Winding road down from near Lijiang.
I finally manage to extricate myself from the hugs, kisses and gifts of adorable Ma Ma Naxi (yes, her again) and her niece Xiao Zhou. Her husband Ba Ba escorts me through the winding backways of Lijiang to my bus to Lu Gu Lake ( Lu Gu Hu). He hands my ticket over to the bus lady. I board. Ba Ba leaves. Job done. On to the next destination please!
“You are on the wrong bus!”. No I’m not. “No I’m not mate.” Waffle waffle. Gesture gesture. “You on wrong bus!”. “He say you on the wrong bus.
” “I know what he’s saying it’s just not true. Look mate…” I say to Mr Wrong Bus whilst pointing to his female colleague “…your colleague gave me a ticket to Lu Gu Hu and put me on this bus, so it is NOT the wrong bus!“. Everyone’s getting a little uncomfortable now. He looks at me. “Wrooong bus!”. “Look I don’t know why, but the only reason you want me off this bus is ‘cos I’m the only f**king foreigner on it!” and I reckon this means a con is in the offing. I can feel it bone deep. Mr Wrong Bus and his ticket dispensing colleague (who must deal with Ba Ba Naxi on this same bus almost every day of the given year, so I know there can be no mistake) start to argue.
Lu Gu Lake.
Beautiful sky-matched blue Lu Gu Lake.
All of sudden the engine turns over and we’re on our way, correct four wheels ’n’ all to Lu Gu Hu. No sh*t! Qu’elle surprise. Ya mean I was
on the right bus aaaall
. You’ll have odd moments like this in China, when you’re one in a crowd and a perceived easy target - probably anyway. Just tough it out and say lots of things angrily that they’re bound not to understand. Works for me! ;D
Lu Gu Lake is a site of powerful natural beauty which is on the north eastern border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. Quite literally ON the border. The legal demarcation line literally running through the middle of the lake. Its 50.3 square kilometres of ultra marine blue splendour sit at 2,690 metres above sea level and it is China’s third largest fresh water lake.
Formalities first. “Yup, you guessed it!”
another entry fee. The usual one of approx 85RMB ($12.50). I dunno what it is with this particular figure. 8 is an auspicious number in China I guess? These fees throughout China, mirroring the recent astronomical boom in the national economy have apparently sky-rocketed in very recent times also from amounts of near nothing or 5 - 20 RMB to a usual minimum of 80RMB. There’s nowt ya can do about it folks. Beauty has a price.
Aside from its natural charms the area around Lu Gu Hu is most famous for the presence of its majority ethnic minority community. That of the Mosuo people, themselves a branch of the Naxi ethnic minority grouping. Anywhere in the region of 50,000 Mosuo live in the valley basin, mountain and lakeside villages in the vicinity of Lu Gu Hu and are most notable to commentators and in the minimal attention spans of tourists like me for being China’s and one of the worlds only known remaining practising ‘Matriarchal’ or ‘Matrilineal’ societies.
Lu Gu Lake.
These terms are open to constant debate with reference to the specific cultural and social practises of the Mosuo people, but essentially households are headed by the women, business decisions predominantly reside in their hands and title and property pass through the female lineage. A matrilineal structure. Men still though retain political power within the community, this detail being wherein the term ‘matriarchal’ is rendered no longer strictly accurate.
The main well-spring of the community’s fame ( besmirched by the leering over over attentions of foreign travellers and domestic sex-tourists into a form of notoriety ) is the manner of conjugal practice within the Mosuo community. The so-called ‘walking marriages’. Marriage as union in more conventional senses is not practised.
Mosuo women, once come of age, may invite whomever male partners they wish to enter into relations with them but it will normally only be ever so passingly. The man will knock upon and enter the woman’s room after dark, and leave before dawn so as to preserve a certain style of anonymity within the union. Multiple partner practice is common and the children and their mothers within Mosuo communities often will be unaware of the true father’s identity. Men whilst baring responsibility for the upkeep of children residing in their own community homes, are not directly responsible for their own progeny, their commitment ending when they leave at dawn. So curiously what on paper first looks like a unique; nay a miraculous victory for a female dominated societal structure, reflexively sounds like a male utopia of (falsely alleged) promiscuity, ultimate one night stands and no responsibilities there after.
The truth is far from this, and far more complex of course and only to be understood by members of the community in question.
I’m glad I stuck to my guns, and so stuck to my bus as it means I am fortunate enough to be on a bus that will deposit me and my Chinese co-travellers straight to the small lakeside village of Lige rather than the more touristy villages. The bus also stops by a lakeside dock on route around the lake and for 30RMB ($4.50) we all board a large paddle canoe and are slowly taken out onto the clear blue waters of Lu Gu Hu for some hours. Taking in the serene blue and green of the scenery about and visiting Xi Wa’er or “Tusi” Island at the lake’s heart into the bargain. I probably would not have done this otherwise. Bathed in late afternoon shafts of bright dusky sunlight, the flattish-topped Gemu Goddess or ’Lion’ Mountain sits in prominence besides the lake.
