June 2014 was a once in a lifetime excursion to China to visit and travel with Maguire. We met up in Beijing where Maguire lives and works, but quickly hopped an airplane to Kunming in Yunnan Province in southwest China. A four hour bus ride brought us to our first destination in Dali. Maguire has worked very hard to learn Chinese and it showed on this trip. She seemed to have no trouble communicating with anyone or arguing with taxi drivers who were always trying to rip us off. I really appreciated having her as an interpreter, tour guide and companion.

Dali, Yunnan, China

The old walled city of Dali was built during Ming Dynasty (late 1300’s) and is separate from the new city. Although situated at 6500 feet elevation, the city has a very mild climate. Our base of operations was Jim’s Tibetan Hotel which was within easy walking distance of the old city and about 2 miles from the 3 Pagodas.

We spent a couple of days exploring the city and surrounding area including a trip by cable car up the nearby Cangshan Range mountains for a great view of Erhai Lake. Unfortunately, the food was disappointing as we couldn’t find a place that served authentic Yunnan cuisine.

Our next stop was Lijiang, a 2 hour train ride north of Dali. Lijiang is located at 8500 feet elevation and sits at the base of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (elevation 18,360 feet). We viewed the mountain from the famous Black Dragon Pool which is considered one of China’s finest picturesque views. Despite being in a temperate zone, the mountain peak remains snow covered year round.

Lijiang has three ancient cities including Baisha, Shuhe and Lijiang. Lijiang Old Town is 4 square km of shops and restaurants and is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

While in Lijiang we stayed at a wonderful small inn, Bruce’s Chalet. It was difficult to find. Our taxi driver dumped us at the main gate of Shuhe Old Town, not knowing where it really was. We stopped numerous people and even asked at the police station. No one could seem to help us and there was no answer when we called the inn. Using Apple Maps and Google Maps on my iPhone finally got us to the correct location. Bruce and his wife were charming hosts who always had tea and biscuits for us as soon as we returned from our daily excursions.

The back side of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain forms one side of Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is one of the deepest gorges in the world, measuring 12,434 feet from river to mountain top. Our all day trip to the gorge included an exhausting loop hike straight down the mountainside to the river for approximately 3,000 feet and then back up. The trail up was so steep that we had to climb ladders at a couple of points.

Lijiang, Yunnan, China

Culinary highlights of Lijiang included eating hot pot as well as fried Yak cheese dipped in sugar crystals. Very good.

Leaving Lijiang, we caught an 8 hour bus back to Kunming for our return flight to Beijing. The next day we were off to see the Great Wall.

We visited the Mutianyu section of the wall which is 70 km northeast of Beijing. The scope of the wall can only be appreciated in person. It took millions of workers to build and rebuild the wall over centuries. Hundreds of thousand probably died and many were just buried in the wall as part of the construction. The most surprising discovery about the wall is that it is definitely not flat. Everything is either a stair step up or down. The occasional 3 point climb was not unusual.

Back in Beijing we couldn’t miss a trip to the night market. This is where one finds all of the strange foods being served from street vendors. Delicacies include crickets, grasshoppers, scorpions, centipedes, snake, turtle and who knows what else. It’s something you should definitely see. Whether you choose to sample is us to you.

Alas, all good trips must come to an end. After a tearful goodbye, I caught my flight back to Seattle and eventually Boise taking nothing but good memories of my time in China.