This trip through southeastern Guizhou has been about local knowledge, and the pass-ability of local roads (不通! “Can’t get there from here,” is a common refrain from the bus station clerks, when we ask about getting to one place or another that has been recommended by someone along the way). Sometimes the recommendations aren’t so great, either. We went to Chejiang, supposedly a bustling Dong village just outside Rongjiang, based on multiple enthusiastic recommendations. We found a village square being ripped apart and expanded by disinterested work crews. The new Chejiang would include a large performance venue and rows of souvenir shops, most selling 奇石, “strange/mysterious rocks,” that old Chinese tourist staple. A few locals looked on: here they were just getting started on turning their town into a tourism operation, and sure enough, the Westerners with big backpacks were already trickling in!
So it was with some very cautious optimism that we set out for Jiabang, a distant Miao hamlet reached by winding road over two rivers and three mountain passes. We would either be dazzled by the little-known but gorgeous rice terraces scenery, or completely disappointed and left wishing we’d saved the five of hours of travel for the more famous Dragon’s Backbone terraces in Guangxi. We crossed our fingers as the bread-loaf van swung around tight turns; pools with wintry rice stalks began to appear below us, holding the sky’s light like mirrors on the hillside. The pools grew more and more numerous, until we were leaning out the windows with our mouths agape, stupid with beauty of it, and our driver said, “We’re here.”
The only open guesthouse was run by an older gentleman who showed us our room (bare wood wall and floor, with four short twin beds, a broken space heater and a window overlooking the magnificant, terraced hillside) and offered us three fresh eggs, leftover rice and use of the kitchen. I made us some clumsy fried rice over the million-degree gas fire, sprinkling unknown sauces atop, and we all ate out of one bowl, then headed out for a hike.
The terraces are “at least a thousand years old,” according to the farmer who dropped his carrying stick and baskets when he saw Owen approaching. We wondered how many millions of man-hours that would amount to, given the huge amount of work required to maintain these thousands of precariosly perched pools, their valuable contents suspended in vertical succession by fragile foot-thick walls of packed mud. Not to mention the planting and harvesting of the rice high above and far below.
Jiabang is absolutely stunning. And the area, with its glittering scenery and scattered villages facing each other across the steep, mist-bottomed valley, looks like the kind of place that could attract thousands of outside visitors if the word got out more, beyond the locals and the odd amateur photographer up from the provincial capital. For now, though, it’s a place where strange folks like us are a most welcome oddity, and you have/get to cook your own egg fried rice.