New Year in Nu Jiang Recce Logbook


20th December 2001: The adventure begins

Erin Lynch, Claire MacElwain

Erin Lynch:

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. A case in point was our epic adventure navigating the bus-ticket purchasing apparatus in Guilin. All we wanted was 2 tickets to Kunming please. No worries, eh? When I'd gone through this before, Hils had skipped off to a travel agent and returned with the tickets in now time at all. The only problem was now I know how much we'd been overcharged--by 50Y. Echo told us that 150Y was a reasonable price, and we were on a mission...

The day before we'd scoped the scene, and our reconnaissance had revealed the bus station was selling tickets for 247, Ouch! After much badgering, complaining, and general stamping of feet, the ticket teller wrote "to bus" on a scrap and furtively slipped it into my hands. The way was clear, we'd have to buy from the driver. We arrived at the station a full 2 hours early to have more haggling time, and quickly located our bus. It was shiny with 2 aisles instead of the usual one. I had a sneaking suspicion that we'd be paying more for the "luxury" of bunks so small I couldn't even stretch out in them. I tried to buy tickets without Claire, but apparently this violated some sort of street etiquette for purchasing illegal tickets, so we bundled all of our bags aboard and the fun began.

Claire MacElwain:

"The fun began"what an understatement! After lodging our belongings on board we had a "fun" time wrangling a lower fare ride. In the end we settled (or the driver settled for us) on 170. After a bit of chit-chat, Erin knackered + all as she was, gladly fell asleep. Unfortunately before slumbering she instructed driver + co. to teach me Chinese ... great! Finally I escaped leaving Erin in a haze of smoke, surrounded by men .... a woman's dream!!

The bus was to leave @ 2:30, but the minutes ticked by ... to hour. Finally bus driver approached crap speaking chinese girl (i.e. me as Erin still flat out doing her cleopatra impersonation). Regardless of the language barrier it was soon obvious that the bus was not heading to Kunming ... no explanation give .... fucking great. So off we struggled with our belonging (backpacking can be such an arse when one has loads of shit :) )

The next scenario may be complicated for the reader .... well don't worry because those in the scenario were in a bit of a muddle. After leaving the bus (waiting on Erin) I was approached by this Chinese lad who also had been on the bus en route to Kunming. Unfortunately for us both he started up this chinglish conversation. The fact that he was speaking only of one side of his mouth whilst smoking, then swivelling cigarette from 1 side to another + knocking the ash off -- all whilst it's in his mouth; no hands required whilst trying to interact. After divine intervention (Erin) we finally understood that he was heading to the train station + I think he was implying for us to go with him.

Pretty simple huh?? Well now enter 2 dickheads -- old dickheads @ that (otherwise known as dickie touts). Anyway both working together (unfortunately with pretty good english ... god damn them) to try + sale us bus tickets to Kunming. Another "luxury" bus was leaving, in just a few hours + would cost 200 + something. F that because

  1. the lonely planet (which obviously is gospel) tells of only 1 bus going to Kunming, which very obviously was not
  2. Too bloody expensive for us skint students.

So off we marched with our chinese lad on route to the train station. Unfortunately as we hit a mainish type road -- the touts were back + were willing to give us a seat for 170 yuan. Shit what do we do now?? When did it get so bloody complex. On one hand we had expert smoking talking chinese lad insisting we go to the train station with him + not trust the smarmy 2 some. Unfortunately without even trying a "scene" occurred -- whereby everyone whether they spoke english, chinglish, chinese or not decided to have a nose. Eventually after a bit of deliberation we decided to head to the train station. Chinese lad hailed dangerous contraption (motor bike with box on back) into which we struggled to fit + headed to the train station.

On hitting the train station we met more people selling bus tickets... oh no not again ...

Erin Lynch:

They all seemed to be selling tickets for a 7:00 bus, so we began to believe that maybe such a bus actually existed. But we were determined to stick with our chain-smoker, so we went into the train station where we found another westerner in the same predicament. This guy was clearly not a battle-hardened ticket buyer. He'd been offered 200Y for a bus ticket and hadn't even argued. Now he was trying to secure a train ticket. He came back with the (mis?) information that tickets were 260Y for a sleeper and the only other option was standing. Things didn't look good for the home team. Clearly sage advice was required, so I called my guardian angel Echo with a desperate plea for clarification. On the phone she seemed so calm and collected--didn't she understand the situation called for panic + mass confusion? I asked how much we should be paying -- 150 for a bus or 180 for a train. The bar was set.

