Day 4 (Thursday, July 12th)
Today we spent the majority of the day traveling. From what I can recall, we left our hotel in Beijing sometime around 1 pm, at which point we boarded the bus and ate lunch.
Arriving at the airport, we had to check our bags and go through security (which I found to be very different from what it is in the US. They have a variety of different prohibited items such as lighters), and they were very, very strict with the location of lithium-ion batteries (phone charging banks). On top of this, Chinese security opts to have full body pat-downs and searches instead of the rotational scanners which the US uses (this Chinese practices would definitely not fly here.)
We had a transfer somewhere in the Yunnan province (it was south of Shaxi and West of Kunming and about a 2 hour drive from the home base we would be at in a few days) where we essentially got off the plane, walked across the runway, and sat in a small, grocery store size airport. 20 minutes later we got back onto the same plane.
The hotel we are staying at is the nicest one yet. I am happy though that I do not have to share the room, because the wall between the shower and the beds is untinted glass. This is probably because they were the cheapest hotel rooms around (the hotel was built right on to the railroads), meaning it was our best option for our stay
Day 5 (Friday, July 13th)
Today we visited the stone forest, and to be honest it was nothing like I had expected it to be.
We had left the hotel around 9 or so in the morning, with the plan being to drive for an hour or so, stop for lunch, and then continue for another hour until we reached the stone forest. However, China has a very interesting traffic issue, where there is no such thing as “crawling traffic” outside of cities. Instead, cars come to a complete stop, and it gets to the point where people will stop their cars and step outside to socialize and take smoke breaks.
After a now three hour drive, we made it to lunch. Although the meal did not appear to be different than the previous ones, we were soon surprised when we were served local “delicacies”, namely mealworms and chinese wasps. Though I tried and did not hate them, I also did not particularly enjoy either one of them. I have also come to notice that it is common to serve meats, such as pork, on the bones which they originated from, especially when they are in bite sized portions.
The stone forest was nothing like I had originally imagined. Outcroppings of jagged stone spikes littered the horizon while small pathways and caves made up the majority of the walkways on the ground level. It was the most beautiful place I have ever had the pleasure to visit, and I do not believe that words could ever do it proper justice. Even with the humid air, rolling clouds and impending storm, it was the most tranquil place I have had the pleasure to visit.
Day 6 (Saturday, July 14th)
Today was both my birthday, as well as the day which we had planned to head to shaxi, the location of the home base for the rest of the trip.
Leaving around 7:50 am in the morning, we set out for our eight or nine hour bus ride. Because I was unable to sleep well the night before, I went between a light sleep and a groggy consciousness for the first three hours. After that, I read until we arrived at lunch.
After that, we had spent the next two hours solving and participating in riddles such as black magic and cows. Although I had figured out cows pretty fast, it took me at least an hour to solve black magic because of how deadset I was on figuring it out by myself.
A few hours later, we arrived at the homestay, and I would say that it was the best one I had ever had the pleasure of staying at. Although the beds were as hard as wood (literally, there was no mattress), and the building was at least a few centuries years old (just like the rest of the town), it felt homely and open. The architecture was amazing and I could have never asked for a more authentic experience.
After dinner, I was surprised with a rather heartwarming birthday effort by the rest of the group. Though I had asked them to not make a big deal out of it, they had gone out of there way to get a cake and candles, and in that moment it meant the world to me. It was nice feeling at home while thousands of miles away from your closest family member. My only rule was that everyone had to wait to eat until each person received a piece of cake.