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Here is a little background on our recent excursion into western Sichuan. Earlier in the week we left Chengdu for Songpan. Songpan is a beautiful town that somewhat resembles Banff in that its surrounded by mountains and has Chinese script on every store. On the bus there we met Pauline, a lovely French artist, who would become our travel partner for the next few days. When we got to Songpan we were ushered into the Traffic Hotel (part of the bus station) and stayed there the first night. It was brutally cold and the toilet didn't work. Fortunately they had electric heating blankets which became our best friends. The next day Pauline, Austin and I set out on a two day horse trek to Erdaohai Park. The views were pretty spectacular and our guides, Lee and John, were a lot of fun.
After our trek we booked our tickets to Maerkang, because there were no buses to Danba. In Maerkang we were met by a very sweet Tibetan girl who ushered us to a hotel (with water, and hot water at that!) where we stayed the night. The next day we woke up bright and early to catch the bus to Danba. We went to the bus station near the hotel and, after much gesticulation from a security guard there, figured out that we needed to go to another station across town. We got there just in time and booked our tickets. They apparently had no power because they were processing the tickets by candlelight. The bus we took was probably transporting people during the time of Mao. It was rickety but seemed to do all right, with the exception of a couple small breakdowns. We met two Buddhist monks who were fun to converse with, us in our broken Chinese and them in their broken English. It seems to me that the Buddhist monks (at least the younger ones) are the most decked out technology-wise. The pair we met had a 10 megapixel digital camera, mp3 players and cell phones. I've seen this with many other monks in Sichuan.
We arrived in Danba yesterday and met up with Baird, one of Liz and Doug's friends. We had a great time with him and even taught some of his English class at the middle school. Austin (a natural teacher) and I taught the kids "Head and Shoulders" as well as some basic conversation. Later we went to the Xinhua hotel and managed to get 50% off since we were students. The hotel room includes our own bathroom and shower! Today we went for a hike near Danba and spent a few hours relaxing in the honk-free countryside. You'd think one would get used to people honking their horns, but it just isn't so. Tomorrow we may explore Danba a bit more and perhaps go to Suopuo, which has some ancient towers I'm told.