Hidden Treasures: Two Swiss in a Chinese Canyon

Joel Carillet's picture

I first met Michael and Evelyn on a December afternoon in the streets of Lijiang, a pretty town in the mountains of southwestern China.  Like this newlywed couple, I was on my to the city's bus station to buy a ticket for tomorrow's bus to the trailhead of Tiger Leaping Gorge, located three hours away.

Joel Carillet - China

Expressive Evelyn at the Half Way Guest House


Joel Carillet

Michael (left) at breakfast at the Half Way Guest House


Just after dawn the next morning we met again at the station, boarding a bus with frost-coated windows and an absent heating system.  In addition to us three, there were about five Chinese commuters and two other Western hikers on board.  It was maybe 20 degrees outside and about the same inside.  The shared sense of suffering was already bonding us.


Joel Carillet - Yangtze River

The Yangtze River as it begins to narrow into the gorge



Over the next three days and two nights of hiking, I really came to like Michael and Evelyn.  Though all five Westerners would do the hike together, afterwards I would only keep in touch with them.  The other two were by no means bad or boring people, but they were more transient in their personalities.  With them you sensed that your interactions were temporary, that they had no lasting import.  With Michael and Evelyn, however, you experienced a transparent sincerity. They were the kind of folks who, though you knew each other only through a three-day hike, you were pretty sure that if in twenty years you were passing through their country, you'd have an open invitation to spend the night.


Joel Carillet -China

Our hike begins


At the end of our first day's hike we stopped in a village for the night.  We sat in the guesthouse kitchen for dinner by a wood stove, where we ate the familiar (apple pie) and the unfamiliar (“wood ear fungus”).  More than a thousand feet below us the Yangtze River roared wildly as it squeezed to the narrowest point of its 4,000-mile journey.  And up here in the kitchen things got a little wild too as we travelers shared our most memorable diarrhea stories.  We also spoke of the glories of apple pie, the surprising tastiness of wood ear fungus, and shared more about our backgrounds.


Joel Carillet - world flags

Flags at the Half Way Guest House


Michael and Evelyn hailed from the German-speaking section of Switzerland but now lived in Singapore where they were studying toward an advanced law degree.  The other travelers were from Canada and Holland.  If we ever found ourselves in Singapore, Michael and Evelyn said, we would have a place to stay.


Joel Carillet - Half Way Guest House

Half Way Guest House



Now that five years have passed, it is interesting how the faces of the Canadian and Dutch hikers--who, now that I think about it, never showed interest in anything about me--have blurred to the point that I'd have trouble picking them out of a police line-up.  But I can still see Michael's attentive, interested look directed right at me, and Evelyn's generous smile shining throughout a conversation.

They were a good pair, and they were part of what made my experience in China's inspiring Tiger Leaping Gorge absolutely grand. Next week I'll tell about our reunion four months later…

Joel Carillet - China

Man and Gorge


Part two of this story can be read here: http://www.wanderingeducators.com/best/traveling/hidden-treasures-gift-another-s-home.html


Joel Carillet, chief editor of wanderingeducators.com, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. He is the author of 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. To learn more about him, visit www.joelcarillet.com.