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Yuanyang Xinjiezhen, China

Rice Terraces

overcast 64 °F

Our bus ride to Xinjie (新街镇)was awesome! We continually stopped to add more people onto the bus, and with them came an assortment of interesting objects from 25 pound bags of old juicy onions to bundles of handmade brooms. Every time someone wanted to get on or off, they had to literally climb over the stacked up objects that filled the isle. There were only seats for 15 people but there was always room for people to sit on the juicy onions or stand on the door steps. It was a ruthless battle to obtain a seat; one old lady seemed to pretend to throw up out of the window to try to hang on to her window seat, but the boss man still yelled at her to move. There were multiple checkpoints with Chinese officers boarding the bus and checking IDs. One of these checkpoints consisted of a woman guard yelling furiously for 5 straight minutes at the guy sitting in front of us. It was quite the drama and we can thank the bus for entertaining us for the six hour bus ride with never a dull moment. At one of the pit stops we learned from the locals how to snack on dried tamarind. It looks like some kind of alien egg sack but tastes pleasantly like a sour version of fruit roll ups:

The highlight of the bus ride was when Kevin dangled out of the window to buy 5 oranges from a lady on the mountain side for 10 Yuan (~1.5 usd), but everyone laughed when she came running back to the bus with a 5 kilogram big bag of oranges! Luckily, the oranges were the delicious kind with the easy peal!

The city of Xinjie sits at about 1500 meters elevation and is a UNESCO World Heritage Sites site because of the amazing rice fields that were hand carved into the mountains by the Hani people. The lowest terraced paddies lay at 144m elevation and the highest at 2,939 meters. We stayed at the ‘Chen Family Hotel’ near the Bus Depot. It had awesome rooms with a view for the same price as all the dumpy hotels lower down near the square. It even had a comfy deck for a chilly morning breakfast, or a night cap :-) We met some Chinese tourists on the street who were also curious about what was going on with the street side tofu grills that were scattered around town. They joined us in the adventure of our first time eating “stinky tofu”… imagine eating ‘stinky cheese’ when you thought you were going to bite into mild cheddar.

We saw a flyer for a café called ‘Window of Yuanyang’ that promoted hill tribe handicrafts and employed hill tribe women so they could learn English. The café also boasted free Wifi and offered help to arrange a driver to take us around the rice fields. We lucked out by scoring a super nice guide and after chatting awhile, one of the ladies ended up sewing Kevin’s ripped pants back together!

Our trip out to the rice fields was super fun….our driver avoided all of the built up tourist attractions (that charge $10 to take pictures, wtf!?) and took us to the local spots for exploring and taking pictures. We did a loop heading first towards Laohuzui then towards Duoyishu and finally Bada. We walked in and around rice fields, strolling through the tiny villages and huts. The roads were totally deserted until we bumped into what seemed like the only other group of tourists on the entire loop. We did a mini trek down the mountain together, and at one point the cameras were taking more pictures of us than of the rice fields!

We took our time walking on the edges of the pools of water. The mud was hard and stable, but slippery when wet! Imagine walking on a gymnastic balance beam… if you slipped one way, you’d fall 5 feet into the paddy below, and if you slipped into the mud closer to you, you’d probably lose your shoe when trying to step out of the thick sticky clay. We watched in awe as the fog rolled in and out of the valley, sometimes wishing it were a sunny day, but also appreciating the quietness of having the place to ourselves. We saw many stages of planting; preparing the soil with a single hoe, plastic covered baby rice nurseries, flooding the paddies by diverting rivers, and hand transplanting rice plans into prepared paddies. Watering the terraces seems sorta like a game of dominoes, just water the highest one, and the water slowly trickles down to the rest :-) We can only imagine how many pairs of hands they will need for harvest season; the fields were vast and because of the fog seemed endless.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:21 Archived in China

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