Dadugang to Mengyang (and Jinghong)

30 miles – 10.30.2010

We had a very short day planned today, and a long descent from Dadugang on a wonderful recently re-surfaced road knocked out almost half of the distance to Mengyang with no effort whatsoever. So when we started to see signs for ‘Wild Elephant Valley’ at lunch time we didn’t even need to discuss whether we should stop and take a look.

We first attempted to enter the park by the south gate, passing through a barrage of tour buses in the parking lot. We asked the lady at the ticket counter if there were really elephants and the best she could inform us was that after a 3 km hike we would get to see an elephant show. This sounded less appealing than a “wild elephant valley” so we decided to save the money and not go in.

While climbing the exceedingly steep exit driveway, a loud trumpeting noise stopped us in our tracks. Doubling back on ourselves, we took a smaller path that led in the opposite direction of the gate and discovered a number of solid-looking animal cages and one unhappy looking elephant. Despite the guard in the distance making a half-hearted attempt to tell us to go away, we went in further to have a look.

Our first elephant was still rather small (maybe 7 foot?) and in a cage maybe twice his size. He watched us longingly, reaching out with his trunk through his bars (there were two sets of bars so we were a good 6 feet away still). A pile of bamboo food nearby and some pity inspired Alison to choose a good size branch to offer the elephant. He deftly grasped the branch from Alison with his trunk and ate it with some relish. We left the park, feeling some disappointment in Chinese “wild elephants.”

Shortly down the road we came to another much larger entrance to the same park. Feeling more optimistic by this entrance (it looked to be a small zoo inside), we paid the fee and entered. After some initial small enclosures for monkeys and snakes, we found a large walkway over a huge section of forest apparently reserved for rescued wild elephants. The size of the area allowed the elephants to remain hidden, but we did see signs of their existence in footprints and lots of poo. We were disappointed not to have seen a happier elephant, but felt better that there was indeed a nice place for them. Perhaps the happiest elephants are the ones that don’t have to put up with humans. We again decided to give the elephant show a miss.

The countryside grows more tropical with every mile. Fields bounding the valley roads are planted densely with bananas, papayas and mangoes, while tea and now also coffee predominate in the hills. Alison was excited to see signs along the road advertising coffee for sale – but they are only selling the fresh beans so far, and drinking coffee does not yet seem to be part of the local culture. The prospect of going into one of these rundown roadside eateries and having the option of coffee instead of watery green tea is exciting.

Mengyang is not a very nice little town, but the hotel we found is pretty good. We found a gecko in our bathroom, which became alarmed and shed its tail when Matthew tried to catch it. Alison had never seen this before and found it rather traumatizing; the way the tail continues to twitch on its own is rather disturbing even if it is a natural defense mechanism and will grow back shortly. It was eventually gently caught and removed, tailless, to a local tree where we hope it is very happy.

Jinghong (by bus) – 10.31.2010

Instead of taking what appears on the map to be a detour to Jinghong, the capital of Xishuangbanna, we decided to stay another night in Mengyang and take a day trip to Jinghong on the bus. It was a good idea, and a nice change of pace. I visited Jinghong in 2001, but heavy development has rendered it virtually unrecognisable. It still has many nice parks, lots of greenery and a fairly relaxed feel, so it was a good place to spend a sunny day and an opportunity to stock up on spare bicycle parts.

My front wheel seems to really enjoy going flat, and we were actually worried about running out of patches, let alone spare inner tubes. Although China has a reputation for having a lot of bicycles, this region is mostly too hilly for them to be practical. Most of the locals have traded theirs in for motorbikes, and bicycle shops are very rare. Unlike almost all of the places we have visited so far, Jinghong is a fairly established base for foreign travellers, and caters to their needs pretty well. Drinking a gin and tonic and reading a book on the shady terrace of the Banna cafe was very pleasant. We didn’t see many other obviously foreign travelers though. Since leaving Kunming over 2 weeks ago we have seen five (four of which were spotted today in Jinghong). No wonder people stare.

Jinghong (and most of China usually) had no signs of the Halloween holiday. However, the cafe Banna owner asked us for advice on decorations for a party she’ll be having tomorrow night. We helped out as much as we could (google and hand drawn pictures).

Currently we’re having some technical difficulties with the internet here and are sadly unable to upload pictures from this leg of the trip. Hopefully we’ll find internet in the not too distant future and can remedy that. For now, just the Maps and Statistics pages have been updated.

Also, at this point we’re only 120 miles from Laos so we will be crossing the border fairly shortly. We hope to be in Laos by November 5th which would make it only 4 days later than expected.

~ by Elephants on October 31, 2010.

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