Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Friday, March 31, 2006

From Cappuccinos to Cliffs

FROM CAPPUCCINOS TO CLIFFS

I awoke to the sound of the cold wind whistling over the rooftops. After taking a nice hot shower and getting dressed I saw the guy from Malaysia on the balcony. He asked me if I would like to have some coffee. He is staying here for a month and brought his own beans, grinder and espresso maker with him. How could I possibly say no? He made delicious cappuccinos for us which we sipped while warming ourselves in the morning sun seated on wicker chairs on the balcony overlooking the rooftops of the old city. I talked with him and his friend from Hong Kong as we munched on flaky date- filled pastries. Life is rough.

After awhile our breakfast was ready and we had a "western-style" breakfast with fried eggs, sautéed tomatoes with onions and garlic, toast and coffee or tea. It was good to have a nice hot breakfast because we didn't have anyplace to stop for lunch. Our plan was to take the bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is a breathtaking gorge at the beginning of the Himalayas just off the Yangtze River. The bus station was a zoo and while we were waiting in line we ran into a young couple from London that was traveling around the world in a year. They had just hired a private driver to take them to the gorge where they were going to start a two-three day trek. They offered to share the ride with us and the driver agreed.

Getting out of the city proved to be a challenge. A lot of construction is being done on the outskirts of town and they just block the roads when they feel like it. We sat still in traffic for an hour before the driver decided to try a different way. That way was blocked too so we sat there for awhile and watched the local men shooting pool, which seems to be much more popular here than ping pong, and watched other drivers make seemingly impossible "three" point turns to get out of the traffic jam. Finally the road opened and it was clear sailing from then on out.

During our ride we got to know the British couple pretty well. They were five months into their year long trip and seemed to be enjoying themselves. They didn't know any Chinese so Gretchen taught them some useful words and Thomas gave them chopstick lessons.

The scenery was composed of deep red hills covered in green pine trees with the jagged snow capped peaks of the Himalayas in the distance. We wound our way through little villages, past meadows in valleys and by terraced farms growing strawberries, wheat, scallions and other assorted green vegetables. Some of the orchards were just starting to flower with pink and white blossoms. There were tall trees covered with pale pink flowers and bushes with lavender flowers on long stems. Other places there were dark piles of manure dotting the fields waiting to be distributed.

We drove up and over some mountains until we reached the first bend of the Yangtze River. The river was wide and slow-moving and was mostly sandy in color. The mountains forming the gorges were right behind it. We got out and took some pictures there. After a little more driving we entered a village and a man came up to the car and spoke with the driver. Apparently he wanted to sell us some tickets for Tiger Leaping Gorge and also to be a guide for the British couple. He also wanted to know if we wanted to buy some pot. He said that they all like to smoke it there. We declined the nice offer for drugs and the tickets as well since they were obviously used with an old date on them. The guy did get in the car with us for awhile until we were able to communicate that we really did not want any of his services.

The British couple got out too and we all bought our own tickets from what we hoped was a legitimate ticket seller. There was a cafe there called the Gorged Tiger which was run by a very bossy, and possibly crazy, Australian woman. We bought snicker bars for lunch and said our goodbyes to the Brits.

We continued driving down the road towards the gorge. Suddenly there was a huge drop off to our right that led down to the river far below. The road was narrow and there was no guard rail. We passed by the first stop of the gorge where it got its name from a tiger who actually leaped across the gorge at this narrow point, according to legend. We had planned to go further into the gorge and so we drove on. The road went from barely paved to a rocky dirt road with pot holes. We came to a point where the mountain had been blasted away and the face was comoposed of white crumbly rocks. I thankfully was on the left side of the car and didn't see how close we came to going off the road. Gretchen shouted that she wanted to stop and get out. She said she absolutely did not want to continue on. As she was speaking there was a small avalanche of football size rocks rolling down the mountain side to the road. Directly in front the road narrowed even more and there was a very large pile of gravely rocks that the car would have to go over. I agreed with Gretchen and felt strongly that we should listen to her intuition and get out and walk back. The driver said that the road got better further up but we didn't want to risk it so we got out and the driver plunged over the mound and drove to a spot where the road widened enough for him to turn around.

As we walked back down the road Gretchen pointed out where the tire treads were and we saw that the tires were only about 6 inches from a very crumbly cliff. We were thankful that we were safe. We walked for awhile until our nerves were calmed and the road looked safe again. Soon we were back at the place to see the tiger jumping rock gorge.

Lining the road above the steep steps down to the gorge were a bunch of Sherpas with chair porter baskets to carry people up and down the steps to the gorge. I couldn't believe that anyone would want or be able to carry anyone up or down the steps. It seemed crazy that these fairly small guys were even offering to carry us. This was probably the only chance that I will ever have to be carried up or down a mountain, but I declined anyways. The elevation is about 11000 ft and the air was hot, dry and thin. Next to the stairs going down there were little booths set up selling handicrafts and refreshing cucumbers and tomatoes. At the bottom there were photographers offering to take your picture in native costumes. They had computers and photography equipment set up down there to print our there pictures and laminate them. The waters churned vigorously at this particular spot where the gorge narrowed. The plants on the mountains themselves were dry and brown. It is still the dry season and the water level was low and the mountains which sometimes are verdant green were rather stark.

The climb back up the stairs left my heart pounding and my face beet red. There were about 500 stairs and I was so dehydrated from the dry air that I downed two large cold waters at the top. Our drive back was uneventful but very lovely and relaxing. We got out at a few scenic overlooks to take some pictures.

Our driver dropped us off at a different entrance to the old town and we got lost for awhile trying to find our guest house. Many of the shops and restaurants look similar and the tiny streets curve around in ways that it is hard to know which way you are going. We managed to recognize a few places and get our bearings enough to find our way. After freshening up we headed into the main part of old town for dinner. There are canals and running water throughout the old town and there is one part where a lot of restaurants are located. At the same time we all spotted some people sitting at a table outside eating cheesy pizza and lasagna and fries and we headed over. Any cheesy thing is a real treat for Thomas and Gretchen and the food looked good to all of us.

We sat at a table next to a canal under a weeping willow tree. As we waited for our order we sipped beer and snacked on sunflower seeds that we bought from a little old woman who walked by. Gretchen burst into happy laughter at the thought of a cheesy pizza and the lovely setting we were in. The waitresses or hostesses were dressed in different traditional outfits and they sang songs to each other across the canal back and forth. Some other patrons joined in once in awhile and everyone seemed so happy and joyful. This place prides itself on being an oasis from the city life; a place for love and peace and relaxation. It is a bit touristy but the air is so full of happy energy that it feels perfect.

Who would have thought that we could have excellent pizza up near the Himalayas? But we did, it was a wonderful crispy thin crusted pizza with vegetables and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. We strolled through the town afterwards and soaked in the atmosphere and singing and did a little shopping.

My new Malaysian friend was there when we got back and I stayed up talking to him and his friend from Hong Kong for a couple of hours. I find it fascinating to talk with people from all over the world. I have met so many interesting people here. It seems that people who like to travel tend to be really great to talk to. I also enjoyed my western style toilet in the room that I switched to. There seem to be so many things to be thankful for today.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah ... no more adventures.

7:27 AM  

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