DALI OLD TOWN
1/7/10 to 4/7/10: We both didn’t sleep a wink, I’m not sure why we had trouble but we were so tired when we got to Dali a 5:00am. It was still dark outside and when we left the train station nothing was open. We didn’t even know if we were in Dali or not because everything was written in Chinese. After trying to work out exactly where we were on the outskirts of our map, we managed to find a bus to take us to Dali some 18km from the train station. We still weren’t sure if we were on the right bus until we got off; I kept an eye on the compass the whole way. It wasn’t until we were 1km out before our map finally came into play; a sigh of relief came over both of us. I left Jacinta with the bags trying desperately to find a guest house or hotel before I shit myself. It was now 7:30am and nothing was open, nature was knocking on my back door and I needed a toilet quick. By the time I came back the hotel next to Jacinta had opened and we secured a room for 70yuan/night including breakfast, much to my relief. We were so tired we slept for a couple of hours before we managed to gather enough motivation to walk around town. Dali was pretty but incredibly touristy. The three main streets are Foreigners St, Rermin Rd and Fuxing Rd, they all contain specialty shops and restaurants. We spent a couple of days just wondering around, taking in the scenery. The ancient city is surrounded by a wall with one entrance on each side; they are called gates and are appropriately name North, South, East and West Gates. Even though the city is ancient, it is far from old; most of the town has been rebuilt from new to look old. I’m sure al ot of that had to do with new earthquake building codes. There are manmade streams running through the centre of town, almost like beautified storm water drains. They incorporate the streams into garden and ponds around the city making it very relaxing and scenic to walk amongst.
The next couple of days were spent doing absolutely nothing. We were tired and lethargic, we couldn’t even be bothered walking to dinner but the hunger forced us to move. After a couple of days we managed to go for a big walk through town. We visited the museum that was quiet boring walked to the south gate and back down Fuxing Rd window shopping. We walk north to the markets located at the north western end of the town wall. The markets were always great to visit and I only wish we had markets like this back home. We purchased some more fresh lychees and peaches as well as some huge ripe tomatoes. We rushed back to get some bread from the supermarket just to have a tomato sandwich that we so often crave. I took us and hour to purchase some bread, salt, drinks, coffee and some pepper. We spent most of our time wondering what half the stuff was on the shelfs just because we couldn’t read Mandarin, no one could speak English so we were left to make very cautious purchases, fifteen minutes were spent trying to find salt in amongst all the MSG packets. We still didn’t find it because I forgot to bring the phrase book. We chose very carefully after the last purchases were an absolute disaster. It turned out that we managed to have a fresh loaf of sweet red bean bread with our tomatoes sandwiches; the sweet taste of the bread spoiled the tomato sandwich but we washed it down with a couple of cold light refreshing Dali beers. The next day was a day to see outside Dali. We hire a tandem bicycle for 30yuan, rode out of the east gate, crossed the main highway, down a dirt road past tendered ride paddies and vegetable gardens through a village where we got lost in the maze of alleys before finally reaching Erhai Lake. The lake is the 7th largest in China and is around 250sq km and is almost 2000m above sea level. Needless to say it was a big lake and most of the fresh fish, snails, clams, and crayfish all come from the lake. It wasn’t the most easily accessible lake to ride along; we had to ride back out to the rice fields in a horse shoe just to have another look at a different shoreline. We ended up at one of the main ferry terminals that catered for some hungry Chinese. I ended up getting some live crayfish that were gently slide onto a skewer and basted with a combination of oil and seasoning and roasted alive over hot coals, it made for an exceptionally crunchy meal; even the shell was tasty. After this tasty meal we finished the rest of our packed lunch next to the water’s edge. It turned out to be a great day, the tandem bicycle made such a difference, Jacinta was hot on my heals the whole way instead of lagging behind 100m. We were curious about the three pagodas that were a major tourist attraction for Dali. On our way back we could see the pagodas clearly from the road but ended losing sight of then when we slowly climbed up a shallow hill. By the time we reached the top we were puffed and had to stop for a rest; I was surprised we made it that far up in the first place and attributed it too still being fit from trekking the Everest region. While we rested I glance over to the vegetable patch being groomed by an elderly lady beside the road, it was full of marijuana plants; this would explain why we are being asked by traditional Bai woman (Native ethnic group) if we want to buy some hash and weed. It just didn’ fit the picture when they were all dressed up in their traditional costume. We somehow managed to lose sight of the three pagodas and mistakenly confused this with another pagoda toward Dali old town. We rode right into the Sunday morning market that had all sorts of weird items. We managed to pick up what we believed to be an old Chinese scroll, we purchased it from an elderly man that had all the patience in the world to make a sale. It must have taken 10min to negotiate a price just because of the language barrier but in the end we bought it for 150yuan. There was the usual stuff you would find at any Chinese market so it was time to ride back across the road through the west gate and back to the bike rental. We got a couple of Dali beers to top a perfect day off.