| We woke up around 7 am,
got dressed, and hustled downstairs to the cafe for breakfast. Plenty of
choices this morning: two kinds of jook (plain or with vegetables), two kinds
of watery scrambled eggs (plain, or with vegetables), assorted cooked vegetables,
some sausages and sliced meats, chow mein, assorted bau, sesame beng, a table
of salted or pickled vegetables, some cereals, toast, jam, coffee, tea and
juice. Both the juice and the coffee were extremely watered down. We had
brought our own coffee and a single-cup brew filter, so we asked the waitress
for a pot of hot water to make our own steaming cups of very rich Peet's
Our tour guide popped in to say hello and reminded us that we were to leave
for the Black Valley at 8 am. We finished eating and met Mr. Shen in the
lobby. It was 8:30 am when we finally started out for Black Valley.
The drive out to the countryside from Chongqing was mostly uneventful. Paying
attention to traffic was a stressful experience -- what with pedestrians,
ped-carts, bikes, motorcycles, tricycles, cars, vans, buses and big trucks
all mixing it up freestyle. Despite the prosperity evidenced by the well-stocked
shops doing business in a wide range of goods, it appears that human labor
is still a considerable source of capital here, as plenty of folks were carrying
large quantities of goods in sacks affixed to bamboo poles -- a chinese backpack!
Day laborers stood at street corners with bamboo poles waiting for work.
One old lady obviously appreciated the help as she puttered down the sidewalk
followed by a porter carrying a large TV with his bamboo stick and another
carrying the TV stand following a short distance behind.
There seemed to be a lot of deconstruction of old buildings and construction
of new buildings going on, though only a fraction of the work sites seemed
to be active -- perhaps two thirds were either abandoned or simply shut down
today. Road work by small teams of one to ten men was also common. As with
the porters, the majority of the work was being done by hand: chiseling stone
to fill a pot hole, for example, or digging drainage ditches. One obvious
consequence of the road work was to increase congestion; and, as the common
practice here seemed to be to toot the horn for pretty much any reason, the
noise level was commensurately high.
Outside the city, we could see that the land use was pretty intense, with
practically every small flat plot (even accidental patches of soil by the
roadside) being used to raise one sort of greenery or another. We also saw
plenty of catch ponds being used to raise fish (they were covered over with
bird netting to keep out the predators).
As we drove along, the weather alternated between a slow rain, a light drizzle,
and a dreary grey fog. At best, visibility was only a mile or two, and most
of the time it was less than a quarter of a mile. It definitely limited the
After three hours we had left the cities and villages behind, and we were
driving through the hills, climbing higher and higher on roads that were
scarcely more than a lane-and-a-half wide with an occasional yellow stripe
to demarcate the median line. Now and then the driver would stop and verify
that we were following the right road, though more often than not, the folks
he checked with didn't seem to know. Mr. Shen consulted with Mom & Pop,
and it was decided that it was time for lunch, so he began looking for a
likely spot. We continued our climb into the hills and soon thereafter, the
driver pulled into a one-lane dirt side road marked by a small advertisement
- the "Peach Garden Bed & Breakfast". A wrong turn led us to a house
under construction, but a precision five-point turn by the driver kept us
out of the ditch and got the van back on track. We followed the road another
500 meters uphill and around the bend and, lo-and-behold, a newly built two-story
B&B rose before us.
Mr. Shen hopped out to negotiate a lunch deal with the proprietor, a "retired"
executive from China Telecom. A few minutes of quick negotiation ensued and
then Mr. Shen waved us out of the van. As no one was presently staying at
the B&B (aside from the staff), there was a long wait while lunch was
prepared. We entertained ourselves by walking about the farm and checking
out the sights. The farm stretched over about 10 acres. A man-made pond sat
behind the building. Flocks of chicken squawked and chased invisible bugs
around the fields. We walked along the pond and around the various rows of
vegetation. There were some vegetables that none of us had seen before. Mom
helped a bit with choosing and preparing some of the greens, as did our driver.
The weather chilled us as it alternated between scattered showers and drippy
mountain mists. It was an hour before the meal was ready, but the freshly
prepared feast was well worth waiting for! The vegetables were prepared simply
to bring out the incredible freshness and flavor of the greens. The meat
dishes consisted mostly of cured meat such as fatty bacon and pork rinds,
which tasted better than they sound. There was also fresh squash stew and
mashed potatoes prepared similar to American mashed potatoes.
After the meal, Mr. Shen paid the proprietor and we continued our trek to
Black Valley. Mr. Shen kept mentioning that the tourist site was so new that
we would be the first foreigners to set foot on its soil. We knew he was
exaggerating, but it did raise our excitement level (and as we found out
later on, the site had only opened to foreign visitors earlier this year).
We were closer to Black Valley than we had thought -- it only took another
half an hour before we reached the entrance!
After hopping out of our van in the huge empty parking lot, we bought entrance
tickets at a kiosk and then boarded an electric tram to take us deeper into
the valley. The tram ran down the valley for a mile or so and then dropped
us off at the beginning of the foot trail. The weather was still drippy,
but the mists enveloping the mountains added an element of mystique to the
scenery. Stately mountain walls reaching up to several hundred feet high
flanked both side of the rushing stream, the gorge narrow enough in some
places to close off our view of the sky. Walking on wooden bridges, which
swayed just a couple of feet above the stream, we were humbled by the mountain's
At different points along the path, we would run into workers carrying various
materials for trail-building. The most striking point about these workers
is that most of the men wore western-styled suits and dress shoes! It was
a bit dressed up for manual labor where some of them were crouching in the
ditches working in the mud. Most of the workers were men, but there were
some women carrying long steel poles that must have weighed heavily on their
shoulders. Like the men, their dress was stylish and modern. Mr. Shen told
us that they get paid $3 for each pole they carry along the trail. Considering
that the trail was at least 5 miles long, it was very hard work for very
little pay. Most workers stopped to gawk with open mouths at Randy when he
passed. From the looks of wonder on their faces, it might seem that Mr. Shen's
exaggeration was not too far-fetched. If we weren't the first westerners
to pass by, we were probably the first tie-dyed hippie freaks (well at least
Randy - Mom & Pop were not tie-dyed hippie freaks for this trip)!
Our trek through the valley took us 2-1/2 hours. Mom & Pop told us that
they had been "conditioning" for this trip by walking for three hours every
morning (we had warned them that we wanted to do lots of hiking on the trip).
This trek was a bit more difficult because the trail went up and down, but
considering that Mom was in her mid-sixties and Pop was over seventy, their
stamina was simply amazing!
The end of the trail brought us to a gondola stop which took us high over
the hills, saving us from countless drudging steps up the steep path to the
top of the mountain. While we had been hiking, our driver had driven around
the mountain from the drop-off lot to the pick-up lot, huzzah! Back in the
van again, it was not long before we all dozed off (except for the driver,
that is). We arrived back in Chongqing about three hours later. It was a
good thing that we decided to blow off the Stone Forest today!
Back at the hotel, we went straight from the van to dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Dinner was an eight-course meal. We thought the food would not stop coming.
While we were certainly hungry, none of us were so ravenous as to even finish
half of the dishes. After dinner, we all waddled back to our rooms for a
night of well-deserved rest!