It's my feeling that forewarned is forearmed, in other words, the more you know before you join the fray at the counter, the better your chances of success. So I bought a train time table and came away knowing that the next train was in the wee hours of the night and we'd lose an extra day that way. Far from ideal, but at least it gave us plenty of time to try our luck with the bus bastards, which we did.

Claire guarded the bags while I went off to find a tout, as they'd all mysteriously evaporated once German dude started waving around his ticket. I was searching for a woman who looked like she could be easily beaten down, but instead I met the bastard from the bus station. Oh how he grated on me. After extolling the virtues of his bus he reluctantly admitted that he couldn't go blow 170 because the actual price was 160, and his company would only earn 10Y. "It's an egg--only an egg." Bullshit. I happen to know 10Y is an entire fucking chicken.

Claire MacElwain:

Whilst Erin was having fun + games with annoying dickheads, I was approached by a shady looking character... well that was on 1st appearances, however what he turned out to be was another annoying shit who kept saying errrrr after thing he said. Where are you errrrrr--going? err + so on. Another tout! Christ. With great speed he succumbed to the demand of 150Y (student price) for person + baggage.

At this point Erin arrived, + quickly heartened to hear of the bus price. So off we marched on route to this man's "office" only to be barrelled over by the other 2 touts that Erin had just been dealing with. No longer were they looking so Fing smug--unfortunately soon we were not either. They informed our tout that we had promised them that we would buy a ticket + for 170Y. Now nobody was happy. Quickly our tout showed his true colours--now we'd have to pay for our baggage. So off we headed to his "office" -- hotel lobby where the argument re: price continues. After a hr, a lecture on dishonesty, name + address taken a letter of complaint. Off we stomped (as best we could with our baggage).

So what were we to do? Dejavu! So heading to the train station -- once again -- we met this chinese looking family -- selling tickets to Kunming -- sure of course, everybody had tickets bar us -- After some bargaining we got 2 seats for 155Y -- Not bad.. Only a couple hours to wait. Hmmm -- food was what was required (all this bargaining is energy burning work). Seeing that the family -- or whatever appeared friendly + honest we decided to ask for a recommendation on where to eat. The young lad decided to show us to the recommended restaurant -- How friendly, Well what he had decided + minutes later his father ?? was to join us for our dinner + not pay. :( After much shopping initially in order to loose leech/perv ?? lad it was time for this "luxury" bus to depart. By the way Erin + I bought wedding rings which went down well. . that's another story.

So we hefted our bags up again, expecting to leave from the bus/train station as we had initially been informed ... but no ... we had to struggle for 10 minutes after the young lad to catch this bus. Later we found out that it hailed from Hunan -- 6 hours away on route to Kunming. After 20-25 mins of cold, agitated waiting it arrived. Yippee we're on our way. God I couldn't wait to fall asleep!! BEEEED--

That fantasy was soon dispelled (why had we even thought that after paying 150Y for a bed that we'd get one ... how stupid!

We could barely get on the bus it was so over bloody crowded. And a bed ... you must be joking. In the 2 man berths slept 3, in the 1 man berths slept 2 -- in the 5 slept 6->7 probably more. All that was left was a baggage filled aisle -- where people continuously clambered by -- No fucking way was I going to tolerate this. Erin kingly went + asked person in the know when a bed might become available. -- Soon -- in a few minutes I think the answer was. Well a few minutes turned into a bust bus tyre + 4 hours later. By this stage -- Erin had cunningly snuggled into bed with 2 men! whilst I had been invited to perch on a couples bed. By the time we finally reached the next stop .. I was seeing red ... feeling shit loads of pain in my hip due to ridiculously poor posture. Luckily (for everybody on the bus!) a berth became available. Ahh bed .. and there we slept in a haze of smoke + smell of piss. We had noticed earlier mothers facilitating their babies to do their business on the bus on the step.

Erin Lynch:

Claire neglected to mention that the long-awaited beds only became available after we hopped off the bus + started asking directions to the nearest hotel.

Well, it all seemed pretty routine to me, but that's 10 months in China for you. Things worth noting for the rest of the journey were

  • a mother actually held her baby out the bus window at one stop so it could piss
  • for more serious business, real-live nappies were employed -- inserted through the split pants and covered on the outside with a towel + sheet of plastic
  • the bus was able to lumber on at a reduced speed with a completely flat tyre -- thank goodness the wheels in the back are doubles.

