After such an extreme introduction to the gorge, I was happy to find that our accommodations for the evening was well stocked with cold beer. Though when drinking a lot of beer, you often have to go to the bathroom. This was the view from the toilet – while it wasn’t exactly outside, I’m fairly certain that a nearby farmer could hear me pee:
The next day we picked up a few friends and started down Tiger Leaping Gorge. This is the day when we met one of the most interesting men in the whole world and picnicked on the rock from which the Tiger leapt.
The hike down the gorge was less strenuous and a lot more dangerous thanks in part to creaky old wooden ladders and waterfalls that had wiped out the trail. Thank God we broke into that mountainside temple and said a few prayers for safe travel.
To get to the gorge you have to pay off local families who have blocked the passage to the trail. Every 30 meters there was another sign explaining that the government had abandoned the gorge and that the lovely local families had graciously begun to maintain the trail. By ‘maintain the trail’ what they really mean is nail together wood beams and call it a toll bridge. The Chinese don’t seem to be overly concerned with small things like safety regulations or general admittance to public parks.
There is no official map of the gorge. Instead guesthouses give you a map with their location in REALLY LARGE letters in the hopes that you chose stay there. After hiking 2,000 meters down to the base of the gorge there was no way I could handle the trek back up, and our map only showed one way out. Straight Up. Back the way we came. Nooooooo!
And not only were we presented with the conundrum of how the hell to get back up the gorge, we weren’t even allowed to step on the Tiger Leaping Rock. One of the families in the gorge patrolled the area and after seeing that we weren’t going to pay, they locked us out!
There is a happy ending, and it’s at Sean’s Guesthouse and it includes happy tea. After locking us out from the rock, the scrappy village woman hoofed it back up the gorge on a hidden trail running parallel to the water. Vinnie’s keen eye took note and when it was time to leave, he promised that the local trail would be the fastest way back up. It was getting dark, and cold, and I was pretty sure that the local trail would kill us. But we needed fast action and I did NOT want to climb back up the sky ladder, so we took Vinnie’s advice and began the climb.
And this is when we learn that not all trails are listed on the map, and the easiest path out of the gorge is the slow but steady climb up and across. (But even on that obscure trail there was a local waiting to charge us 10 quai. Bastards.)
Sean is a strange, interesting Tibetan gentleman and the reason why Tiger leaping Gorge is an amazing hike. He set up the first guesthouse, he marked the trail, he brought the tourists. And he greeted us with this:
My wife dead! Last year she die. She dead in Tibet. I go to Tibet, I carry pis-tal. I need protection. The police arrest me!!! Send me to jail!! Fuck the police. You in Gorge, you need help, you call Sean. Police do nothing. Sean protect you.
And I believed him. In fact Sean might be the most enlightened Chinese man that I met this entire trip. He seemed to understand the system that he lives in and knew that there were better ways of doing business. I would hike the trail all over again just to hang out with him and listen to his rants about the Chinese governement – they provided more in depth coverage that what I read in the New York Times.
At Seans we rested, enjoyed his happy meals and his homemade whiskey. His guesthouse was the first place I stayed that had heat AND hot water AND satelight TV. Smart, smart man, that Sean.
We were a happy, if a little sore, band of urban hikers.