Paddle boat over Lu Gu Hu.
3,755 metres high and the sacred mountain worshipped by the Mosuo peoples.
I’m getting to know my bus / boat colleagues. Fascination about their sole foreign co-traveller ( the fire-tongued, flame-haired one) has set in and I’m drawn into many a faltering humorous conversation. I am requested to sing an English song, following a wonderfully sonorous performance from our Mosuo boatman but nothing doing people. Stevie doesn’t sing for his supper, for the sakes of your health, not his own! Trust me. On the way back to shore it is the main aim of one man - to the recurrent embarrassment of his wife - to cast innuendos and aspersions about my reasons for visiting Lu Gu Hu. “So, later, you like Mosuo women yes? Me you.
You want to try a walking Marriage, yes?! Ha ha!”. No thanks Mack. Not my bag.
Small monastery on Xi Wa'er "Tusi" Island in middle of Lake Lu Gu.
So, no. No knocking on strange women’s doors for Stevie tonight. Slightly at a loss I have to say after having now left the comforts both of travelling with the good good people, Emmy, Vanesha and now Nick; and having abandoned the bubble of Ma Ma Naxi’s comforts and protections having finally obtained my visa extension in Lijiang, Stevie is on his own once more. Generally my preferred state on The Road. But I have been blessed with so much magnificent company in recent months I’ve almost been spoiled by it. In all the best ways possible of course.
Meaning, that makes one at the dinner table tonight after my sunset stroll around the waters edge.
Gemu Goddess or 'Lion' Mountain behind Lige hostels.
A full moon shining bright through the clouds and skies long before her opposite number’s done for the day. I sit at one of the ground level barbeque burners they offer for an eating experience here. I opt for a bottle of the interesting sounding ‘Barley Beer’ at 15RMB ( $2.50). This turns out to be a 400ml bottle of truly, truly lethal distilled rice wine type liquid. “Jeez!, not again!”.
I knew I shoulda just had a beer or a coke. So I continue to turn over my potato slices, seasoned aubergine slivers and fresh-caught Lu Gu fish on my BBQ and pour myself shot after paralysing shot of this stuff. Necking it back. And it’s not long before it’s evident I am becoming quite unusually inebriated. A raucous squealing pierces the night air and a poor piglet is trotted over - resistance is futile - to a spot of ground just right besides myself where right before my bleary, boozy eyes a large knife is plunged
right into its neck.
Moon and branches.
Blood spurting everywhere. Squealing no more. Within 15 minutes (the time it takes to have several more rice wine shots) the poor thing’s been bled, shaved, washed, gutted and splayed most dexterously ready to turn upon the spit. The whole episode is rendered that little more gruesome to my food-innocent western eyes by the exaggerations and visual and sonic warpings of what is now full on drunkeness! We are so excessively shielded from the real farm-to-plate ‘process’ of food production in Europe with our anaesthetised relationship with pre-chopped, shrink-wrapped supermarket meats!
By the time I get up from dinner, all 400mls of ‘Barley Beer’ to the good I am absoluuutely sozzled! Like the most rat-arsed I’ve been on my journey for a very, very long time.
And so unexpected too!
View from 'Lige Island'. (not really an island but a rocky outcrop on the lake)
A quiet night besides the calm, calm blues of Lu Gu Hu. On my tod. And I’m blasted. Plastered. Smashed. P**sed as a fart! Drunk as a skunk. Three shits to the wind… sorry! sheets
to the wind...or was it four?… or five sheets?! F**k I can’t even count anymore! And all the rest. I literally have to support myself on fence posts all the way back to the Youth Hostel, unable to fully command my motor functions anymore. A crowd of people pile out of a restaurant as I stagger along. Can’t quite focus on ‘em. In fact not at all. My eyes are malfunctioning along with everything else. I must cut quite a sight! Not a good one. I think it’s the man from the boat earlier? “So, you fancy a Walking Marriage tonight my friend? Ha ha!”.
“Nah thanksh mate, I djon’t think I can even f**kin’ walk anymore!”
Lu Gu Hu style open barbeque (inc. lethal bottle of 'Barley Beer'.
Hiccup! Bye bye blue lake. Hello black out.
[ I apologise that destinations are being logged under inaccurate points on Google Maps right now (eg : Chengdu for this entry), but many of them in China currently are not logged (FeiLaiSi, Xideng, Yubeng, Lu Gu Hu etc...) : something it's hard to do on my small laptop screen, but will seek to correct for all future users shortly ]