22nd December 2001 - 25th December 2001: Boxing day

Duncan Collis, Julia Bradshaw, Anthony Day

Aeroflot are shit shit shit shit and total utter shit. Plane was delayed for an hour at Heathrow, which meant we got to Moscow about 10 minutes before the HK flight. Went to the transfer desk, after hearing that the HK flight was delayed. Hurrah, we thought, we'll be able to catch our plane ... Ho ho, fucking ho.

At the transfer desk, a small collection of passengers was gathering, mostly trying to get to either Hong Kong or Bangkok. Team FIXME AEROFLOT IN CYRILLIC behind the desk were utterly unconcerned, and only gradually did the information get winkled out of them. No flight for 21 hours. No accommodation. No food. Meanwhile a few more planes had landed, and soon there were around 200 people crowding round the transfer desk wanting to know what had happened to their flights to HK, Bangkok, London, Dehli ....

The office door was open, and passengers began to diffuse into the office. Security was called and came along to clear them out by waving side-arm batons around.

At one point we were told to go to gate 21, where we could get boarding passes for a flight to HK later that night. En-route we got talking to a mancunian called Chris, who it subsequently turned out is a journalist for a Manchester-based mag called Industry North West, who was flying to HK partly to write an article about Aeroflot. Needless to say, gate 21 was a complete red-herring, and just turned out to be an exercise in advanced fobbing-off so that the transfer desk staff could piss off home.

I could write at length about the boredom and utter apathy which is Sheremetyevo airport, but I'll spare you.

Eventually we hit HK, having missed our Guangzhou to Kunming flight. Amazingly we were issued on the spot a ticket for the next flight when we went to the ticket desk at HK.

In Guangzhou we got a taxi to the Airport, with the driver weaving crazily through the traffic, taking both hands off the wheel to do aeroplane impressions to ensure he'd correctly understood where we wanted to go.

Flight to Kunming went smoothly, but our email to Erin + Claire telling them to meet the 7pm arrival didn't get through, so we went to a cheap hotel.

In the morning we were saved from searching for Claire + Erin when the correctly guessed which hotel we would be in, and phoned up.

26th December 2001: Claire + Duncan go for a stroll

Duncan Collis, Claire MacElwain

Wandered over the footbridge in Liuku, and spent some time trying to gain some height on the W bank to get a good view of the area. After a few false starts, found a promising looking path, which eventually arrived at a compound with glass-topped walls. We wandered in and found some sort of water works. Wondered if the water that could be heard rushing down the pipes might be from a spring, but a couple of cups of Chrysanthemum tea while talking to a Chinese lady failed to provide us with any information other than an instruction not to go up the streambed next to the compound.

Therefore we went back down and strolled upstream on the main road, passing a small entrance which turned out to be a scabby crawl which re-emerged after some 2m. Not very impressive.

Further on we found a small mine entrance which Claire crawled into for a few minutes until it stopped.

Upon emerging, we were approached by a woman who took us to meet her husband. We sat outside their house drinking hot water, and were offered cigarettes which we couldn't refuse. The woman was fascinated by Claire's phrasebook, and spent ages pointing out random phrases. Her husband told us there was a cave 250 km north. Eventually Claire explained that we needed to hitch-hike into Liuku to meet our friends. The man stuck out his hand at the first passing vehicle, which screeched to a halt. Space miraculously appeared in the packed mini-van, and we were driven back to town for free.

26th December 2001: Anthony + Julia go for a stroll somewhere else

Julia Bradshaw, Anthony Day

Went hunting for a couple of entrance that Erin had spotted from the bus on her previous visit. The map reckoned that the main road was on the East bank of the river, so we hopped on a bus in Liuku heading north. ~1 miles later, we reached the end of the line and proceeded on foot. It rapidly became obvious that there were lots of trucks/buses/cars howling down a road on the opposite bank at great speed, whilst there was nearly nothing on the cobbled track we were on and we therefore surmised that we were not on the main road, and that the entrances we were looking for were probably on our sie of the river. Took the opportunity to do a bit of geologising. Quarries on the east bank of the river are a fairly convincing impression of limestone -- later inspection under a magnifying glass reveals that it is quite crystalline, and I didn't see a single fossil. Then there is a long stretch with no exposure on the approach to a village (FIXME INSERT CHARACTERS). ON the far side of the village, the exposure at road level is not limestone -- greenish and crystalline in appearance. We think we spotted the two entrances high up in the cliff above the stretch of rad between this village and the road bridge (FIXME INSERT CHARACTERS) -- these looked not desperately inspiring but worthy of further investigation. Walked back down the main road on the west bank, noting lots more notlimestone and possible evidence of a fault until a bus came along and we went home.

