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Longsheng, Guangxi, China. Backpack. Good friends. Majestic mountains. Inspiration. Timeless. Perfect!
I sat in the back of a bus with 19 of my Chinese friends wondering what would await us. As I looked out the window, I realized that my home town in sunny California was far behind me, in what seemed like another world. This world that I was currently gazing upon seemed untouched by the violence of steel. The majestic mountains lay before our bumpily moving bus, marking the destination of this dirt road. When the bumps stopped and the doors opened, I grabbed by backpack and was greeted by beautifully dressed ladies with hair known for being the longest in the world all neatly wound up on their heads with an exacting elegance.
One of these ladies in her 60¡¯s was to be our trail guide. Her body looked tattered from many long years of a difficult life, but her eyes had a fire the showed her strong spirit. She led us on a 2 1/2 hour hike up a magnificent mountain with a hand woven backpack on her back filled to the brim. Her strength amazed me as she set a fast and steady pace that few were able to keep in stride with. As we hiked, I gazed upon the inspiring hills and mountains around me. They had a strange beauty that is hard to articulate. It was the beauty of creation, but this creation was a mixture of divine and human origin. The mountains stood with divinely created beauty, yet they were decorated with human hand-made terraces. Yet these terraces did not seem to scar the mountain but only highlight their majesty. I felt as if I was living out a beautiful Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. These hand-made terraces were so ancient and beautiful they could hardly be called unnatural, and the word ¡°man-made¡± does not seem to do these nearly 700 year old giants justice. The surrounding area was timeless as if it was a painting hanging in an art museum. My eye had never beheld such a place in my life. It was like a place time and trouble had forgotten. I walked those first 2 hours in an almost euphoric state, as if I had seen true beauty for the very first time.
When we arrived at our destination, a small Yao minority village, we dinned on hand made chairs and tables to a feast that was give to us in a communal bowl of boiling meats and vegetables. After some lovely conversation and homemade rice wine, we all went to sleep.
The next morning I was awoken from a lovely sleep by the call of a rooster and the morning rays of the sun that gently crested my open window. After a breakfast of rice, sweet potatoes, and some savory ¡®fei rou¡¯, we embarked on an over 8 hour hike, which was to span the peaks of three separate mountains. We were told the hike would only take 5 hours, but after hiking for 3 hours and having the same rehearsed response from our trail guide, ¡°only 5 more hours¡±, we realized that this trek would be a bit farther than we had previously thought. But all those with me made buckled down for the long haul and made the best of it. We began to joke with each other, ¡°Jia you! Wo men hai you wu ge shao shi (Let¡¯s go! We only have 5 more hours)¡±. It was the hope of our destination that kept us moving despite the fatigue that comes with three mountain peaks. Our destination was a 5 star mountain resort with a private natural hot spring which had over 10 separate pools, each of which had their own unique temperature. This hope gave us the needed inspiration to press on. Yet, despite the pain of such a long hike with a heavy backpack and camera in tow, the scenery nursed my tired legs as my eyes took in the inspiring sight of such untouched natural beauty.
Near the end of the journey we hike down a terraced field and passed through a local Yao village. On the second floor of one of these hand made beautiful houses there was a little Yao girl dressed in yellow, gazing upon me. She was barely the age of 4 and I may have been the first foreign face she has ever seen. She looked at me as if I was an alien from a distant planet and tried to hide her giggles behind her small delicate hands. This caught my attention and I stopped to return the gesture with a snap of my camera. She responded with giggle that started deep in her belly and broke past her lips with a sound that the entire village could hear. Her smile then stretched from one side of her precious face to the other. I could still hear the sounds of her laughter as I made my way thru the rest of the village. It was a beautiful memory.
We finally arrived at the resort and we able to nurse our tattered bodies in the soothing flow of hot mineral water. As I sat in the gently flowing water, outside on a cloudless night, I reflected back upon the past two days of travel. We had only hike about 9 hours that day but it had seemed as if I hike across a span of a hundreds of year. For as I laid in that mineral spring in a beautiful and elegant hotel and spa resort, I had the fresh memory of untouched mountain ranges and of giggling Yao children dancing around in my head. It felt as if I was an immortal who lived throughout the ages and experienced worlds of change and development, yet I quickly realized I was but a man, a man who was given the privilege of being in China, a place with a magical and mysterious mixture of the beauty of both the ancient and modern world.