Postcard from the Rough Road to Rongjiang


The buses in Guizhou are old and tired from the endless bump-bump-bump of uncared-for roads. They are slow, too, stopping every few minutes to pick up people by the side of forested roads.

A young couple gets on. She is carrying three long, thin sticks, tied together in a meager bundle; he smells of fires. An old woman, bent seventy degrees, boards with a baby on her back. The child is immobilized in a brightly-colored, hand-woven baby carrier; each of its limbs is wrapped separately in a thick blanket and sticks out straight, giving the effect of an enormous, patchwork starfish with tiny red cheeks. Everyone has greasy hair; hot water is scarce, so showers are probably infrequent in the wintertime.

A man steps up and throws a duffel bag full of metal implements onto the luggage pile and pays the driver, then hops off: he is delivering construction materials down the road. Everywhere, houses are being built, their wood frames still skeletons in mid-winter. We are held up for half an hour by a work crew moving a massive pile of rock by hand. The small boulders fill the road and men and women wrestle to clear the path so the thirty or so vehicles can pass through.

A man climbs aboard with a forty-pound bag of rice. A woman brings a duck in a canvas sack, just its head sticking out. And we quack-bump our smoky way down the road.

We get to Datang, the highest village in the valley we’re heading up, and the last stop before the road climbs over those high ridges and descends again on the south side. There is a sign in the road: Closed due to snow. We sigh, get off, wander. The village has an interesting granary setup, with each family’s storehouse built on stilts above a large pool of water. The pool is fed from the nearby river, and also a good number of outhouses. But the water doesn’t need to be clean; just deep enough to prevent mice from reaching the grain.

We walk around some more, trying to make as much fun as possible for a toddler not allowed to touch much of anything in this cold, muddy, filthy village. At least the rice noodles are hot and tasty. Nick goes to the government office, asking the ladies dawdling outside if there’s a hotel or guest house we can check into. “Ye-!” Pipes one of them, before getting elbowed by the other. “No,” the other one says. “There are no places here for you to stay.” Nick thanks them for their help, all three of them smiling as he walks out.

There are no snow plows here, and it appears no work crew has been formed. The snow must go away on its own. Fortunately, the afternoon sun is warm. At 2PM a traffic police SUV pulls up, and a trooper pulls the sign out of the road. The road is open.

On the bus, Nick talks to a couple men about the coming war between China and Japan and its US ally. We haven’t seen the news, but apparently another round of escalation has taken place in the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. The men say the news makes war seem likely, at least sometime in the next few years, since Japan is re-militarizing and returning to its old World War Two self, and the US is bent on preventing China’s rise. The men are excited to meet an American, and to find out what his salary is.

The bus bumps along the high ridgeline, the driver slowing warily at each puddle, looking for ice. But the sun has done its job today, and we splash, not slip, over the potholes.

Descending the other side, we see more Miao villages, here with different hairsyles for the women, and differently-patterned embroidery for the baby carriers. But the cold wooden houses are the same.

We get off at the bus’s last stop, the market town of Yongle, “Everlasting Happiness.” The Miao guesthouse owner says we can all stay in the same room, one with a wide bed, and electric blankets. We eat dinner and are under the covers for Owen’s 8PM bedtime, all three of us.

Pictures include shots from the next morning, the last leg into Rongjiang.


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Filed under Foreign-er Travel, South of the Clouds

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