26th December 2001: Erin's attacked by wailing banshees

Erin Lynch

Whilst the energetic 4 were off doing useful things, I decided to nurse my guts + potter around town. This plan came to a screeching halt when the evil harpies of doom (aka our land ladies) swooped in demanding an extra 20Y a night or relocation of our enormous mountain of kit to a smaller room that had been packed wall to wall with beds. Where exactly they wanted us to put our bags, I don't know. But during the following 6 hours I had many occasions to wish my phrasebook contained "This is a fucking pain in the arse." We'd already unpacked, so I did my stubborn best to tell them to shove it, to no avail. When the others returned, our walk-out tactic failed and we were forced to located to a superior hotel, with much hocking of phlem as we crossed the threshold of the "Traffic Hotel".

27th December 2001: Claire, Duncan + Erin go climb a hill

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Claire MacElwain

Liuku hovers around 850m, the top of the local mountain is 3500m. How long could it take to get there? We'd spotted some interesting looking flatish bits (given 100m contours) near the top, so we thought we'd take a look ... starting in the heat of the day. Brilliant. We hitched a lift to the back of somebody's garden, where we found the bottom of the path to our surprise. A couple of sweaty hours later we reached a village where a friendly local offered us copious amounts of tea, but luckily no fags (he was smoking an enormous spit-covered hand rolled wad of smelly tobacco). Apparently the top of the hill was 3 hours away -- but we only made it to the top of a sub-sub-foothill of the real thing in that time. Limestone at the top, but no caves, and very little light left, so down we went. Back at the village everyone insisted we spend the night -- Liuku was clearly too far to go before dark. A display of Petzls fended off the hospitality and we made it back to the road in time for an auto-rickshaw to screech to a halt + give us a lift back to the city. Good day all round.

27th December 2001: Julia and Anthony go for another walk

Julia Bradshaw, Anthony Day

Got a bus to the edge of town on the main road then walked along hitting rocks with a hammer every now and again. Walked into a mine that went about 40m and then intercepted natural cave, only a little bit, a fault or joint I think, nothing you could actually insert yourself into. Buses kept passing as we were attacking cliffs, so we ended up walking the whole way. Walked over the bridge and as far as the edge of the next village. From there, there's a track up the side of the hill that appeared to contour round the hill at the same level. Just before we set off up the track, we met a man on his bike going the other way. He got off and started talking to us ... Didn't understand what he was on about, figured maybe he was asking where we were going. It gradually dawned on me that he was saying 'steamed buns'. He sold us two for 1 kuai and went on his way. Sorted! Walked up the track, and found that the level path we'd seen was in fact a water channel. We walked next to this until it vanished (only into a concrete hole, not a cave) then followed the path. This soon appeared to terminated at a small quarry (not in limestone) so we went back and followed another path going higher up the hill. Eventually realised we'd gone too high and ideally needed to find the water channel again and follow that to get to the possible entrances. By now the light was fading, so we walked down the hill and back to Liuku.

28th December 2001: Julia, Anthony & Duncan go entrance hunting.

Duncan Collis, Julia Bradshaw,

In the absence of any better prospects, we set off to investigate the two entrances spotted high in the cliff east of the river north of Liuku. The previous day's efforts had found that, in this area the rock at ground level was green, notlimestone, however limestone had been spotted higher up (boundary ~20m above aquaduct level) So it seemed plausible that there might be cave entrances

Tried our hand at hiking up the main road. Eventually a pick-up truck stopped, so we hopped in, and he took us 50 Yards up the road to a building site. Much yadering in Chinese ensued for a good ten minutes, and it soon became obvious that he wasn't going any further. Eventually the driver wrote some Chinese characters in our notebook that we (correctly) guessed was the name of the bridge we were trying to get to, and we were sent packing.

Eventually got a lift and headed round to below the entrance. The direct route up to the first entrance looked very hard, but near the second there looked to be a plausible route up, so me and Duncan set off up, whilst Julia headed off to try and find a route via the aquaduct that we had failed to find the previous evening.

