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Where are we anyway?

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We see a Tibetan temple, a totem pole, monks with cowboy hats, and cows with long fur. Where are we anyway? I thought we went to China.

We are in Maoniuping, which in Chinese literally means: Hairy Cow Flat, you know, Yak Meadow.

At the suggestion of a tour guide in Yangshuo we went on both cable cars to a mountain near Lijiang. If you go, you must go on both. Do not miss either.

The cable car to Yak Meadow was grand. At the top it drops you (figuratively not literally) at a wooden platform and you walk a circle of what seems like 10 miles. We had to keep stopping because of the thin air. It may have been only about a mile or so. This is also where there is a Tibetan temple with prayer wheels and flags. The fragrance of incense is heavy as we pass the temple.

After the walk we had a nice talk with a Tibetan woman of 65 who didn't speak a word of English. So in Chinese we told her we'd like to live here with her and enjoy the view. She told us we picked a good day and that most months have strong winds and heavy snow. She gestured how high the snow gets. If you lived here, she told us, you wouldn't like the other months. Yeah, she's right, we picked a perfect day.

Afterwared we took the cable car down to the bus. On the way back we stopped at green, cascading waterfalls. This area is phenomenal. There is sun, mountains, waterfalls, vivid colors, and, of course, yaks.

If you visit this area I would not recommend going it alone unless you know some Chinese. Go with a tour group. We just barely squeaked by. There were many times when we didn't have a clue about where we were going or how much we should pay or of even what we were paying for. Sometimes we got on a bus without really knowing for sure it was the one we wanted. But in the end we never made any mistakes and we got to see everything we wanted. Well, there was this one time that I got into a little trouble.

I negotiated pictures of Ruth and myself using my own camera. I made sure that the price I was willing to pay was a total price for the two of us. I did all of this in Chinese. All went well. Two people for just 40 yuan, not each but both of us, right? Yes, two people for this price. Ruth got on the yak and then I climbed on. Suddenly people were yelling at me and gesturing me to get off the yak. But the yak had started to move off into the water away from the launch point. The yak faltered, then stumbled back to the edge and a woman grabbed my arm and yanked me off. I had the mistaken impression that the price meant that we'd be on the same animal, but in fact they prepared another yak for me. Oh, okay, so I get it, two people, two yaks. Why didn't you say so? In the end I apologized and told them I was sorry and I didn't know there would be two. A man made body gestures of the yak collapsing from our combined weight. We all laughed together about the silly foreigner who thought a yak could carry two people.

We met our driver back at the bus stop and we showed her all our receipts from all the stuff we had done. It' had been about four hours since we last saw her. She waited in her van knitting and sleeping. She asked if we had seen the "da" something. Big something? Ah, well, not sure. We must have missed something big. What was it? It was only after handing over more cash and getting in the gondola line that we understood just how big this big thing we missed was.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (or just Snow Mountain) has the all time best views I've ever seen of a snow capped mountain close up. The weather was absolutely perfect for photos. But just to give you an idea of the size of this thing, the length of the cable is 1.8 miles! The six person gondolas take you on a ride that has a vertical rise of 3,373 feet. The mountain is 14,783 feet high. (Ruth bought an oxygen bottle.) The cable hardware and gondolas were imported from Italy. It is capable of moving 4,020 people an hour up and down the mountain. We looked down on the birds landing in the trees below. After a walk around the top we had coffee in the cafe and watched the gondolas descend the mountain.

We were so glad we'd taken the advice of the tour guide we met in Yangshuo. Take both she said. Both rides are truly fantastic.

We were exhausted by 5:00 p.m. when all the rides were finished and we'd walked over three miles of trails. We hadn't really eaten a good breakfast because we left so early. Lunch was just crackers and water. We were spent.

We drifted in and out of naps on the way back. I do know that our driver was blazing down the mountain. She was passing all the cars, trucks, and buses. Just out of the park's gate stood a very serious policeman waving her over. I didn't understand everything they said or, I should say, I understood mostly nothing. But I did hear 60 kilometers and license card. She gave them to him and sounded apologetic. He looked firm and unbending. Then he looked to the back of the van and saw me. Ruth was sitting in the middle seat but when he saw me I heard him say something about having foreigners in her car and she could go. I think I was the "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

Our driver dropped us off at Gucheng (old town) and we paid our 200 yuan ($28) for the day. We were so grateful to her. She made sure we were standing in the right line and moved us from this place to that.

"Ganxie ni zhaogu women." (Thanks for taking good care of us.) I don't know if I said it right but she smiled wide and graciously said it was nothing.

We slept soundly.

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. - Lao Tzu

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