The final stop on our tour was Dali, the small backpacker-friendly city on the road from Lijiang to Kunming. Let us recap the journey with a few maps to put it all in perspective. As always, click on them for a larger version.
For the 6 hour journey to Dali, we took an ordinary bus for about $10 each. It was packed full with un-assigned seats, chain smoking passengers, and boasted no A/C. And apparently, there aren't any other options. You flag down a bus heading to your destination, hope there are seats available, and pay the driver. Luckily, there were exactly four people getting off when we got on. Here's our van taking a break, with mom reading in the back seat.
Dali is flanked by mountains on all sides and shares the valley with an ear-shaped lake. It is called Ear Lake. Activities in the area include hiking, boating, biking, strolling the old town, and visiting the small villages along the lake, home to the Bai minority.
Dali's old town itself, while not so striking, was really pleasant to walk around in. It's loaded with cafes restaurants, shops, and friendly people. We passed the time enjoying the weather and playing games. My parents had their first positive experience with Indian food (you're welcome Mike and Joan!).
Lijiang and Dali both have an unusual fascination with hand drums, djembes, in particular. I've been playing them for years and even had a band in college, KJ and the Pit Mac Attack, with my friend Will Norris. We played at Starbucks sometimes. We were pretty great.
Anyway! The drummers in these towns were surprisingly amateur. I made a game out of walking into the shop where five people were pounding out non-beats together. I'd pick up a drum, stare at it quizzically for a moment, then start playing awkwardly for about ten seconds. Then, i'd slowly build it into a crushing wall of awesome sound, ripping through grooves and solos at breakneck speed, bending the drum to my will. Dozens of people would gather to watch my 60 second jam, and i could sense video cameras pointed at me and the flashes of photography. Then, as humbly as possible, i would place the drum down, stand up, and walk out. A few times i received applause.
One time i was goaded by esther and the rents into joining a guitarist on the street who was trying to earn money for Tibet. I sat in on maybe five songs, and again, gathered a huge crowd. I wasn't sure if it was because i was a foreigner, or because i was apparently one of the few competent hand percussionists around, but i always seemed to get a crowd.
With our one full day there, we decided on a morning boat tour of the lake. It was pretty touristy and underwhelming, but nice enough. Most notable was a stop at a market loaded with local Bai people hawking goods. They basically just followed us around and tried to sell us stuff. I used the opportunity to take photos of them.
I also had a fun discussion with a friendly old guy. We talked about politics. He said USA loves war, and that is bad. I replied, our government loves war, but i think the majority of United Statesians do not. I agree war is bad. I glanced at esther, who was amused by the conversation, to see if my point made sense. She nodded in approval. Then the old man took my sunglasses and studied them intently. Later, he gave them back.
On our last night, esther and i went to an Open Mic at Bad Monkey Bar. I played about five songs on drum kit with many different musicians, and was generally impressed by the talent there. Esther took a few videos, here's the best one.
Esther, as always, looking wonderful.
And lastly, by popular demand, let us check in with beardapalooza, day 16:
It's fuzzy! (...the photo and the faces.)