The route up the side of the valley was pretty appalling, combining teetering up completely unconsolidated 60 scree slopes with thrashing through trees. No snakes or other beasties were encountered, which was just as well since we weren't being very careful where we put our hands and feet by the end. Made it to the aqueduct and walked round to what seemed like the right place for the easier of our two potential entrances, when a hole was spotted ~50' above the aqueduct.

The route up to the entrance was if anything worse than the route to the aqueduct, up a barely consolidated choss bank with virtually no hand holds save for clumps of grass. Having thrashed our way to the hole, it turned out to be a desperately loose old quarry in the green rock. Getting back down to the aquaduct was diabolical, with only the odd grass handhold stopping us tumbling all the way to the road some 100m or so below. Having safely negotiated this, we didn't feel like pushing our luck by going up to the other entrance, so we walked back to the road via the aqueduct route found by Julia who had turned up by now.

From the road, it was clear that we had not gone to the "entrance" visible from the main road, but another one close by. However, the visible entrances are the same sort of level relative to the aquaduct, so are almost certainly quarries in the green rock rather than limestone caves.

28th December 2001: Claire + Erin use their feminine wiles

Erin Lynch, Claire MacElwain

Erin Lynch:

The day before we'd seen a few holes near the side of the road N of Liuku, so we thought we'd take a further look. Claire braved a possible spider-lair to determine they were in fact not in limestone, and therefore firmly in the "not-a-cave" category. Bummer.

Plan B was to take a look at the showcave. We paid our entrance fee and went for a wander in the park, in search of the alleged entrance. We found caged monkeys, a road, and the very smelly bogs before finally locating the quite definitely locked + not in use cave.

Claire MacElwain:

The cave itself looked as though that it use to B quite in use -- with it's once "nice" entrance with red delapidated lanterns. Standing in front of the gate there was a definite difference in temperature.

So what to do?? Well there's no harm to be done haggling with the women who took our 1Y (only to be allowed to climb fucking zillions of stals?!) + who appeared to be the owner (or whatever). So down we went.

Initially when asked the women were uninterested -- one definitely was unable to go in -- no reasons given just smiles (errr :| ). Finally upon mentioning that we would draw up a survey -- hey presto -- we were beckoned to go into the small courtyard behind + into an office where 2 men were.

So in we went in + everything from then on ran smoothly. We were required to wait 40 mins before going into the cave. During this time we made flattering sound/noises with re: to Liuku + caves.

Before we knew it they had whipped out chinese books on the area. One contained a geological map of part of the Nu Jiang area. Pushing our luck we asked whether we could photocopy it -- no problem -- they sent one of the women off 2 do the job 4 us. Furthermore, they eagerly fished out their surveys of the cave + duly presented their treasures.

So off we popped to the cave, accompanied by our 2 "guides". Hi-tech guides who utilised lighters as their source of light. The gate when opened allowed us access to a mined tunnel which eventually brought us to the "real" cave -- a T junction.

Initial reaction -- it may once have been a pretty cave -- a lot of the stal had been broken. En route thru our guides gleefully knocked on the remaining stal -- reason being?? To make music??

Obviously, however we did not blurt out how terrible the maiming of the cave was, instead we continued to flatter.

They explained that there were 3 levels in the caves development. Lowest being streamway, next level was the passage we were presently in + lastly a higher level.

After admiring their dragon mud formation, elephant stal + a bit of clambering/climbing around we headed out. However not before they had asked Erin whilst I was off climbing would we like to map another cave for them + even mentioned getting paid. yes/no accordingly were the answers.

The fun did not end there. Our guides then insisted on bringing us to the big Buddha just on the outskirts of town (somehow Erin had managed to be blissfully unaware of our bedroom view).

So we had an 'interesting' drive thru town -> walk across bouncy bridge (not helped by the lads jumping up + down), up another zillion steps, light candles + joss (?) sticks, loads of bowing by all in front of big fat golden statue -- descend a zillion steps -- escorted by "guides" back to our hotel + even up to our bedroom?! Thankfully the others were there + our guides left looking a bit disgruntled. Question -- what had they expected?? Anyway prior to leaving, Erin asked whether all 5 of us could be involved the following day in surveying -- Erin + I were to go to a different cave + the lads to the cave we had been in that day.

Well that was the plan ....

