Dehang is one of those places you hope exists, but assume probably doesn’t. A tiny ancient village built along a stream, surrounded by Karst peaks and terraced fields of wheat and rice. Farmers drying crops on bamboo mats in the sun, smoked pork hocks hanging from front windows, women weaving cloth in alleyways. But it wouldn’t also be Chinese, without the obligatory-minority-cultural show, exorbitant entry fee and matching hatted tour groups led by crackling microphones. And a number of obstacles to actually get there. All of which we forgave, and then some.
From Fenghuang, a bus took us to Jishou (CNY22 pp), from where the LP claimed we would find ‘regular buses’ from the train station. Ha. We never learn. We strode across town, and confidently presented the ‘Bus to Dehang’ translation saved as a picture on my phone. This usually works brilliantly, but only elicited the ubiquitous, lazy, hand flick. We recognised a couple of girls from the first bus, so asked them for assistance – they explained through considerable blushing and giggling, that they weren’t local, they were ashamed of their English, but they would ask for us. They walked us around the station and surrounding area for almost an hour, arguing with taxi drivers trying to fleece us, shouting at ticket sellers who were dismissing them. They only reluctantly gave up when we insisted they not miss their own, once a day, train. We confidently walked away so they would stop worrying, laughing to each other at China’s ability to smite and charm us in equal measure.
In a way, it’s a good feeling – to be stranded and not at all stressed about it. I suspect that it’s a universal space we all arrive in, after x amounts of hours on the independent budget travel road. Of genuinely accepting that shit will probably work out.
And it did. We were immediately approached by a young man with the best English we’ve come across in China. ‘Excuse me, but can I offer you any assistance?’ Yes. ‘There is no bus, but if you like I can arrange for a taxi. It might be a little expensive, because it is a long way and the driver won’t have a return fare. Probably 100 yuan.’ The last driver had quoted the girls 300. We said hell yes, promised him our first born, and got on our giddy way.
We forgave the LP when we found the recommended Jielong Inn (70CNY per night), and were shown to the top floor and offered our pick of the rooms overlooking the ancient Jielong Bridge, the river and the mountains. Comfortable beds, clean white linen, fly screen instead of windows, and a fan: bliss. If we hadn’t already booked our Shenzhen/Hong Kong train and pre-paid our Hong Kong accommodation, we may never have left. The bonus? The owner was a brilliant cook, tolerated our refusal of her killing a duck for our dinner, and kept us in cold beer and veggie stir fries. Every so often, we become blissed out hippy country kids. This was one of those times.