Baba Mama in Yunnan

Trip Start Aug 29, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Wednesday, March 27, 2013

We'd been waiting to hear the big news for what seemed like a lifetime! Before we left Yangshuo, my brother, Joel, sent me a message on Skype. "When you get a chance, can you Skype me with mom and dad? Jenny and I have some news to drop on you." That's right. DROP on you. And then, he signed off. We’d been speculating about the news ever since. Did they decide on grad school programs?! Were they engaged?! Were they captured by aliens who had discovered how to make an even better brisket?!

We got to Dali after midnight and raced to the nearest cab. The driver took forever to find our hostel, despite our obvious impatience. We lugged our bags up to the fourth floor and stumbled as fast as we could back down to the first floor computer lounge to make it in time for our Skype date with Joel.

We quickly realized there was no webcam or microphone. If Joel was going to tell us, he’d have to type it. We left it up to him.

"Well, its kinda big news to tell over Skype chat but I don’t want to keep you waiting in suspense for a week. Also everyone in the States knows, so you should, too…"

Now, I should probably mention that Joel has this lovely old man two finger typing style. He said, “Okay, I’ll just type it.” We held our breath! The little Skype pencil began to move! And then we waited. And waited. And waited.


And then, he finally hit enter.


“On valentine’s day I proposed to Jenny!!!!” If everyone in the hostel wasn’t already awake from our cries of anticipation, they certainly were now.

We celebrated like kings in Dali! We toasted…and toasted…and toasted Joel and Jenny. We toasted so much that mom and dad made a sign for Joel and Jenny that they could throw up during the most scenic Kodak moments. They took every opportunity to show their J&J signs at the top of Cangshan, the Himalaya foothill that towers over Dali where Joel, Ian, and I had gotten lost for 15 hours.

An almost helicopter ride

From Dali, we traveled to Lijiang. As soon as we’d started planning the China trip, Dad had decided that he had to see Tiger Leaping Gorge, which he’d heard described as “China’s Grand Canyon”.

We booked a “bread truck” to take us over Snow Mountain to the gorge, a two hour trip. As the top-heavy bread truck flew around cliff-side roads with no barriers, he repeated, “Oh my god! Oh. My. God!” We were really living on the edge.

When Joel, Ian and I went to Tiger Leaping Gorge, it was flood season so the only trail open was a flat path at the bottom. After a leisurely half hour stroll, we arrived at the end of the trail, snapped some shots, and turned around.

Baba Mama weren’t so lucky as to catch Tiger Leaping Gorge during flood season. The middle gorge path was open. Not to fear! It would only take three hours to hike from the top to the bottom and back up. Our bread truck would be leaving for Lijiang promptly at the three hour mark. If we missed it, we’d be stuck in the countryside.


The hike down was risky (including a fork in the path labeled “safe path” and “ladder”), but not physically challenging. The hike back up was a different story. It consisted of large steps between unstable, cragged rocks hanging precariously over the gorge and a climb straight up three ladders that had been fused together, one of which was installed upside-down. Mom continually asked if I had an emergency helicopter number I could call. As much as I use choppers as my personal taxi cabs, I had somehow never recorded the number.

Nevertheless, she made it to the top with a victorious stride and we feasted that night in celebration, toasting both J&J and Mom’s willpower!

No! No! Go away!

Unfortunately, the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike wasn’t the last time her willpower would be tested in Yunnan. The next morning, we went to the bus station to get back to Kunming in time for our flight to Shanghai. We were shocked to find out that the only seats back to Kunming weren’t in fact seats at all; they were beds. That’s right. The only available bus was a 9 hour sleeper bus.

After 9 hours of claustrophobic panic attacks and holding our breath as fellow passengers smoked and sneezed, we took our final exasperated steps off of the bus in Kunming. We crossed the street to flag down a cab to take us to our hostel. Of course, this involved running around the street with a horde of other frustrated passengers trying to beat them to cabs while simultaneously running from creepers offering illegal cab rides. 


This infuriating event would not be complete without, you guessed it, an enraged bus lady! She followed us across the street and told passing cabs not to pick us up because we were her customers. She yelled prices at us and refused to be ignored, no matter how hard we tried. Finally, dad had had enough. “No! No!” he yelled. “Go away!” Silent for the first time, the enraged bus lady stared at him, wide-eyed, then looked at me. “What did he say?” she asked. Through fits of laughter, I flagged down a real, legal cab and we escaped the enraged bus lady!

Last train home

We made it to the hostel and were finally home free! Or so we thought…


I started feeling sick on the sleeper bus, for obvious reasons. I dragged my feet exhaustedly behind my parents into the Kunming Airport the next morning. One more flight left…back home to Shanghai…to my lovely new apartment!

At the counter, we discovered that there were no tickets for us. Ctrip had changed our flight and failed to send a notification. That was fine; we’re pretty easygoing. The only problem was that they had changed our flight to an earlier one, a flight that we’d already missed by hours. My parents were supposed to fly back to the US the next day and there were no Shanghai flights for the next four days!

In my dazed state, I worked with the decidedly apathetic Air China ticket sellers to devise a plan. We’d fly to Nanjing and take the fast train home, the last train home. Not only did this plan work out perfectly, Baba Mama got to experience almost every type of Chinese transportation: Maglev trains, subways, cabs, sleeper buses, bread trucks, fast trains, cable cars, Great Wall toboggans, motorcycle taxis, and even bamboo boats!

The most glorious mode of transportation, however, was our own six feet. We stood in the doorway of Wenying's parents' Shanghai home, on the Great Wall of China, on a bamboo boat on the Li River, in a Dali hostel as Joel told us he was engaged, and on the top of Tiger Leaping Gorge after a victorious hike! And long after the soreness and blisters fade away, we will always remember the amazing experiences we had on Baba Mama’s epic adventure in China! 

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