Patchu is a hiking guide who took it upon himself to see to it that I made it to Moxi and back from Kangding, near the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province of China, all in one piece.
Once he realized I could speak a bit of Mandarin, also a second language for him, he immediately took me under his wing and made it his pet project to get me to Moxi to see the red rocks, something I had expressed I had traveled all 12 hours from Emei Shan to see. It was an additional 4 hours by car to get there, and everyone I asked said my only option would be to hire a private car for over $100. I simply couldn’t swing it.
Through the morning snow, Patchu walked the twenty minutes into Kangding town with me and told me that he would help me take a local bus in order to get there – an area I had been warned might be off limits to tourists at the moment given the ever-tenuous relations between Tibet and the Chinese government.
It took about an hour, but we finally found a minibus bound for Moxi. He repeatedly verified with the driver the plan to take me to Moxi and pick me up the next morning to return me to Kangding for only $18 — the local price — which is exactly how it ended up.
Patchu is part of the Tibetan minority, a group of people I have come to really enjoy spending time with. Not only do I find that they tend to be incredibly happy and friendly, but I also find them to be quite a handsome people. They have shiny, thick black hair – the women often growing theirs to their knees, or tying it up in a braided crown of bright, red threads. They tend to be tall, with tanned skin, rose-red cheeks, and eyes that look like the rising sun. Eyes that, even if the rest of the face is solemn, are perpetually smiling.
So, when I returned to Kangding and told Patchu that I couldn’t stand another long bus ride, he gave me a benevolent smile and told me which intersection to wait at to go to thumb a ride back to Chengdu.
The next morning I stood out in the cold for about 10 minutes. Various cars passed by, some only going part way, some laughing and shrugging, indicating, “I’m sorry! My car is full!”
Then an SUV pulled up with two young men inside, bound for Chengdu. I realized immediately that, just as the last time I had hitchhiked alone, I was going to have to think and work hard to make conversation flow during this long ride. The driver asked me questions like whether I like singing and if California is flat or mountainous. For the most part we were able to communicate relatively well, but I sure did miss Ya Ting who had been with me the majority of the previous times.
The driver took every curve with incredible white knuckle-inducing speed, as if he knew the roads like the back of his hand. He didn’t, though. It had been his first time in Kangding, which didn’t exactly make me feel more at ease. By the time we’d made it through the twists and turns of the mountains my gluteal muscles were sore from overuse trying to remain in my seat, as opposed to flailing like a rag doll across the back seat bench.
Every now and then when a traffic jam impeded our progress, we’d chew on the spicy, gamey, but tender and lean yak meat jerky they’d bought a year’s supply of. When traffic cleared up, it was back to break-neck speed down winding and broken roads.
The real surprise of the trip came when they took me to lunch to try the famous Ya’an fish in a town along the way. The driver hand selected the perfect fish, ordered entirely too many other dishes, and asked the waitress to make a bracelet for me out of the “double edged sword” bone in the fish’s head.
It is officially the oddest but also the most unique jewelry item I’ve received to date. It’s also potentially lethal as it’s incredibly sharp, shaped like a sword, and dangles around some major veins on my wrist. I’m keeping this one as a look-at-but-don’t-touch souvenir.
Potentially the coolest souvenir, ever, that is.
All in all, I’ve traveled over 1,805 kilometers (1,122 miles), half of that distance completely solo, in 13 different cars in China, solely on the kindness of strangers. I didn’t do it for any reason other than the thrill of adventure and opportunity to delve deeper into local culture than otherwise possible. Though I have since hung my hitchhiking hat and opted for busses, it’s an experience I’ll always treasure and remember as some of the wildest times of my travels in China.
Thank you for joining me on the journey.