Tuesday, February 10: At Cato’s Inn in Shaxi, we have our breakfast at the hotel’s detached cafe down the lane. Afterwards, I print out some of my confirmations for my Myanmar flights and hotels, because I never had time to do it before I left Nanning. Luckily, Cato’s Inn has a laid-back vibe, and Nancy and Cato are happy to accommodate me. It’s something that’s been worrying me, so I’m glad to get it done so I can relax.
We don’t get underway until 10:45 a.m. to head to Dali. Cato carries our bags to the bus station on a bicycle cart. The 45-minute bus ride to Jianchuan is just as winding and bumpy as it was two days ago, but luckily Alex is busily engaged with some of the Chinese passengers and somehow avoids getting motion sickness. An 18-year-old young man tells us, in decent English, of his dream to study in the U.S. and build robots with his hands. He’s waiting for offers from U.S. colleges. He’s from Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, and, like Alex, is traveling with his mother.
Another Chinese young man also chats with Alex about school, getting a driver’s license, the drinking and smoking age in the U.S. and other things young people are concerned about.
At noon in Jianchuan, we get on the bus (36 yuan each). The driver tells us we’ll arrive in Dali at 2:00, but we don’t get on the expressway until 12:40 and the driver is poking along at a very slow 60-80 km/hour. It’s 126 km to Dali, so we won’t get there at 2:00.
During our drive I start getting phone calls from our hotel in Dali wondering when we will arrive. The young lady on the phone tells us it will be difficult to find our hotel, so they want to meet us when the bus arrives. There is some confusion as to where the bus will stop, but I hand my phone to the bus driver to sort it out. When we get off the bus, a girl and her mother are waiting in the parking lot to drive us to our hotel, Dali Mountain Delights. It turns out the hotel is outside of the old town, and I’m a little disappointed as I usually try to book hotels right in the thick of things. Luckily, it’s not a long walk to Dali’s Old Town.
At the hotel, the girl introduces us to her new puppy, a Border Collie named Dali. She’s thrilled to have Alex meet the dog, and Alex tells her about our Border Collie, Bailey, who died last summer. After we put our things into our room, we head out to grab a late lunch in Dali.
We head into town through the Cangshan Gate and follow the directions to the food street.
Dali is considered by many to be a haven for cool Chinese tourists and foreign backpackers; Lonely Planet China calls it “China’s closest approximation to bohemia.” The town is only about four square kilometers, much of which is contained within the remains of its Ming-dynasty walls.
We head for the Western food street, and grab a seat outside at the Yunnan Cafe Bar.
I have a delicious baked potato stuffed with mushrooms, garlic and cheese, and Alex and I share a bunch of French fries. After this filling lunch, I’m all potatoed out.
We take a walk through the streets, where we notice the green domes of a mosque, unusual in China.
All through Lijiang, and now here in Dali, there are music stores selling drums, miniature guitars and CDs that look like old 45s. In all of the stores, there is a mellow local Lijiang song playing; I don’t think the song has an English name and of course I don’t know the Chinese name. However, I love the song, and soon have it playing inside my head.
There seem to be a lot of fruit juice stands in Dali, and Alex stops to have some fresh pomegranate juice made by this man. I have him make me a bottle too. It’s wonderfully refreshing.
Of course the locals are out with their vegetables for sale.
Later, Alex stops for another fruit juice, this time a pomegranate and kiwi juice that he doesn’t find nearly as tasty as the plain pomegranate juice.
We continue to walk around the streets until we come to a foot massage place we’d seen earlier. Alex has never had a foot massage in his life, and I am ready to be pampered a bit after all our travels. We go inside and soak our feet only to realize shortly that our two masseuses are deaf and dumb. One of them is really friendly and smiley. My lively masseuse notices the red scrape on my calf from my bicycle accident. He points at the scrape and then holds up 10 fingers; one by one, he folds them into his palm. Then he motions as if to wipe away the scrape. He does this several times and we laugh, knowing he’s right. Though the scrape looks bad now, it will be gone in 10 days.
He calls it correctly, as the scrape does in fact vanish 10 days after my accident.
After our foot massages, we go back to the hotel to relax for a bit. Since we ate a late lunch, neither of us is hungry. When we go back into town, we decide we’ll look for a place we saw earlier that serves fresh mango desserts. We walk up and down the street looking for the place, but we miss it on our first pass through. We walk all the way to the end and then turn around to retrace our steps. It turns out we find it not far from where we ate lunch and had our foot massages. In this cozy place, we eat fresh mango with ice cream and tapioca balls. Delicious!