March 26 & 27. Now I’m starting to enjoy the continuous activities being planned for these last 2 weeks, which was what I had become accustomed to last month. We met with Adam and Dane, our rock climbing guides, at Adam’s house in Dali. It was only a 10 minute walk from Sunny Lodge, but after dragging a luggage bag packed with 4 months of clothing and materials through cramped, windy streets, I would consider it more of a hike.
Adam, who lives in Dali with his wife and son, owns a rock climbing company called “Climb Dali”. Dane agreed to accompany him on this trip, although he doesn’t usually work for Adam. Both being expert and enthusiastic climbers, they wasted no time in fitting us with climbing shoes as soon as we arrived. Then we picked up some provisions for lunch (mostly peanut butter and bread) and packed into a taxi van.
The ride was only an hour long to Saoang and we were soon setting down our things in the hostel that we would be staying in tonight. Adam led the away from the hostel, trekking from the streets of Saoang to the trails on the surrounding mountain. As the bright, blood colored dirt was kicked up into my face, I turned my head and studied the surroundings. The trees had been replaced by rough, desert bush and cacti and instead of locals staring curiously at my pale figure, cows were munching on grass as their bells rattled against their hides. This mountain was significantly different from the mountain I had climbed in Dali, almost an exact opposite.
When we finally reached the ridge we would be climbing, Adam and Dane laid down the supplies and handed us harnesses. As we slid them and our climbing shoes on, Adam and Dane climbed the first ride to set up the anchors for the climb. The first one was extremely easy for Adam, who had not only climbed it almost 150 times, but had discovered and cleaned the route as well. He stated it was a good warm-up run, which was lucky for me because I hadn’t done any serious climbing since I was around 12 or 13. In fact, Adam told me, with an air of modesty and pride, that he had discovered and cleaned the entire ridge, totaling in about 50 routes.
So I was the first to climb the beginner route, but I found that it wasn’t difficult at all. It was more or less like climbing an indoor rock climbing wall and the climbing shoes made it that much easier. Their rubber traction allowed me to place my foot on the tiniest holds and stand their comfortably. While Erik belayed me, Dane and Adam set up a couple more routes for us. They all turned out to be relatively easy, but they were progressively more difficult. Some had a few difficult holds and others had ridges that you needed to climb up at a 150 degree angle, but there were several rest spots. When I repelled down on my last climb, I noticed that my knees were cut in several places and my fingers were numb with pain. I hadn’t even noticed my discomfort during the concentration of my 5 climbs.
We took a break after that, intent on eating our fill of peanut butter, bread, and apples. During this lazy period, I watched Adam climb a 5-11a route with awe (Dane described the grading system to me during our hike up the mountain). He placed his hands such unlikely holds and continuously lodged his feet in the smallest of cracks and juts. At one point he was almost directly upside down, climbing with all his strength and skill. As I watched him put one leg over another, I spotted a hold that looked dangerously crumbly. I was just about to warn him not to grab onto it when he lunged out and grasped the hold. It immediately shattered in an explosion of red rock and Adam fell towards the earth. Dane’s reflexes and superior experience was the only thing that saved Adam from death. He bounced literally 6 inches from the ground, but, thankfully, never made contact. Adam tried this route again, and when he finally reached the top, he came up with an appropriate name for the route: 6 inches from 6 feet under. That, I thought, clearly stated just how dangerous climbing can be. After all our fingers were nearly bleeding with the pain of climbing, we headed back down to the village for a dinner readily prepared at the hostel, a warm, welcoming shower, a wooden bed, and a roommate who snored relentlessly through the night.
The next day was one that I was not looking forward to. Although we did enjoy a kayaking adventure that occupied most of the morning, Christen left in the afternoon and the only other enjoyable part of the day was when I made the most of my last night in Dali. We went kayaking in groups of 3s and didn’t finish until noon. By far, the funniest part of the day was Leung teetering into his kayak (which he had never done before) until he sat, became situated by shifting his forcibly weight, and made the kayak flip completely upside down, which left him struggling under water. Thankfully, he was a capable swimmer and came up sputtering and shivering. He refused to continue after that.
Our car ride back to Dali wasn’t fun. We crammed into the largest van Saoang could provide, and even that was too small to occupy 7 people, 5 bags of luggage, and 7 backpacks. My afternoon in Dali was spent walking around with David and Christen, just making the most of the time left before we all parted our separate ways. All too soon, Christen was saying her goodbyes and I was telling her that I would see her back home. Leung took her to Kunming, which left Erik, David, and I to fend for ourselves for the next 24 hours.
We ate beef steaks at Café De Jack, ordering our favorite meal at our favorite western restaurant. Then we came back to Sunny Lodge, where Erik was forced to organize our receipts for the last month. Wanting to spend my time doing something, and because the prospect of doing nothing was unbearable, I suggested to David that we meet up with a few of the people we had met earlier at the Café. Probably because he was too exhausted, or because he was pondering his next month in Tanzania, David refused to accompany me. That didn’t deter me from going out however. I took a taxi to the café, which took longer than I thought because it is extremely difficult to use proper mandarin (all provinces have their own versions of mandarin) to explain where you are trying to go.
I arrived and hung out with everybody until most were forced to say goodnight due to their studies tomorrow morning. All except Amanda and me were left. She is 18 and doesn’t have a curfew, so we went out to Dali and spent the most of the night talking and playing pool at the Sunny Lodge. When Amanda finally said she had to leave, I walked back to the room, but found that it was empty. I peered through the window of my room and saw David and Erik dancing in the bar of the Sunny Lodge. Smiling to myself, and half wishing I was 18 so I could join them, I slipped into bed and fell asleep, probably with that same silly grin spread on my face.