Lost & Found in Xinping

“If both our headlamps fail, we will be stuck here for awhile… Isn’t that so cool!”

Actually, it probably would have sucked, but the possibility of getting trapped underground, in the pitch dark, without anyone coming to get us, added an unexpected hint of danger to our unguided caving expedition in Xinping.

Cortney summoning her inner Golum

Xingping (pronounced Shing Ping) is a small village an hour away from Yangshou. The town will soon see an overseas tourist boom, but for now, it is idyllically hidden. We stayed at a wonderful hostel called “This Old Place,” which is not very old and is quite nice. Roof top balcony, windows overlooking the mountains (see pictures below) clay oven pizza kitchen; all for the royal sum of 9 US dollars.

There were two highlights to our stay in Xinping. The first was our incidental presence as a feature in the Chinese tourist circuit. As we sat in a local cafe, Chinese tours would walk by and upon seeing us, acted as if we were an exotic species of animal rarely seen in nature. They waved and posed for pictures with us, but mostly they just stared. Stared at us eating. Stared at us reading. They stared at us while we stared back at them. Next time, we are charging a fee to look at the Laowai (foreigners).

Local village kids... acting like kids

click on the images above for a larger view

The second highlight and best part of our adventure was a bike ride through the country to a remote cave that is only occasionally visited. We travelled down small dirt roads past little mud houses into a series of farm fields. After much back and forth and pointing in different directions, we found the path to the cave, or what we thought was the path. Halfway up the mountain, through a forest path we stumbled upon a rickety bamboo door. Pushing through the door revealed an immense cave opening, roughly the size of several movie theaters.

As we descended into the main gallery, we were greeted with a rare sight, no tourists! In fact – no one was there at all. Not even a trace of previous visitors. This was a great change of pace from guided caves with rave lights and glitter smeared on the walls.

Cortney and I took some pictures, turned on our headlamps and then started exploring. The local who pointed us towards the cave explained that it’s possible to climb and crawl five hours through the mountain from one side to the other. We were not equipped nor mentally prepared for that kind of solo adventure, but we did make our way at least 30 minutes through several tunnels.

The striking thing about being alone in a wild cave, is the sudden absence of natural light after a passing through a few twists and turns. When we switched off our headlamps, there was absolutely nothing in front of us. The darkness was claustrophobic, and easily raised the tension in the air. What kept us going, probably further than we should have, was every boulder we climbed or passage squeezed through revealed a new fascinating section of the cave. Curtains of calcified rock spilled from the ceiling, columns braced sections of chamber, and all forms of stalactites and stalagmites ranged around the rocks. It was an amazing landscape to explore, especially since it felt like we were trailblazers in a foreign land.

And then… both out lights went out.

Just kidding, nothing that extreme happened. No stories of spending a week underground. After a few hours we made it out alive, but took some of our best pictures to date. Riding back to town, was fulfilling in the knowledge that there is at least one cave left in China that isn’t accompanied by the Mandarin version of “It’s a small world.”