Sunday, February 8: After lunch, we borrow some bicycles from our hotel and head 8 km out-of-town in search of Bailong Tan, or White Dragon Pool. This pool is formed by a clear underground spring and is believed to be sacred to the local Bai people. It supplies drinking water to the villages in the Shaxi Valley.
We have a map in hand from the hotel, and Nancy has pointed us in the direction we need to go. After a couple of wrong turns and a bit of a long haul getting out of the town limits, we’re riding south in rolling countryside, with terraced hills and farmland in every shade of green and brown. We ride mostly downhill through this picturesque countryside, passing through a few small villages, and I’m thinking that returning to Shaxi is going to be a grueling gradual uphill climb.
In one of the villages, a mass of people have just been released from school or work. Groups of older men, as well as teenage boys and girls, are on the move in the streets. Some of the teenage boys in the village say something to us and start chasing after us. I feel a little vulnerable here away from the tourist town of Shaxi, but at least Alex is with me. We pick up our pace and soon outride the mischief-makers. For some reason, this makes me feel a little uneasy.
Nancy has told us when we get to the bridge, we need to cross over it and head uphill to find White Dragon Pool. We’ve been on the same road for the whole ride, but at the bridge we turn left and cross over. It isn’t long before we have to get off our bikes and walk up the hill, as the incline is so steep. I’m such a wimpy bicyclist. 🙂
As we walk up the curving road along the edge of the hill, we look back over the countryside through which we just rode.
Terraces are carved into the surrounding hillsides, making them look highly manicured.
Near the top of the hill is a big stone carved with Chinese calligraphy. The sign sits in the middle of a fork in the road; one of the forks heads north to Shaxi (the road we just rode south on), and the other fork goes further up the mountain to our left, heading north on the opposite side of the valley. Chinese people are posing for selfies and pictures of each other in front of the sign, so we figure it must be important, possibly the sign to White Dragon Pool. We take the fork further up the mountain.
At one point we see another stone carved in calligraphy, but the little road leading up the mountain to the right of this stone is just a gravel track and doesn’t look like it could be anything as important as the White Dragon Pool. We pass it by, thinking we still must have a way to go.
We’re now riding north and we can see the valley below us to our left, along with the villages we just passed through. We have some fabulous views of the mountains, the valley with its tan, brown and green farmland, some of which is terraced.
Even though it’s breezy and cool, a glorious day all around, Alex and I have worked up a sweat bicycling, so we keep peeling off layers. We end up rolling up our jeans to cool off.
It’s a fabulous ride. The road is perfect for bicycling, smooth and newly paved, and it rises and falls gently, making for some easy downhill cruising with enough momentum to get up the next hill easily. We have so much fun!
After a while, we start to wonder if maybe we’ve gone too far. Quite a distance to the north, we see a man walking along the road. We show him our map, asking about White Dragon Pool. He points us in the direction from which we just came. So we turn around and head back. I tell Alex I bet it was that stone sign we saw along the way.
Here’s the view of the road back over the route we just rode.
Finally we come to the stone sign. We ride up the steep gravely road to the right, where we park our bikes beside a little canal (much like an Omani falaj) and a ploughed field.
I have to say this doesn’t look like a famous place. It looks like a place out in the middle of the boondocks.
Alex decides he’ll run ahead and see if there is a pool. He runs along the canal for some distance. When he returns, he says he didn’t see anything; he thinks we should just walk along the canal. Where there is water, there must be a source.
In this picture below, where Alex is running back to meet me, notice the tree and the briar patch on the left, between the canal walkway and the steep road downhill. When we leave this place, little do I know that I will have a little accident in this briar patch. 🙂
We leave our bikes and walk along the canal, finally coming to this little pool. It seems neglected and overgrown, and certainly not what we expected. A dirty, grumpy-looking old man is picking up branches, but he interrupts his chore and walks boldly up to us, circling around us as if we’re some kind of enemy combatants. We don’t know what he wants, or who he is, but he certainly doesn’t seem to like the look of us! He is giving us the evil eye big time.
Alex, being the fitness nut he is, feels compelled to climb on the branches of a big tree overhanging the pool. Suddenly, the old man, who has been following us at a safe distance, starts waving his arms and yelling something at Alex in Chinese.
Alex tells the man we’re descended from monkeys and are meant to climb. Of course the old man can’t understand a word of English. Alex is upset that this man, who does not seem to be working here in any official capacity, has appointed himself as the guardian of this place. He has been nothing but unfriendly and threatening to us the whole time. Not that of course he could physically do anything to us.
Here’s a picture of the little old man who has made it his business to harass us. You can’t see him very well. Maybe it’s for the best. He’s a very unpleasant character.
Before leaving, I walk down a little path along another branch of the canal. There really isn’t much to see, so I turn around and we go back to our bikes.
We are decidedly unimpressed by this place. We head back to our bicycles and Alex does one parting handstand before we leave.
Alex gets on his bicycle and immediately heads down the steep hill. Lagging behind, I also get on my bicycle. Rather, I attempt to get on. I’m straddling the bike at the top of the hill and wondering if maybe I should walk it down. The hill looks awfully steep. I feel a little unsteady, but I lift my feet from the ground and put them on the pedals.
Immediately, I lose my balance, and fall face down into the briar patch. This happens in a split second. I don’t even have time to break my fall. I yell out something I won’t repeat here. I’m lucky I didn’t poke an eye out, with all those brambles and branches poking in every direction! I holler to Alex who comes back up the hill and helps pull me out of the briars, which are sticking to me all over the place. I look down and see I have a nasty scrape on my right calf. Yikes. I can tell that’s going to hurt.
I’m pretty shaken by that tumble, but I dust myself off, walk my bicycle down the hill and get back on. We see a little shop near the entrance to the pond; we stop here to buy some water, so I can wash off my scrape. Then I guzzle down some of the water. We hop back on the bikes and continue back down to the fork, and then back toward Shaxi by way of the road in the valley.
There’s a pretty little rounded bridge that we stop to take pictures of.
Finally, we head back down the road through the farmland and villages and back to Shaxi. As I thought, it’s more difficult going back as it’s almost all uphill. As we’re riding, my scrape is beginning to burn.
Back at our hotel, we turn in our bikes to Nancy and Cato. I show Nancy my nasty scrape, and Cato immediately goes to check out the bike; I suppose he’s thinking I may have damaged it. Nancy thinks I should see a doctor, but I’ve had plenty of scrapes such as these in my life. I know that as long as I keep it clean and wait, it will heal. Luckily, Nancy has some rubbing alcohol and some bandages. Back in our room, I wash the scrape thoroughly and put on the bandages.
After a bit of a rest, we head out to the main square, where we see the old stage again in the waning light.
We pick one of the restaurants on the perimeter of the square, the Old Tree Cafe, where I order eggs with tomatoes and Alex orders pork dumplings. I have a Carlsberg beer, while Alex gets a fruit juice.
After dinner, we head back to our hotel. We’re both exhausted from our day of travel and our long bike ride.
Tomorrow, we’ll explore more of the town and Shibao Shan, or Stone Treasure Mountain.