roosters were crowing as dawn arrived on bulang shan. i woke up to use the bathroom, bringing with me a roll of toilet paper, a cigarette, and a lighter. the cigarette i used as incense to mask the stench. back in the room, i ate my mantou stuffed with tsa-tsai, before packing up my stuff and heading out.

there was a light drizzle as i walked by some villagers who watched as i started down the dirt path leading to damenglong some 34 miles away. the rain finally stopped as the morning sun lit up the terraced rice paddies, raindrops glistening in the light, flying insects aglow on the horizon.

i'd thought that i'd be bushwhacking through the jungle, but there was actually a path of either crushed rocks or dirt - dirt which quickly turned into mud after a rainstorm. occasionally motorcycles would pass me, or a tractor or two carrying people and cargo. the road was okay for walking but perhaps too dangerous for mechanized travel, since there were many muddy puddles.

nana jiang & jungle plants

jungle fern

land slide

i imagined hordes of leeches and mosquitoes, but the pathway was pretty tame. the number one danger: rock and mud slides. i personally witnessed a few of those first hand, i'd hear a rumble then part of the mountain would slide off. the number one annoyance? the mud. i'd kept relatively dry, but a few hours into my hike, while trying to cross a large puddle (several hundred yards), i sank into the mud up to my knees. i had to claw my way out, and my umbrella was no use as it too sank into the mud when i tried to use it as leverage. 30 minutes later, covered in dirt and soaking wet, i was pretty miserable.

winding nana jiang

i was able to rinse clean by a small waterfall, as three village children watched me the whole time. i put on my wet socks and trudged onwards. i filled an empty water bottle with stream water, but there was too much dirt and i didn't want to treat/drink it.


rock wall (weidong)

weidong was the first village i wandered into, since LP recommended it as a good place to spend the time. it was still early, around 11am, and i was just browsing, figuring i still had plenty of walk left in me. there was nobody around, no welcoming party, and at most a few village children saw me and laughed. after looking around a bit, i left, leaving a slim jim jerky wrapper as my calling card.

asian tiger beetle

it took me more than an hour to walk 2 miles because i'd occasionally stop to take photos. i didn't see any animals and could only hear the birds. however, there were plenty of butterflies and dragonflies, which i chased around with my telephoto lens. the one insect that i was really happy to find surreptitiously were some asian tiger beetles, flying around on a sandy part of the path. the one thing i really wanted to see were some mountain orchids but i never once saw one unfortunately. the most common flower were these blue ones.


by the afternoon the rain clouds had left. no longer cool and wet, the weather suddenly became very hot and humid. i rolled up the sleeves of my t-shirt to work on my tan.

close to the 16 miles mark (i had my GPS on the whole time, tracking my progress), i came across the village of lalu. it was 6pm already, starting to get late, and i figured i'd ask a villager if i could crash in their hut for the night. there were some construction guys tearing apart a steel work bridge and they invited me to sit down with them. i found out they were locals but were actually from lincang (a town i visited ever so briefly on my epic journey southwards from dali). they had many questions about america, which i answered to the best of my ability. they told me they were returning to damenglong for the night. really? i had a decision to make. spend a night with the villagers, and continue walking tomorrow - or - ride with these guys to the city? i decided to take the shortcut, and asked if they had room in their truck. "yes, of course," they told me. relieved, i sat around watching them work.

men at work

it was then i saw something strange. i thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but i could swear one of the men had six fingers on one hand. sure enough, i got a good look, and on the spot where his thumb should be, he had an extra finger, and then a thumb budding off of that one. i looked around, am i the only person who's seeing this? but i guess all his coworkers are used to it by now. i wanted to take a photo but couldn't bring myself to do it. turns out he wasn't one of the workers, but rather one of the villagers. if you ever want to see a man with six fingers on one hand, you'll have a reason to go to xishuangbanna and visit the lalu village.

about an hour later, one of them came by and told me the bad news: they hadn't finished their work yet so can't go back to damenglong until the next morning. so i still had to the spend the night. i took the news in stride: i could get a village sleeping experience and get a ride back to damenglong tomorrow - sounds good to me. so i walked into the village, prepared to ask a big favor. one household had a bevy of enthusiastic young girls who greeted me with english "hellos." instead of picking that one to stay at, i decided to go with the one where a young man was waving me to come stay with his family. he was in the middle of making dinner, and said i could spend the night if i gave me a little money. "RMB$50, RMB$100, whatever you want to give." i paid him RMB$50 and watched as he cut up some meat which he told me (in his broken chinese) that it was jungle cow.

jungle cooking

his family included himself, his mother, and at least two siblings. the family dynamic was weird, he was the one doing all the talking (probably he was the only one who could speak chinese), as well as all the cooking. he cooked up the meat inside the house, a stirfry that also included some mint and garlic. we sat around a small makeshift table with his family and a friend. he gave me a bottle of milk (maybe because i was the honored guest, or maybe he heard that all foreigners love milk), but i told him he should have it instead, since milk makes me irregular (i just had water).

lalu villagers playing cards

after dinner we sat around smoking and drinking some strong chinese wine. he told me that some friends were coming over to play cards and drink, and that when i felt tired i could just go to sleep. i agreed, and spent some time sitting outside, looking at the stars in the night sky, before coming back inside for bed.

his friends ended up staying until 5am. they were a rowdy bunch, banging on the table anytime they had a good hand, which shook the whole wooden stilt house. there was also a lot of spitting, but since there were no windows, i didn't know where they were aiming (probably the walls). it wasn't like i could fall asleep anyway, not with all the mosquitoes biting me and the creepy chorus of frogs singing outside. did i mention it started raining too, and the roof started to leak? good times.