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It’s Not Easy to Get to Haba

Stewart greeted us in Kunming with a great many options for things to do in this fine city of his, among the more exotic of which were paragliding, going on a savage multi-day wheeling/camping trip around a nearby lake, and heading into the Tiger Leaping Gorge to climb a 17,400 ft-tall mountain called Haba Snow Mountain (哈巴雪山).

We pondered our next moves while enjoying the unbeatable hospitality and decadent luxury of Stewart’s apartment. We spent our time wheeling around Kunming, feasting on the wireless Internet in Stew’s apartment, eating plenty of Hui food, and drinking brass monkeys while arguing over trivia during the evenings in the cool dry air of Stew’s apartment balcony.
Most nights we lit off a Chinese lantern. These are giant, paper fire hazards that can be purchased for about one USD in the cities to the north of Kunming. Once unfolded, they are large hollow fingers, about the size of a respectable lawn gnome. They sport a large chunk of wax hanging from the bottom of them, via a system of wires. The wax chunk can then be carefully ignited and, after patiently waiting for the air inside the finger/gnome cavity to get hot, the lantern may be set aloft, on a suicide mission, up to the heavens where it either self-ignites and plummets to the earth or runs out of fuel and does the same.
Anyway we had ourselves a grand old time, covering these lanterns with all kinds of decorations and secret wishes and setting them to whisk off, at the whim of the breeze, over the rooftops of Kunming, many threatening to rain fire onto the hundreds of tall concrete buildings.
Among other things, our time in Kunming was healing and productive, but lest we fall into another Bangkok-like black hole, we needed to once again heed the call of the open road.
So although our thirst for chilling was far from quenched, we set about planning our last few days with Motta in the fine land of Yunnan, cooking copious amounts of tofu and chili, and eating plenty of noodles.
After returning to the aforementioned list of more extreme choices for adventure in Yunnan, and after some careful weighing of the options, we finally settled on Haba as the extreme portion of our Yunnan experience.
And with that, we climbed onto the cycles and began collecting what we would need for the trip. From what we read, it was not that cold on the summit. This is somewhat surprising since Haba is actually taller than any mountain in the lower 48 states. Stewart explained to us that to the best of his knowledge, we should be able to do it in just a few layers of warm clothes, hiking poles, and crampons (which we could rent at basecamp).
First things first: we needed to get tickets on that evening’s train to Lijiang. Lijiang, to the north of Kunming, is a tourist city and a gateway to the wilder lands of Tiger Leaping Gorge and beyond. Getting the train tickets was no problem. We climbed on bikes and wheeled downhill to the station, through a particularly savage bit of construction, and rolled up to the ticket windows, where they were playing a thunderous patriotic communist anthem over the loudspeaker. Stewart hopped off his cycle and walked directly past the giant arching queue of Chinese people over to a closed window, where a woman was hard at work at a computer terminal. He somehow smooth-talked the woman, in Chinese, into opening up her station and selling him tickets, saving us the time in the queue.
Motta walked back toward us grinning, “I don’t wait in lines.”
From there we headed out to find a couple more warm layers. Scott and I both had one sweater, but at Motta’s counsel, we decided that the addition of another thermal layer would be prudent. So we wheeled around Kunming for a while, poking our heads into knock-off outdoor gear shops. Eventually, we settled on a couple of knock-off Osprey fleeces. Mine was female.
With that, we settled down to eat a quick meal, and after finishing the last leftovers of a savage batch of chili we had made a few nights back, we hopped in a cab.
Kunming was, as is the case with all Chinese cities of mild notoriety, massively under construction. The main road to the train station was in the midst of being ripped up in order to add a new city metro line.  As a result, our journey to the train station took significantly longer than we had budgeted, and we arrived at the train station with only about 10 minutes to get to our train. It was an overnight train, and was timed to travel extra slowly along its line, timing its arrival for a civilized wake-up time of 7:00 am.
As we climbed out of our cab, other passengers were sprinting with their luggage, and yelling frantically. We walked quickly, all the time wondering why, with 10 minutes and only a few meters to traverse to the platform, our fellow passengers were so rushed. We found the answer as soon as we arrived at the platform only to find it totally locked down. A uniformed woman frowned at us from behind a door made of steel bars. “The doors to the train close five minutes prior to departure,” she explained in Chinese. Stewart had not even begun to open what I could see was a sizzling hot can of Chinese door-opening rhetoric on her when she added, “But you can catch the next train, which leaves in one hour. It will be no problem… you can even change your ticket for free.”
Fair enough, we thought. And touting the wonders of Chinese rail travel, we jogged back downstairs to the ticket counter to exchange our tickets. When we got there we were sorely disappointed, nearly irate, in fact. “She lied through her teeth!” Motta bellowed.
The next train she had spoken of terminated only half way to Lijiang, in city called Dali. We frowned and looked at each other. We had to face the bitter truth: we were not getting to Lijiang the next morning. We weighed all the options for a while and finally decided to head back to Stewart’s house. We would be set back by a day, but we should still be able to make it up to the top of Haba and back in time to catch a train to Shenzhen for our tour of the Dahon Factory.


  1. Mark/Dad | July 12th, 2010 | 7:47 am

    Mr. Motta is enough of a character to clearly deserve the honor of a tee-shirt! Who are all the folks in the last picture (not to mention the significance of the Minnie Mouse ears?

  2. Woody | July 27th, 2010 | 12:15 pm

    @ Mark/Dad

    Indeed indeed. The Internation Chiller T-Shirts are unsurprisingly the best selling shirts in the AsiaWheeling trading post. Though I have to admit, I’m baffled at why people won’t people buy more Klonstar mugs…

    The last picture is a shot from the day after a costume party that we had at Stewart’s place in Kun Ming. We made a whole giant batch of Chili, and while we were working on finishing all the left over chili, Juliet was working on finishing off all the left over costumes.

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