Who knows how it happened, out of nowhere, Tibetan Buddhism has instilled some self-respect into Alex’s life and he has done it; at last, the beard has been shaved. Now with only stubble remaining, the wise man said:
“I’m not gonna lie, the vain part of me is pretty happy!”
Having never seen him without a beard before, I have to say I agree…!
We continued our way downriver today, and though we had a few more ups and bumps, enjoyed a similar experience to yesterday. Realising the map had underestimated the distance by around 50km, we stopped for a reaffirming food break and tried out ‘mixed noodles’. Once we had finished our food, we were joined in the restaurant by a group of happy farmers who stared chatting to us having offered what seems to be the obligatory friendship cigarette. In a startling flash typical of the Chinese we had met so far, they had finished eating their meal before we had begun digesting ours and insisted on paying for ours, in exchange for which they took lots of photos!
Other than experiencing a few deadly tunnels: no lights for over two kilometres and crazy drivers, we made good progress down the valley and landed in kumquat harvesting paradise. Approximately 40 times cheaper than in Cambridge market due to their sudden incredible abundance in every field, we stocked up for a couple of days out of sheer excitement!
The further we descended in the valley, the further out of Zunza, or Tibetan, territory we went, and every village became more and more town-like, less and less pretty and more and more full of ghost apartment blocks. In the end we made it to Zhouqu, scene of disastrous floods killing thousands of inhabitants in 2010. It drizzled while we were there and were shocked to see there were no drains in the streets and the roads were filled with water surprisingly quickly… Lesson learnt?
We went in search of wifi following dinner and were kindly invited to a man’s flat which he inhabited over his favourite Internet café with his wife, young son and mother. The welcome was heartwarming as we were given Chinese wine, boiled chicken and tasty dumplings! The man walked us back to the hotel we had found earlier (once again costing no more than a coffee in Costa), we showered and headed to the night market!
Once at the hidden terminus of said market, a charming young woman, newly married and proudly pregnant with a panda outfit to show it, started chatting to us in English! She and her husband owned a fry up stop in the night market along with a little coffee shop. Already full of dumplings, we were only tempted by some tasty bean curd, milk tea and coffee, but had great fun chatting to her and other locals who most generously gave us a tour of the town’s rollerblade disco!