Our group returned yesterday evening from the Kawagebo/Meili Xueshan mountain range in northwestern Yunnan province. Students stayed in an inn last night and will one more night before returning to our home stays tomorrow. The trek was fantastic! We hiked, supported one another, visited a holy waterfall, ate delicious meals, enjoyed our bucolic surroundings high in the mountains, and played Werewolf, a game that co-leader Ilyena "Gamemaster" Kozain '09 introduced to our group during our time away from Shangri-La.
The time we spent in the mountainous, rural areas of Xīdāng and Yǔbēng on our trek was unforgettable, but rather than attempting to describe it myself, I'll include excerpts from students' written reflections below. Of course, when we get back to the U.S., we will also share photos with you to give you a better sense of the remoteness and beauty of the places we visited.
"It was great seeing very rural China, and prayer flags everywhere. I felt refreshed after visiting the waterfall, and it's so good to get outside my comfort zone. My challenges have included the long ride back to Shangri-la, and some of the smells in the village. The moment of arriving at the top of the mountain to the waterfall with Tahg and Alex and just being in awe of the glaciers, surrounding mountains, and peaceful atmosphere will forever stay with me."
"I really liked the scenery, the mountains were beautiful. I loved the fact that we were surrounded by nature, and a much more traditional lifestyle. I also liked being able to be outdoors and be active. My challenges have been the long, tough hikes, and the altitude. Also, the beds that we stayed in were not designed for people above six feet tall. I will never forget the screams and looks on people's faces as we walked through the ice cold water fall."
"I loved the beautiful views from the summit and the trek up. I loved running half naked through the freezing glacier waterfall three times. I also loved bumping tunes in the van with Xiǎolóng. Some of the little things have been tough for me; how dirty the floor was in the guest house and walking back up the mountain to get reach the van, but running through that waterfall is an unforgettable experience!"
"The absolute best part of the trek, and probably the trip so far, was making it up to the Yubeng Sacred Waterfall and running through it three times. Ilyena introducing the game Werewolf which allowed us to have fun at night, while probably gaining a few noise complaints has also been a high for me, as were the photos that I was able to get on the trek. They alone were worth the tough hikes and will be so good to have to look back on. The hike down was harder for me (and my knees) than expected, and sleeping on this trek has been difficult due to the firm beds and a rooster that lived outside our window the whole time! Watching Marshall ride past us on his mule while we were struggling to hike out of the Yubeng Upper Village, drinking the water from the sacred waterfall, and the 5 hour drive to the mountain were awesome, even though we were cramped in the smallest van, because our driver loved listening to Maroon 5 and the views were amazing."
"I loved the amazing view, good food and evening community games. I did not like the first hike over the mountain, the flies in the first hotel, and the long car ride back, but I will never forget the view from the waterfall or being fourth up the mountain."
I loved so much of the hike overall, and how accomplished I felt. The waterfall was gorgeous and I thought that I couldn't make it to the top, but loved feeling the cold water while running through it; it reminded me so much of morning swim practices. The village was beautiful too, it was so rural and there were so many cultural imprints. It showed me the different side of China, a side I wouldn't have seen if I hadn't gone on this trip.The long car ride to the mountains and hiking downhill were really difficult, but playing for a half hour with a couple of little Chinese kids was a memory I will hold onto.
"The hike we just finished could only be described as a cultural experience earned justly. Our trip began with a trip through the mountains of Western China and ended in a small village at the base of a huge mountain. The next day we began a hike up the mountain where we would summit and then descend into Upper Yubeng, where we would reside for two days. The following morning, we began our hike to the Meili Snow Mountain, a religious landmark for Tibetan Buddhism. There we ran through the falls, ate lunch, and hiked back. What I liked most was running through the waterfall three times. As described by Tashi, our guide, it is intended to wash away bad luck and sin. After the group had finished running through the falls and packed up, I decided to get some of the 'holy water' falling from the cliffs. However after filling up my bottle and Jon Beard's, he told me that the pool that I got the water from was not drinkable. So back I went with Nate's bottle in hand, I stand in this freezing waterfall trying to collect what is like a mist and a drizzle of water into some plastic bottles. This was brutal as it seemingly took forever. Standing in the freezing water with my rice hat being drenched was the only negative part of this trip."
"My favorite things were the waterfall, the food, and the group's attitude toward hiking. A couple of challenging things were having to climb through the window of our guest house room because there was no key for the door, and the mental struggle of hiking up to the waterfall. I'll never forget running through the waterfall with the whole group and seeing and being that close to a glacier, while taking pictures and witnessing the views of the snowy mountains and valleys."
"Our four day excursion was much needed. I missed being with the group all the time. Therefore being with everyone was a lot of fun. I also really enjoyed the three hikes, no matter how much my blisters hurt. The best part of the trek was definitely the waterfall. It was an amazing feeling reaching the top and seeing the glacier. Even running through the freezing glacier water was such an awesome experience, nor were the biggest blisters I've ever had or the rock hard beds of rural China. The most fun we had was playing Werewolf with our group; it was such a great bonding exercise and one of the most fun things I have done."
"I loved the toughness of the hike, the beauty of the clouds hanging in the spaces between the mountains, and how amazing I felt after the hike and after hot showers. I also loved the breathtaking views on the car ride to and from the hike, and on the hike itself. The two things I did not enjoy were the monotony of rice and a mealy apple, but I will forever hold with me leaving a pendant I received from the lama at the lamasery on the mountain in honor of Dave Pilla, as well as seeing a pig scratch itself on a tree for quite a while. Hearing yelps of joy as our group ran through the sacred waterfall and playing vicious games of Werewolf in the wooden chalet/motel, surrounded by clouds are something I will never forget."
"I loved witnessing the strong bonds of our group throughout our trek. I loved seeing the open-mindedness, humor and curiosity of the students, even as they were pushed out of their comfort zones in a very different land."