29th December 2001

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Claire MacElwain, Julia Bradshaw, Anthony Day

Came back form our walkies and shortly afterwards Erin + Claire turned up with a couple of blokes in tow (ooh er...) Turned out that they ran a (closed) show cave which they wanted us to survey. Any excuse to get underground, so alarm clocks were set for 7.30am, and we were installed in the show cave office not too late after 9am. Fags for the lads and roast spuds for the lasses, which seemed like a fair deal to me Ho ho. We get to see a survey of the cave, which included a survey of a larger cave that we've not been into. The surveys looked pretty good, well down, which was confusing since we thought they wanted us to do a survey. Plans to split up into two groups failed to happen, so after more talk, potatoes and fags, we set off, accompanied by some of the show cave owners/workers (who are employees of the government forestry dept) and an interpreter, an English teacher (retired) who was in his 70s.

It was warm underground, stomped thru the show cave, which was well decorated, ignored the blokes telling us to look at a particular climb, and headed for the water. Anthony rigged a handline off stal and clambered down. Claire wanted a piss so she went next, and then Dunks suggested that I should go next to delay things. Humpf. We'd been told that the water was chest height but Anthony shouted up that it was at ankle height. We did get fairly wet, on average the water wasn't above folks' knees. It was a nice stream. Erin declared it looked more like a picos cave than a chinese one. It had obviously been surveyed since there were survey stations marked in red paint along the entire length of the stream. Caving in short sleeves + legs was declared to be a bit crap. There were lots of sharp bits to graze arms and legs on + it got a bit cold when we stopped. The water was really clear + not too cold, warmer than UK caves. Saw a few bats, who weren't particularly pleased to see us. Stomp, stomp, splash, splash, ....

After a fair bit of stream we got to a section where low walls had been built and the floor had been concreted over. This seemed like an encouraging sign that we might be reaching an exit, however soon afterwards the way on became shit. Duncan climbed up an extremely loose climb + wibbled lots. After a while he reported back that the way on continued to be shit, consisting of low air sections and squeezes. He opted to do a short free-dive rather than do the climb again ....

(This is a bit out of order. Forgot to say that we went upstream first. Followed the stream until it began to emerge thru boulders. Duncan did a shit loose climb (spot the common theme?) and found himself back at the level of the showcave.)

back to the downstream end, we were a bit disappointed not to have found another way out (but apparently it would have been gated) but such is life, so we stomped back upstream to the climb. There was plenty of broken glass (light bulbs) on the climb, but managed not to cut our hands open. Then went the other way to see where Duncan had been. People admired the appalling hanging death and got scared looking at the piles of choss ducan had climbed up, then we weren't sure if the gate of the entrance would be locked or open, since we'd arranged to meet the blokes at 5pm and it was only 4pm. So we had a picnic of biscuits + sweets, got changed, and sauntered out.

Chatted a bit and had some hot water to drink. The blokes told us about 'the east cave'. They said it hadn't been surveyed and that we could survey it tomorrow. Hurray. Got taken out for a meal, which included some rice wine. I was expecting this to be rank but it was actually smooth and very nice, so much so that I bought some later on, a whole 7 quai for half a litre ...

30th December 2001: Five go to survey the east cave ...

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Claire MacElwain, Julia Bradshaw, Anthony Day

... at least that was the plan as we trooped across Liuku to the show cave office for 9am. We had a different interpreter this time -- an English teacher from the local middle school. Over the course of a few fags, we invented some easy to translate job titles for ourselves, allegedly for an article for the local rag. It also gradually became apparent that they intended us to go into the local cave, and were expecting us to produce a survey of it. The "East Cave" did not appear to feature on the agenda at all. We weren't terribly enthused by this prospect since they already had a perfectly good survey.

Some questioning about whether there were other caves in the area revealed that the Nu Jiang Bugle occasionally reported the discovery of caves in some of the outlying villages, though they didn't know (or weren't prepared to say) which ones. These caves were apparently very dangerous -- full of "spiders and snakes." When this news was met with indifference from the assembled foreigners, it was further revealed that "leopards and tigers" were also in residence. Another shrug of the shoulders, and caves also became home to "monkeys and magic men."

Since we were obviously getting nowhere, we bade farewell to the forestry department, and a new plan was concocted ...

