Moving west in Yunnan Province, you leave the lowlands far behind and eventually climb into the mountains. With the change in topography comes a change in the culture and the pace of life. Dali is the first stop on a classic and well-traveled tourist circuit through a series of old villages. Quaint and beautiful in it’s natural surroundings, Dali is a western-friendly destination popular with Western and Chinese travelers alike.
In Dali we stayed in an awesome artist hostel with a thriving international community. Twice a week they hosted a barbeque and open-mic, which was an excellent opportunity to mingle with the various travellers and the local expat-artist-entrepreneurs who ran the place. Taking every opportunity to soak up perspective on the happenings of Western China. Buried somewhere underneath were subtle whispers of what could be found if one pushed far enough up in to the hills.
Once again I contacted a local pilot, who was psyched to take me out to fly his site at the north end of the lake. His two helpers came along (a common theme in China), and together the four of us rambled his 2-wheel drive sedan up steep muddy roads through a military staging/training ground en route to the launch. Being reminded of the perpetual war-games often pushes this atomic-city-tripper to the edge, which is ultimately the reason that I have found such respite in various forms of elemental sport throughout my life. In this particular scenario, the task of pushing a car up steep hills in the mud was sufficient to keep my attention off the painted faces and machine guns tucked in the woods all around.
Eventually we arrived at launch – a high grassy ridgeline crested with a string of wind turbines. As the wind grew strong enough to fly, the turbine blades were achieving sufficient torque to rotate, so that an eerie moan was emanating from the quixotic giants.
This set the tone for a nervous launch, which my partner offered up to me first as the visitor.. I picked up my glider in the gusty winds and did a few passes in front of the groaning windmills, but could find no comfort (nor lift) with the scenario and quickly ran out front. Soon enough my feet were back on the ground, kilometers from nowhere and by my self in Western China. Not exactly the flight I was looking for, but definitely the adventure that I was seeking! Eventually I hiked to a ridge to re-launch so I could glide over a big canyon, then put it down in a horse pasture in the hills, packed up, and started hiking back to the road.
Arranging a retrieve with my friend and his helpers proved extremely difficult with my lacking Mandarin vocabulary in an unknown place. But eventually they found me and we headed out for a meal. We finished with a swim at the local hot springs before heading back in to Dali to meet up with my girl.