Snowflake Guesthouse, Daju
Daju is the smaller and by far more remote of the two launching spots for
hikers of the gorge. We arrived later than hoped (more detail with text
below), and unsure where the ferry to cross the river and start our hike
would be. Gene, ever the travel planner par excellence (for my family: you must know that Gene is a far better travel planner than I am, as he assiduously reads and gathers data from every guidebook he can find — appropriate for a scientist, wouldn’t you say? — whereas I, humanist that I am, read enough to get an idea and then generally wing it), had already discovered that we needed to seek the Snowflake Guest House.
We didn’t know before arriving how much like an old west town at high noon
Daju would feel. We arrived around 4:00 in the afternoon and the town just
seemed very quiet…the bus let us off (having been told we wanted the
Snowflake) at an intersection of two bumpy dirt roads (no pavement, no
traffic signs or lights in Daju) and we felt rather like a scene in some movie about people boldly going where…well, you can fill in the rest. So off we walked past seemingly incongruous cactus and dusty walled houses, until we saw this welcome sign below.
I must now take a moment to express the glory of hospitality in the gorge. Snowflake was WONDERFUL. She’s a woman, by the way, not just the name of a lodge. She and her husband run this quiet little place which is visited — one presumes — solely by backpackers coming into or out of the gorge. When the sign tells you “and cafe,” do NOT think Starbucks. Think Baghdad Cafe, if you recall that movie. (Rent it, if you’ve not seen it: you’ll get the idea.) But no matter: we arrived, worried we’d not hit the ferry in time (Gene, still not quite understanding he wasn’t in Kansas anymore, was sure the books had it wrong since one said the last ferry was at 5 while the other said it was 6), and wondering if we could make it to our guest house on the other side of the river before dark. Shortly before we arrived, a very sweet group (a couple from Britain who’ve sold up everything back home to travel the world for a year, after a decade or so of desk work; and an Australian woman who’s teaching in China this year, along with her friend from home who’s here to visit) had appeared dusty and tired at Snowflake’s doorstep.
But she still found time to whip up sandwiches (yes, the Naxi people, who are the Ur-inhabitants of this region, have bread that’s rather like Navajo fry bread) of tomato and cheese (yes, the Naxi make goat’s milk cheese: and Elizabeth, you might even like this cheese as its very mild, almost like mozzarella; side story is the Chinese fried noodles with cheese (!) that we had later that night…felt so wrong, but tasted so good), to call the ferry guy’s mobile phone to let him know we’d be along shortly, to discuss with us whether we wanted to walk on the other side or whether we’d prefer to be met by a van that would take us to our guest house so we could start fresh on the main hike the next morning…and so on. End result: ferry met on time (btw, don’t think “ferry” means anything more than a rusty motorized contraption on which we and a few donkeys crouched to cross the swift-moving upper Yangzi), lovely dinner with yet another fascinating group of folks at Sean’s guesthouse that very night thanks to the van that shuttled us from the top of the hill on the other side up to our guesthouse…and an amazing day of walking, as you’ve been seeing in the other shots.
Bottom line: the folks we encountered in the gorge, both the hikers and especially the guesthouse and inn people, made me feel like I’d fallen back to a time when innkeepers made the roads safe and comfortable for weary and tired travelers, truly providing comfort to people in need and doing it with grace and a smile. And the other hikers were a smart and interesting crowd, without exception.