30th December 2001: Five attempt to purchase bicycles in China

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Claire MacElwain, Julia Bradshaw, Anthony Day

The new plan was to get up to Gongshan (by bus) the last reasonable sized town in the Nu Jiang prefecture, then work our way back down the valley to Liuku dropping in at villages en route to ask about caves. Our preferred mode of transport for this escapade was bicycle. The forestry department people assured us that there was nowhere to rent bikes in Liuku. However, since there seemed to be loads of people bombing around on the standard black, sturdy looking Chinese bikes, we reasoned that it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to see us them given that Liuku is the largest town for miles. How hard could it be to buy a bike in China?

Over the course of the next several hours, we pounded the streets of Liuku in search of a bicycle vendor, but the magic men appeared to have spirited them all away. At one point it appeared that we may have been able to hire bikes from the blokes at the hotel, but those turned out not to exist. In the end our only available options were a couple of places that sold what at first sights looked like fancy mountain bikes, of a sort that were not much in evidence on the street.

Choosing the show with the larger-looking bikes (me and Duncan, being not of Chinese dimensions, didn't much fancy cycling ~250km with knees knocking against our chins) we set about trying to buy them. To cut a long story short, 3 out of the 5 bikes were totally gash and didn't so much as manage a 10 yard trundle up and down the street outside the shop without something going wrong (cotter pin falls out of crank, saddle fails to stay in one place, handlebars appear to be only vaguely connected to the front wheel...) It was obvious that trying to ride 250km on such ridiculous machines was not going to work, so we declined to buy.

Thereafter we retired to an eatery where plan C was formulated. This was essentially the same as plan B, except that a combination of buses and shanks' pony replaced bikes as the means for hopping from village to village. This plan was put into action on....

31st December 2001: Five go to Gongshan

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Claire MacElwain, Julia Bradshaw, Anthony Day

A reasonably early start, followed by a relative small amount of haggling with the guys at the hotel over renting a room to store most of our gear for a week, saw the posse and a much reduced gear pile installed on the bus to Gongshan by ~10am. The plan was to look for promising areas from the bus window. The best looking bit was near the showcave ~33km north of Liuku, and the area immediately to the north, which had nice steep cliffs of what appeared (from the bus window) to be limestone. Further north these petered out. Shopped at Fugong's answer to Harry Ramsden's for chips + chili sauce, then continued north for a short distance, where we were held up for a good couple of hours by a minor traffic prang. Every plod in the Nu Jiang appeared to be in attendance measuring things up and generally strutting around looking important. The rock in this neck of the woods looked like a gneiss to my expert eye (this is something metamorphosed under extremely high pressure so that it separates into light (silica rich) a nd dark (silica poor) coloured bands).

Eventually the bus lumbered on and we hit Gongshan after dark. Erin sorted us a hotel with a shower, and after a spot of dinner we hit the bar to see in the New Year. On entering, we were ambushed by a group of jolly Chinese who were also indulging in a bit of New Year revelry. lots of toasts and cries of "Gambei!" (down in one) followed. The "Yunnan Red Wine" they were drinking was reasonably palatable (even if it didn't taste like wine as I understand it). The other stuff they were supping, however was probably more suitable for cleaning paintbrushes, and at 52 it was clearly going to go badly wrong. We did manage to slow the pace a bit, and contribute to the alcohol pile, but things still started to go a bit blurry. Out came the phrasebooks (one of which never returned) and lots of random conversations followed in between the toasts and fags. One Communist party member was seen to be getting overly friendly with Duncan, until they were parted in order to count down to the New Year at a random time about 5-6 minutes late, at which point a load of fireworks went off in the street.

Eventually (about 1.30am) folks drifted away and we wobbled off to the hotel, which was firmly shuttered up. A bit of shouting gained us entry, and the day drew to a close with a bit of Boddingtons & rice wine (or hurling of beans if your name is Julia).

1st January 2002: Five nurse their sore heads.

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Claire MacElwain, Julia Bradshaw, Anthony Day

The evening's festivities scuppered any chance of fulfilling our grand scheme of going limestone spotting north of Gongshan. Emerging from our beds at 11am, Claire, Duncan and Anthony went for a brief stroll north up the main valley. no limestone was in evidence, and the highlight of the trip was when we ran into a bunch of giggly girls who followed us for about half a mile before finally plucking up the courage to ask us to pose for a photo.

The afternoon was a little more fruitful. Taking lunch in the restaurant next to the hotel, the proprietor got talking about caves. Most of the things he was on about seemed to be in Tibet, but he mentioned a guide who might be able to show us some caves nearby. It seemed as though this guide would be around the following day, so we hung around in Gongshan for another night.