I didn't have very high hopes for Shilin, which had been described to me as a Chinese tourist trap on crack. But it was a beautiful day, warm and clear, and I felt like seeing something I hadn't seen before, so Lisa put me in touch with a driver who agreed to take me the 120km out there and back.
When I got to Shilin, it was as I had been told
. What was clearly once a stunningly beautiful natural wonderland was now a quasi-natural, human-controlled, kitch jamboree. Paved paths, bathrooms every hundred feet, security cameras, Han guides dressed in minority clothing, novelty shops throughout the park, and hordes of tour groups and extended families suffocated the central regions of the park. However, what I didn't realize until I got to wandering was that there was a spectacular peripheral area, reserved specifically for those not wearing city shoes, where one could stroll undisturbed through meadows of karsts and ask oneself philosophical questions, such as, where did planet Earth come from
, and, why am I here?
I got wonderfully lost today, wandering for hours alone in the periphery of the stone forest--there were not many other people not wearing city shoes--and it was one of the most soothing and rewarding travel days I have ever had. It was seventy degrees, the air was clear, the sun was shining, I was surrounded by amazing rock creations, and I was in China and had managed to beat the crowd. Now that is a day worth writing home about!
Approximately one and a half hours by car east of Kunming, is Shilin, China's "stone forest." A UNESCO World Heritage site, Shilin is a popular (read: swarming) tourist attraction for Chinese and foreigners alike. The park boasts thousands upon thousands of sharp, quirky, gray, limestone rock pillars, which, I am to understand, are formed by earthquakes, plate techtonics, and the dissolving in water of larger rock structures around them, over the course of six hundred thousand billion years, roughly speaking.