We had planned to go hiking, but were so tired that we slept in. This wasn’t such a bad thing as we both had plenty to be getting on with. At lunch, we took a break to wander around Green Lake Park and sat a while sketching and playing Uno, watching the crowds of delicate white gulls waiting eagerly for titbits. The lake’s edge was lined with people young and old throwing food for them. Every now and then, someone would whoop, sending them whirling into the sky in a frenzy, before they settled back down on the lake like confetti. A man who was passing us stopped when he saw Luke’s pictures. He snatched his sketchbook, flicked through it and then seized his pen and right in the centre of a crisp white page, he drew a rather small and childish looking seagull. I could tell that Luke was rather cross about this, but he did his best to take it gracefully! I couldn’t help but giggle!
That night, Flora and Pan came to the hostel again. Flora arrived on two mini skateboards – one for each foot, not joined in the middle and with no straps to hold your feet in place. We all had a brief lesson in how to stand and move on them and Luke, being a keen long-boarder, was smitten. We then joined forces with other backpackers and played cards and a game called Mafia, which is always great fun. Before we headed to bed, we thanked Flora and Pan for their hospitality and wished them luck in their exams. They gave us a packet of flower cakes, a Yunnan delicacy. They are flaky pastry buns, with a sort of flowery jam in the centre. I can see how some people would love them, but to us it was a little too much like eating pot pourri!
The following day, our bags packed, we made our way to the Vietnamese consulate. It was cramped on the bus, and I was stood next to a lady with a baby who was whimpering and crying. The baby was so surprised to see my strange white face that she forgot why she was upset and spent the rest of the journey peeping and beaming at me happily! So cute! Our passports and visas were waiting for us at the consulate as we had hoped they would be. In our glee at having finally obtained the visas, we got onto the wrong bus, but this was soon remedied. Shortly after, we arrived at the station and were boarding a late bus to the Yuanyang rice terraces, our final destination in China.
This was our first journey on a sleeper bus. Instead of seats, there were two layers of bunks: ‘double beds’ on one side and singles on the other. We had a double on the bottom level. Your feet had to slot inside a metal case, on top of which was a basket for your belongings. Pillows and a blanket were provided. It was quite a comfortable set up, and once we were on our way, we decided to watch a movie on my laptop. Troll Hunter is a wonderful, very funny Norwegian film and perfect for a bus journey. We left Kunming at 7pm and arrived in Xinjie, the town nearest the terraces, at 1.30am. I slept in fits and starts, not being used to experiencing the jolting and lurching of a coach when lying down and being sporadically awakened by the lady behind me who seemed to spend a good part of the journey spitting into the bin.
Luckily, we had had the foresight to arrange a pick up from our hostel, as the village we were staying in was far away, and there were no taxis at such an early hour in the morning. Several other travellers had not arranged transport and so our hostel owner made a tidy profit ferrying them to their hostels too! After about 45 minutes of driving along winding roads in thick mist, we finally arrived at the Grain Inn. We were advised to shower before heading to bed as there would be no hot water in the morning, so we obediently had 3am showers! Bleary-eyed, but clean, we reluctantly set our alarm for 6.30am, so we could be up in time to watch the legendary sunrise over the rice terraces.