The Long and Winding Road

Right now I've been wearing the same outfit for about five days. We weren't exactly prepared to come up to northern Sichuan province, as the elevation is at least 2500 m and up – spring has barely sprung here and there's still snow in the mountains surrounding the valleys. Even though we've been freezing our butts off, it's been totally worth it. Including the torturous 11-hour death wish bus ride.

Jiuzhaigou is one of the most famous national parks in China, and we kept hearing about it since we started traveling – in  guidebooks, online, in a random National Geographic we saw in Thailand. Everyone agrees that it's a spectacular place of singular natural beauty, but there have definitely been mixed feelings on the hordes of tourists, the difficulty/expense in getting there, and the ridiculous entrance fee (it comes out to approximately $50 US PER PERSON. Yes. You heard me right.).

We debated for a while whether or not to come, and finally decided to pony up but save a bit of money by taking the bus rather than flying. The bus ride was…illuminating. It goes without saying that our bus driver was insane and I seriously thought we were going to die a few times. What person in their right mind passes a tractor trailer on a blind curve with a sheer cliff drop while it's raining? You guessed it! Our bus driver! Not to mention the very real danger of falling rocks. Regardless of that, we definitely found the ride to be fascinating, passing through the countryside and seeing what's been happening since the earthquake in 2008.

New buildings have sprung up everywhere, whole new towns have been created from nothing, and the rivers end up with tons of debris. Farther on, hydroelectric plants and dams divert the water and turn the river into a trickle. The road itself was being upgraded and repaved, with many workers hand-digging trenches for drainage and replacing broken barriers on the edges of cliffs. There just seemed to be a flurry of activity everywhere we went – the whole country should have a “Pardon our Dust” sign hung somewhere. What was strange though was that so many of these new towns are literally in the middle of nowhere and most of the finished buildings are empty. We couldn't figure out who these new buildings were for and why no one is living in them.

As we continued, the landscape became more and more mountainous and dramatic. Giant boulders were perched perilously close to the road, and tiny waterfalls snaked across the sheer rock faces. We began seeing Tibetan style houses with prayer flags that whipped dramatically in the wind. The road became a tortuous zigzag that wound its way up and over the pass, above the treeline and into the clouds. We couldn't see anything and we were praying that it wouldn't snow. As we dropped down into the valley, all traffic was stopped for an hour which we discovered later was because of road repair. We froze a bit outside of the bus, walked around and amused ourselves by making fun of the drivers who were all trying to pass each other but were just making a big traffic jam out of everything.

Finally we started up again, rain started coming down and night was coming on. We finally came into a valley where we saw signs that said “Jiuzhaigou”, and we were so happy we made it without dying/getting maimed in a head on collision. The bus pulled into a flooded parking lot, everyone made a beeline for the door, and we were unceremoniously dumped into a puddle and a group of touts trying to get us to stay at their hotel. I pulled out my cellphone and called Zhuo Ma, the Tibetan woman who we had contacted about a home-stay. And thus our northern adventure began!

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3 thoughts on “The Long and Winding Road

  1. Anonymous says:

    Too funny! I can relate to everything you have experienced. Frankly, my nerves usually knock me out! It is rare when I am awake in this kind of rides. Thanks for sharing. Thanks to you, I stared my Monday with a smile on my face

  2. Julie Lee says:

    i am surprised you made it too; remembered your New Orleans train ride. You swear you will never take a long train ride ever again.It is ok to wear the same outfit for a few days; Chinese are use to that. Only American has a habit wearing a new outfit everyday. I remembered when I was a kid I wore my clothes for a week before we wash them because you have to conserve water; plus you have to wash them by hand.

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