredevil, I am a calculated go-reach-my-limit-person, I don’t need to exceed my limits, especially not on a steep hiking trail, where even goats were battling with reaching the top. But A nonchalantly said, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll hike 10-20 minutes and I’m sure the bus will pick us up at the bottom”.

Hiking up on the side of the cliff
Hiking up and down on the side of the cliff

On the left hand side of the upper picture you can see a little hand rail, if you want to call it that. This was the only barrier between us and the cliff. This was supposed to be my lifeline that I was meant to hold on to, in case I fall. And these rocks we were hiking on where not exactly the type of rocks with a good grip but rather quite slippery, so yes, I was not happy, I did not even try to hide it. But somehow, we made it down the mountain side, finding this wonderful little home:

A little hut
A little hut

You might think, I am kidding, but no, this was someone’s home. Not a long long long time ago, but right now. At the moment, while you are reading this on your comfortable sofa, or wherever you might be sitting, complaining about not having enough space in your three bedroom apartment, THIS is someone’s home, now. Running water, electricity or anything else you might find comforting in your everyday life, was not an option here.

Eventually we moved on and we made it to the bottom of the mountain, only to be faced by this.

The bridge that sent A over the edge
The bridge that sent A over the edge

And if you read part 3 of the honeymoon diaries, you know, that A does not trust hanging bridges. He was content staying behind, which by then I learnt to accept, but other people in our group were not happy about A’s decision to stay behind. They swarmed him, ‘motivated’ him to cross the bridge and I saw in his face, he did not want to do this. So I casually walked back over the bridge to see if I could support A in his decision of staying back, but then one of the Chinese people in our group, who kept calling A Italy, because he couldn’t pronounce his name, started cheering loudly “Come on Italy, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” And A went, unhappily, but he crossed it anyways, facing his deepest fears (that’s after all you are hoping to do on your honeymoon, right?).

A crossing the bridge
A crossing the bridge

And after he crossed the bridge, this happened:

Picture time
Picture time

Tons of picture taking with the white Italy guy (who is not Italian). This went on for about 20 minutes so everyone (even the people not in our group), had a chance to take pictures with the white guy that just crossed the bridge. After enjoying the picture taking and the view of the gorge, A and I looked around, trying to figure out where the bus would pick us up, not seeing any parking lot or anything else that could accommodate large vehicles or tiny ones for that matter. At this point the Chinese guy, that kept calling A Italy came to us and said, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go”. Which where two of the few words he knew in English.

So we went, we went, we went, but where to? We didn’t know. At first it looked like we had to climb up the same way we came down, which put me in a very difficult position. My heart was pounding out of my chest, mainly because of dehydration that has been going on for the first couple days of our trip. Side note as to why I was dehydrated: I have a problem with Chinese public toilets, as they are not so much toilets but rather holes in the ground (no, seriously!) and I don’t know about you, but having to squat over a hole in the ground, I tried to avoid as much as possible, which also meant, I couldn’t drink as much fluids as I probably should have in order to avoid having to use the bathroom. Either way, after the first few uphill steps, I was physically (and quite honestly, emotionally) drained. But it slowly dawned on me, there was no other way. There was no bus coming, the bus was exactly where we left it and we had to return to it. The optimism that A showed earlier by then had completely disappeared, as he too came to the realization, we had to rely on ourselves, our own mental and physical ability to get out of the gorge.

At one point, halfway through the uphill climb, one of the people in the group said, that we could take the elevator up the hill. Both A and I looked puzzled, there was an elevator and you only now tell us this? So we both happily nodded our heads, yes we want on that elevator, not asking too many questions about how they would get electricity or how the mechanics worked, knowing that this would probably send us over the edge mentally. We were okay with anything, as long as it meant, we wouldn’t have to climb up all the boulders we climbed down just now.

Turns out, elevators don’t mean the same thing, when Chinese people say it and when Western people say it (and yes, that is a very harsh (and probably wrong) generalization) but being faced with this, another of A’s fear has come to life: Having to rely on a 70 year old ladder system and I say, 70 years old because it actually was 70 years old. We watched our group climb up, one by one, while we stayed behind, hoping that a helicopter would see us and rescue us before we had to rely on these ladders to get out of the gorge.

The other elevator
The other elevator

The helicopters never came and we climbed up one set of elevator-ladders, and then another:

the elevator
the elevator

And then a third set of elevator-ladders. And I know, he looks somewhat happy in this picture, but I know my husband well enough, to tell you, he was full of fear of malfunction and falling and heights and anything else, that could possibly cause his death. His knees buckling, his left foot slowly going out.

Fear in his eyes
A with fear in his eyes

But I also know, that when my husband has to pull through, he will a 100%. And he did. Somehow we got to the top of the mountain and A felt liberated. He just faced all his fears in a matter of hours and he was still alive, and after all, THAT IS EXACTLY HOW HE IMAGINED HIS HONEYMOON, only not at all.

A and J after getting out of the Tiger Leaping Gorge alive

After 4 hours that seemed like an eternity, we finally made it back out alive and beat. We sat down at a little hut (a bit more updated than the first hut that you saw) and had some cold drinks with the owner of the hut while he told us horror stories about people breaking their legs and arms and having to be flown out by helicopters (thankfully he had enough sense not telling us these stories before we went in, especially considering A’s condition).

I guess, in retrospect, the trip was worth it. The pictures don’t do it justice, but I think both A and I were glad that we made it all the way down (and back up). Seeing how the river made it’s way through the valley was something we otherwise would only have seen in magazines, which up to this point, I actually was fine with. Also, having endured this hike, made the bus ride back to the city less scary, even when the bus driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere instead of where we were dropped of the last few days: at home, But at this point, we already knew how to hail a cab and how to get to where we wanted to go, so at least we had that going for us. However, I still cringe looking at this picture, yes, it was something else, but if you’d ask me now, if I would do it again? The answer is no, a thousand times no. Even A, who so optimistically went into this challenge concluded, that he will probably never return to this gorge, and he would be okay with it.



The Tiger Leaping Gorge
The Tiger Leaping Gorge

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