Thursday, May 7, 2009

Songpan Horse Trek part 3 Arrival at Camp

We left Songpan at 9.45 and arrived in camp at precisely 1 pm. Our camp is about 1 km down the road from Erdaohai Park in a little grassy area beside a river. There is a camp house which will be used as  a cook hut. Meng Jun quickly instructs us: drinking water upstream (which they boil for our tea), toilet area downwind of camp in the bushes. 
Itchy, itchy! As soon as the saddles are off (and that is quick) the horses all roll on their backs. 
Got to get things settled as quick as possible, there's lot's to do, we are a large group and the weather might turn bad at any moment. The men do it efficiently, quickly, quietly and with lot's of laughs. They work very well together. 
The horsemen go quickly up into the forest and find (or chop down although we didn't hear anything) a nice tree to use as a tent ridge pole. It is quickly sheared of its branches using a huandao (lit. "bend knife") that serves as a sort of gigantic Swiss Army knife/sword/hachette/adze for the mafu and almost anything they need to fix. 
The ridge pole is hoisted into place and "simsalabim" we quickly have a tent. They know what they're doing - it's going to rain soon and the tent is important. They also quickly pitch all of our sleeping tents and lay out our bedding. 
Wooden saddle and Tibetan saddlebag. 
Our small bus arrives with Catherine P and Sam G (3 yrs old, a little too young to ride), all our equipment from Chengdu and all of our extra food goodies. We are 24 people in total, all living and working in Chengdu. This is a family trek with small children along so we are quite content to camp near the road, with easy access back to Songpan in case something happens (which does, altitude sickness). We have all brought sleeping bags with us and could have hauled all this extra "junk" with us on more horses but no need when we already have a vehicle that can just drop it off. Mr Su then drove back to Songpan and stayed there in a hotel for 3 days, playing mahjong with other drivers! Even though we were not far away from a major thoroughfare we only saw 3-4 cars a day pass by. If we had wanted to we could have camped in other areas away from all roads, the campsite varies with the trek and customer. 
Meng Jun gets the fire going, we are all breathless with anticipation. Soon we'll be breathless with asphyxiation and smoke inhalation!
Air hole-cum-window. 
Maya getting warmed up in her Tibetan chuba (zang zhuan). Warm but stinky....
Something wrong with the fire! Wood too damp or what? We all the flee the tent as the smoke pours out. After a while though all problems are solved and we spend a cosy evening propped up against  makeshift, very comfy bolsters made out of thin branches draped with saddle blankets. 
Tuva and Thilien enjoy the snow, something we see only about once a winter in Chengdu. 
Rain turned into SNOW! Much nicer and more romantic, the wooded mountains of Sichuan quickly faded away into the mist. Luckily both the rain and the snow only lasted a short while so after a quick "fika" (coffee and tea break) we could all happily walk off to visit Erdaohai Park about 1 km up the road from our camp. We didn't see ONE drop of rain again until we got back into Songpan again. Perfect.
Philippe B out in the snow taking a picture of me taking a picture of him...

Roasted marshmallows! Some of the kids had never eaten these before, but if I'm not mistaken, everyone of them quickly became converts to this very American tradition. 

All photos ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

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