Joni and I are companions on the "10" hour bus ride to Juizhaigou Valley in the Tibetan Plateau. The bus is far from comfortable. No AC, no heat. Windows don't really open. No restroom. Barely any brakes. The driver is intent on never stopping... but since the bus would break down every once an a while he seldom had a choice where we take breaks.
Immediately as we leave Chengdu we are in the mountains... well, Chengdu is surrounded by mountains, but you rarely see them because of all the smog. The mountains here are Limestone. Fragile and aged, they crumble easily, and landslides are common. This is the region that suffered the heaviest casualties from the 2008 earthquake. Whole villages were covered by boulders. I didn't realize it at the time, but the road we took up the valley was freshly built. On the other side of the river was the ruins of the former highway and all the villages, farms and even traffic that fell victim to that devastating quake. The construction of this new highway was ongoing, and part of the extra time needed to get to Juizhaigou was the result of frequent construction.
Along the way, we passed hundreds of small villages, each one with their own tourist "attraction." Some are massive ornate bridges, others are colossal statues of ancient Chinese warriors. Some of the best were reproductions of castles, forts and temples from the warlord era. Of more interest to me was the style of the homes in each village. Although they didn't differ drastically, each village had some defining style characteristic to their design. Usually something ornate about the roof. Almost all of the smaller villages utilized personal solar generators for electricity.
We would hit a rest stop ever hour or two, though there were plenty along the way. Families, even villages, would have economies centered around the highway. One rest stop would have a cafeteria, snacks and drinks, pay restrooms (one yuan/one time), a hose for washing the bus, cooling down the brakes and engine, and often people in native clothing and/or with Tibetan Yaks for tourist photos. Competition for buses and cars to stop is intense. Often whole families would stand in the road with signs trying to wave traffic into their stop.
Fruit and nut vendors at one rest stop.
This village built this pagoda as part of their tourism program to encourage visitors to stop. This and a couple of rest stops is all this village has.
A roadside village with rest top vendor tents, their sole tourist attraction (pagoda) and a few houses up on the cliff. This village is fortunate enough to be close to a dam, so they have power. Across the river is where the old highway, and other villages were located. You can see the ridge the former highway was located on. It is now almost completely covered in landslides.
The bus ride there was nothing shy of 14 hours. And this was going at top speed, with the bus driver only lightening on the pedal when we reach snow at high altitudes. This is when Joni realized she only packed summer clothes. As we walked the 2 miles form the bus station to our rooms in freezing rain, we tried to land a taxi, which were scarce. Fortunately in china... everyone with a car and some bills to pay can be a taxi. It cost me a whopping 100 yuan for a ride just shy of 2 miles. Ridiculous, but I think Joni would have froze to death otherwise. I had to give her my flannels and a jacket.