As we sipped on our freshly-brewed Lijiang tea, our thoughts drifted to what we were about to embark on. Mama Naxi glided across and presented us with our lucky rainbow woven necklaces for the trip. We accepted with a nervous smile as we gazed out at the remnants from last night’s torrential downpour. We hesitated. What if we slipped off the edge, washed along in the muddy flow, never to be seen again?! That sinking feeling started to dance down our bodies and none of us seemed in any rush to finish our hearty breakfasts.
I decided to eat my banana now. No point in waiting for a trek that might not occur. As I began to peel, we all stared in the same direction, surprise quickly becoming the feeling of the moment. That old lady from the bus to Dali was sat behind us, nibbling on some pancakes as she typed away like some secretarial whizz-kid from days gone by. What was she doing here and who was she emailing? Curiosity got the better of us. I casually strode across the room to take a glance.
From the moment we boarded the bus in Kunming- three foreign girls on a bus to somewhere mysterious- the last thing we were expecting to see was an old white lady of around 90 years old, traveling solo in south-west rural China. She was sat on the front sea, a book in her hands and a look of familiarity in her innocent eyes. Either she’d been here before or she was no stranger to that little thing called courage. I’d say both.
When we reached Dali four hours later, we watched as she navigated the streets like a pro, hopping into a tuk-tuk with an air of elegance. All we could do was laugh as we clambered into a taxi, no idea where we were headed.
The next day we were sat in a cafe indulging in a spot of ‘literacy hour’ when she strolled by. We gave her a smile and she carried on her merry way. Who was this lady?!
Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised to find her at Mama Naxi’s Hostel in Lijiang, the starting point for the epic Tiger-Leaping Gorge trek. Eyes glued to her neatly-brushed hair, we were mesmerised as she wandered up to Mama Naxi and asked when the next bus to Tiger-Leaping Gorge would be departing. Here we were- three fit young 24 year olds- debating whether we could undertake a two day trek along one of the highest gorges in the world after an abundance of rain, and the old mysterious traveling lady was headed in exactly that direction.
Let me tell you, when you experience something like this, you throw all fear out the window immediately. If a 90 year old lady can do this, we’re darn well going to do it too! And we did! I gobbled that banana, downed my tea, straightened out my sparkly dress and prepared to dominate that gorge like a leaping tiger.
While waiting for the bus we were more than enthused to have a chance to talk to the old lady. Her name was Connie and she was from Connecticut, USA. She was indeed close to 90 years of age and was traveling around China all by herself for the third time in her life. I have never met someone so fascinating in terms of worldly-travel as I did on that rainy day in the labyrinth that is Lijiang, China.
Connie was on her way to Bali, Indonesia to enjoy her last days on this beautiful earth. She had chosen one of her favourite places to spend her remaining time and hoped to write a book before that moment arrived. She had been everywhere! I’ll never forget her animatedly telling us about learning to type in Afghanistan in the 1950s where she worked as a typist. I was astounded! She had sadly lost her husband a few years before but refused to let their shared passion for travel dwindle, and so there she was, sat in a damp hostel in the centre of Yunnan province in China all.by.herself.
She wasn’t scared, she wasn’t lonely; she was a pro at this and she loved every moment. During our conversation of her many trips to Africa, specifically South Africa (the country my friends and I had all met in), she reached into her black canvas bag and pulled out a worn box of coffee. She might be a spontaneous, world traveller but there’s no country she traverses without her trusty coffee beans.
I like that. It brought her aura of amazingness back down to earth a little. To this day, I can’t get her out of the wanderlust section of my brain. And now that I’m reading ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson, it’s becoming even more poignant. I hope that when I’m an old lady I continue to explore and cherish all the beauty and wonder that this world offers.
It really is true…you’re never too old for an adventure.
Image sourced from here.