As soon as we stepped off the overnight train in Lijiang, I could sense the change in scenery. The temperature had dropped significantly and gone were the skyscrapers of Jinghong, replaced instead with mountains in nearly every direction. As the sun came up, we ate a breakfast of steaming soup noodles and warm soy milk which helped alleviate the first cold weather I have felt on this trip. By 8 am, we had loaded up in vans for the short drive up to Nanyao, the Naxi village where we would be spending the next eight days.
The entire ride up was breathtaking and looked as if we had stepped into a Chinese brush painting. By the time we met up with our host families, the morning haze had burned off to reveal the green rolling hills beyond the lake and lush gardens below in the courtyard. Later, on an afternoon walk through the village, I was overwhelmed by the aroma of cherry and apple blossoms in full bloom and the sight of Chinese tourists riding over the hilly streets on horseback. My walk did not last very long as the blue sky quickly transformed into menacing storm clouds. It was clear from my brief exploration though that this village was different both from the urban China I had experienced previously and the Southeast Asian landscape we had spent the last two months traveling through, and I was eager to soak in my new surroundings.
So far, some of my highlights from this homestay include moonlight dance parties, double rainbows after downpours, warm bread and spicy cucumber salad for every meal, Chinese soap operas, copious amounts of sunflower seeds and walnuts, captivating chants at a Tibetan monastery, tasty treats at the market, two-day old kittens, conversations with my host family in broken Mandarin, Naxi, and English, birthday pancakes, endless games of Speed, and lots and lots of tea. This last homestay has been a departure from the Mekong Basin – both physically and culturally – and with just four days left in Nanyao, I am looking forward to making the most of my time here in this mountain paradise.