Friday, May 13, 2011

Horse Trek from Hell - Part 1

A lot of hype surrounded the Songpan horse trekking “experience”. This hype was compounded by an insatiable mysteriousness brought about by constant “road blockages” preventing people from even going there. Advertised as a great way to see “real” China, it was one of the main drawcards for travel to Sichuan. We were assured by the hostel manager in Chengdu, before setting off, that the trek would be “awesome”.

Ha. Ha. Yeah, sure.
Really awesome.
Totally awesome.
The most awesome thing ever.
Ha ha ha ha ha.

Lol. No.

The bus dropped us off at the same place he dropped everyone else (read: three other people) off at – a dirt patch on the side of the road near his house. We had faith that we were somewhere near Songpan at least, and so we just followed the not-much-of-a crowd until the density of buildings reached a level of presumed inhabitance. We were off to Emma’s café.

‘Who is Emma’, I hear you ask?

Its so funny that you presume we know these things.

We find Emma’s café not because we have a map (we don’t) and not because we ask (nobody speaks Mandarin here) but because we know it’s supposed to be on the “main” street of this town, and it turns out that the “main” street takes approximately eight minutes to walk down. No buildings are higher than two stories, minimal proof of present human activity can be identified, and you can see the monstrous mountain ranges towering toward you as you stand on the sidewalk.  It is kind of almost snowing (read: we’re getting soaked from ugly sloshy wannabe snow that’s actually just really cold rain) and open-topped trucks of coal rush past us threatening to soak us with collateral muddy sleet. I would give this town about a minus twenty out of ten.

We stumble upon Emma’s café and are all ushered inside by a woman who reached my shoulders but outstripped a sea otter for energy and cuteness. Turns out she is Emma (stunning deduction skills on my part, thankyouverymuch) and we are informed that the horses are already waiting for us. But we haven’t eaten. So we eat. It is whilst I am chewing that I notice a strange feeling in my head. Being ever the optimist, I tried to convince myself that the feeling was simply “strange” if not unsolicited, and continued on with vigour. Yes, I ate my omelette with vigour – we thought food on the trek might not be crash hot. Having finished said omelette, we excitedly stowed our belongings away and went out to meet our horses and guide.

I have always had an admiration for horses, indeed also for the horse-affiliated people. People who can ride horses, I guess is what I mean by that. They’re pretty cool really. It must just come from my heavily cinema-influenced youth, but if you have a horse as an animal friend, you might just cut it as a member of the Fellowship. People who can wield swords at the same time get bonus points, but I understand the lack of relevance of heavy armory these days. I digress.

I guess what I mean, is that I always wanted to ride horses. The horse and I would have a seemingly psychic connection. Its name is Rafael. Rafael won’t let anyone else ride him. When we’re travelling and cold around campfire under starry sky I sleep near his rump for warmth and feed him food from my own stores. It’s that image of galloping across the countryside on dusk, endless expanse of green and golden fields, single tree on the horizon line, setting sun as my point of reference, lover awaiting my arrival, hair billowing, strings coming to crescendo with horn section. A life directed by Lucas.

What we find, waiting by the side of the coal truck highway, is a fat man smoking a squished cigarette, counting ripped money, swearing at other men, all of them shifting uncomfortably in the cold, hawking and spitting, shoving gritty fingers up their noses and picking their underwear from their dirty asses. Three horses wait as far away from the men as their straining reigns will allow them, evidently embarrassed by their “masters”. I can tell that none of these horses are named Rafael. I can tell that I will not have a spiritual connection with any of them. I can tell that our guide is not a handsome horse whisperer. A glance around me and I realise that this scenery is not at all similar to that found in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, nor is the temperature. I come to the conclusion that no lover is waiting for me, that I do not have a philharmonic orchestra accompanying me on this trip and my hair won’t even billow because its shoved under a goddamned beannie.

Why am I here? I hear me ask myself.

It’s so funny that I presume I know these things.

The three of us approach the fat man (he is clearly the boss, in case you haven’t seen everysinglegangstermovieevermade) and introduce ourselves. He doesn’t care who we are, which is not surprising, until he finds out that we payed a deposit for the trek to someone other than him. On receiving this apparently unreasonable information, he stands up as tall as he can, inflates his shoulders, blows out his boozy red cheeks and punches his nose in the air as if it were his fist. Looking down on me and yelling, this attempt at intimidation is unsuccessful because all I see is a striking resemblance to a puffer fish. I reply in a very loud, clear and slow (read: patronising) voice that we will not pay the deposit twice. Condescension appears effective, if only because he is baffled that a young woman is speaking directly to him. One of my travelling friends, of the three of us, was male, and it had not escaped my attention that people would address him instead of one of us females when decisions were to be made – as if we were some polygamous patriarchal travelling threesome. As it was, I was the most assertive in the situation simply because I don’t like pufferfish.

We hand over some crispy Mao (fresh cash) (because Mao is on EVERY unit of money) (even though he was communist) (FAIL). And now we are being shown over to our noble steeds. They are truly “amazing”.

Seriously though.

The first introduction I get to our guide, is a nice ass-grab as I get up onto my saddle. At the time I tell myself that his fingers were not bent into a cup-shape so as to enjoy the support and that I did actually need help up, however hindsight reveals to me in incredibly clarity, that he did cop a feel, and consequently I am now feeling physically ill. Speaking of ill, the exertion of mounting the horse made my blood pump a little more, and I notice the “strange” feeling in my head was getting less “strange” and more painful…

I had done a less-than-adequate amount of reading into altitude sickness. Because Songpan is about 3000 meters above sea level, it falls into the category of potentially-seriously-messing-you-up. Just google it. I dare you. The last time I was up high was trekking in Rwanda to see Gorillas, and I passed out, woke up, and kept going. I presumed that having fought the altitude monster once before and won, that I would consequently be stronger for the second round. Turns out that people with the genetic predisposition to altitude sickness (it has nothing to do with fitness) actually get affected worse and worse with every climb.

If there was ever a time when lack of preparation would bite me on the ass, it would turn out to be this time…

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...