The two main attractions we routed were Dian Lake and the Western Hills, and the Stone Forest. I will write about those and then be done.
1. Dian Lake/Western Hills
After being unable to find a bus out to this massive lake to the east of the city, we resorted to a taxi - which only cost 30 RMB - and arrived. We were soon armed with shockingly expensive tickets to a chair lift and to the Western Hills complex itself: a series of trails on which could be seen various pagodas, carvings, children whose grandfathers made them give us oranges, statues, stairs, gates, and sick views of the lake and the city. Describing our route in any further detail would not be interesting for me or for you, and there seemed to be little historical significance there (other than, of course, the fact that Henry Kissinger visited once), so I will let the pictures we took show where we went, what we did, and what we saw.
Here we are on the chairlift, hundreds of RMB lighter, staring straight in the sun, not really awake, not really warm. Probably this was the worst part of the day.
Here we are at the top. Below is Kunming. Probably this was the best part of our day.
Dian Lake - see her glisten beneath the noonday sun!
The Western Hills - see them glisten beneath the noonday sun!
Why we do not have these in Iowa, I do not know. But they look good from below and are perfect for recuperating from an uphill run at the top.
We truly and honestly thought that Yunnan would be warm and sunny, but it wasn't particularly balmy. Every single morning and night we were there was freezing, but, once the sun got going and our blood was pumping from climbing five hundred stairs, all was well.
Enter the matrix. Also in the Western Hills were trails with random interesting splashes of ancient Chinese architecture.
The Mount Rushmore of Kunming.
The Dragon's Gate. Hear the roar.
I call this "The Great Leap." It was in a downward direction, and it was as we were leaving.
2. Stone Forest
The second day was more of an adventure, but it all went well also. We rose at the butt crack of dawn to try to reach this Stone Forest seventy-five miles from Kunming. Basically this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a huge area covered by spikes of limestone jutting violently up out of the earth. The stones resemble trees, hence the title "Stone Forest." Cool stuff geologically. Also cool visually.
The day, again, started off absolutely frigidly. We went to the bus station and sat for one hour on a very icy bus waiting to leave before the slowest bus driver in both the modern and developing worlds finally took us to the Stone Forest. When we arrived, both Dawner and I were considerably baffled by the cost and complexity of entering the forest, but when we finally accomplished this task, we were rewarded.
There were two main parts that we checked out: the Greater Stone Forest and the Lesser Stone Forest. Both were encircled by a main road on which shuttles took tourists 'round, and both had foot paths that led deep, deep into the rocky woods. As soon as we could, we sped into the depths of the rock and away from the other smoking, yelling visitors.
And it was awesome. It was a dark day, quiet, and we explored the Greater Forest for an hour or two. The highlight was some lookout point in the middle of the peaks.
The Lesser Stone Forest yielded less overall but had an even higher vantage point from which the entire Stone Forest could be seen. I almost fell and died climbing up for the last picture.
I don't know if I have ever been on a more awesome trip. I can only think of one activity in which we partook during the trip that was a dud. Usually when I return from a trip or experience of any kind, I need a lot of people to ask me how it was and of what value it was, and then, after many, many conversations, I will maybe reach some sort of conclusion after weighing all the pros and cons. But even before coming home, I thought, "There was very little to process here, about this excursion, except that it was nearly flawless and quite great." And that is what I have told people. Boom.