Yunnan from the saddle

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 On their bikes, Belle Taylor and her mother, Kerry Taylor, tour Yunnan.

Myanmar is just over the border, and Buddhism is practiced widely in many of the towns we visit. We visit a picturesque monastery where young men, many of whom have traveled from over the border to study Buddhism.

The tour has attracted a mixed bunch of cyclists, from a young American family to a smattering of super-fit Germans to my own mother, who has traveled from Australia. Our guides are Chinese and American, but our guiding light is Wendy, a local to the area who speaks Mandarin and the regional dialect in this part of Yunnan.

Wendy knows Xishuangbanna like the back of her hand, and it is thanks to her local knowledge that we are welcomed into these remote villages, where Wendy has a network of friends and relatives. In one rest stop a young woman pours us tea before breaking into song, her beautiful voice sending tingles up our spines. Because many of the towns do not have a hotel - let alone a restaurant - we are usually fed in the home of a local. In one of the smallest towns where we stay, we are served dinner in the home of the local mayor. He presents us with a wide spread of Yunnan-style food - it is delicious, but we are really impressed when he modestly admits he has cooked it all single-handedly - on a lone wok in the corner of his home.

On the last night of the trip, we stay in the house of the town mayor, a wealthy man with a newly built, modern home. For dinner we move to his former house - in the backyard, a wooden house on stilts much like the places we have been staying in.

Two young girls from the local village arrive: They look like high school students. They are wearing tracksuits and giggle at us behind shy smiles, but when they start to sing their powerfully beautiful voices leave us all speechless. We do rounds of toasts with baijiu (white spirit), and start sharing songs and poems from our own countries. We dance around the room with our hosts. The room turns smoky, we are loud and a little drunk and filled with the beauty of all the things we have seen. And suddenly all the aches and pains and hills and dust are gone, and all I can think of is the beauty of Yunnan.

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