They say that gourmet cuisine is in China, but the flavor is in Sichuan. This western province boasts pandas, the most beautiful Chinese girls (literally referred to as “la mei zi” or spicy girls) as well as some of the most jaw dropping scenery. In the northern part of the province, every other turn of the winding road is like a picture from a fairytale. Iridescent lakes and virgin forests abound in Jiuzhaigou, China’s famed national park and a Unesco World Heritage site.
It’s been about a week since I met up with Melissa. We spent our time in Sichuan visiting (and holding) pandas, stuffing ourselves silly with local Sichuan cuisine, and touring around the local sites like Le Shan Buddha, carved out of the side of a mountain and the largest seated Buddha in the world.
Jiuzhaigou deserves an entry on it’s own. It’s a harrowing twelve hour bus ride from Chengdu, winding through mountains and bumpy roads, with unexpected traffic jams thanks to avalanches and reconstruction after the Sichuan earthquake. Our driver probably deserves a medal for either getting us there in record time or making a third of his passengers throw up. But once you are in the mountains, it is worth every bump and jostle along the way. Despite being Canadian (and darn proud of our national parks) I have never seen anything so beautiful and pristine. Hard to imagine that it is all part of the same country that is so heavily polluted and developing at a breakneck pace.
Undoubtedly the best part were the friends we made along the way. Nothing beats bonding over yak skewers and dubious dishes imbibed with yak butter. We traveled with a group of hilarious Canadians guys and a lovely French girl. Melissa and I actually waved little while hankies as they pulled off for their next stop. They will be sorely missed, but I have the most wonderful memories of us horseback riding through Tibetan mountain villages, playing with a new born lamb (I have never seen Melissa’s mothering instinct kick in until now) and being blessed by Tibetan monks. Oh and meeting a living buddha. Because how many people in the world can say that??
Tonight finds me on the docks of Chongqing. After a minor scare aboard what appeared to be the steerage class of a cargo ship, we are finally aboard the right ship bound for the Yangtze river on a cruise for the famed Three Gorges. I wish I could show you a shot of our room right now with Stevie Wonder streaming in through the PA system. I was a bit concerned about the floods which hit the area about a week ago, however things as of today are back to normal. Praise God it has air con. They don’t call Chongqing one of China’s three furnaces for nuthin’.