Friday 14 Jul
A day we want to forget.
We've been pretty quiet on the blogging front for a couple of weeks, mainly because finding working internet cafes outside the big cities is a pain in the arse in China, and because we've had a mixed time of it since leaving Chengdu. Our experiences culminating in a scramble across landslides two days ago, caused by the torrential rains that hit the village of Jinkeng in Southern China where we were staying.
I wasn't sure about writing about this as I don't want to worry people unnecessarily and my feelings about it are still raw, but it was my turn to update the blog so here we are.
Jinkeng is in the Guangxi province of Southern China and is famous for its rice terraces. We spent a couple of pleasant days walking the trails and soaking up the views. It's a beautiful place (see photos), it was only when we tried to leave that we got in to trouble.
It had rained heavily the past two nights and we were told there was no bus leaving the village because of a landslide on the road that had happened yesterday. The locals didn't seem overly concerned and drove us to see the landslide. It didn't look bad, and a few people were happily walking across. Rather than be stuck in Jinkeng for a few days we decided to grab our packs and walk across, thinking we could pick up the bus on the other side from the next village along. Our hotel owner said it would be a two hour walk to the next village but we needed to meet Rob's mum in Ho Chi Minh in two weeks time and we didn't want to be left stranded in Jinkeng.
The mud was ankle deep and the crossing was a little tricky because of the weight of our packs but we made it across with minimal effort and set off down the road. It never occurred to us that this was just the start and there would be more landslides further down the road. In the end it took us nearly 5 hours to walk 12 kilometres downhill to the next village. We crossed under and over about 15 landslides in all, negotiated uprooted trees and fallen down power cables. It is the most terrifying and dangerous situation I've ever been in.
I can only really remember three landslides. The first big one because I nearly lost Rob, the second because we had to climb under a massive waterfall that had taken out the road completely, and the last landslide because Rob nearly lost me. The rest are a blur.
I was ready to turn back at the first big landslide we came too , but we were encouraged on by the sight of the Dutch couple we'd set out with on the other side, and a dozen local people who were happily climbing over. At one point Rob climbed off a pile of mud and uprooted trees and stepped on what he thought was the road but was actually a deep pool of mud and stones. With a 20kg pack on his back I saw him immediately disappear up to his waist. Luckily he was hauled out by a local guy otherwise, well, I don't want to think about it.
Our mistake was to set off in the first place but we got to a point where we couldn't turn back and had to wade through mud up to our hips carrying our full rucksacks. The last one was still moving about and we were incredibly lucky not to have been buried alive or swept into the torrent of a river 30 metres below us. It was horrendous. Crossing that last landslide went against every instinct I had, but the local people we were with were our lifeline, they'd seen this before and they dragged us out when we needed help and kept us going. To turn back on our own over the previous landslides would have been too risky. We had no choice.
We went through bare foot (our boots would have been more of a hindrance). It was a real effort to block out the pain from the rocks digging in to our feet and keep ourselves going. Half way across I got stuck, weighed down by my pack. Rob was struggling to make it across himself. I was stranded waist deep in rocks and mud physically unable to move my legs, watching the ground fall away from under me in to the river. It was terrifying. Fortunately, a couple of local people dragged me out.
We finally made it to the bus exhausted looking like something out of Jurassic Park, or some disaster movie. The woman who had helped drag me out of the last landslide said in English, 'How are you?' 'I've been better' I replied. She didn't understand but got the gist, took hold of my hand, tapped her heart and breathed a sigh of relief. We'd all made it. When we arrived in Longsheng we showered and immediately got on a bus to Yangshou, 4 hours away. I think we were still in shock.
By some miracle we managed to get away with a few cuts and bruises to our legs and feet. I didn't even feel relieved, just numb. That evening we licked our wounds, played some Back Gammon and went to bed early. There's something nostalgically reassuring about Savlon. The following afternoon we went sight seeing on the Li River. I think we were on auto pilot. The scenery was spectacular but our hearts weren't in it. We decided to cut our time in China short and leave for Vietnam in the morning.
Over breakfast we heard some commotion in the street, we looked outside to see clouds of black smoke billowing in to the sky. A hotel had caught fire in the street in front of ours. It was definitely time to leave China.
We arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam yesterday and have spent two days hauled up in our air conditioned room watching cable TV. We're beginning to feel a bit better about things. Our aches and pains have all but gone, and it's amazing what a couple of beers and a good cry will do. Tomorrow we get on a boat cruise around Halong Bay. After our experiences of the past few days we're in need of a bit of luxury.