The trip to Dazhai


The rice terraces I last wrote about sprawl over a large territory, so after seeing all I could of one village (Ping An), I wanted to see more. I decided to take my backpack and hike the four hours it takes to get to Dazhai. After the first hour and a half, I passed by a woman who would end up turning my lonely hike into what I would later call “The Sublime Secrets of the Huanglo Yao Sisterhood”.
Po-Po (that’s what I ended up calling her because it means grandmother) looked to be in her 70’s- one eye covered with cataracts and what she lacked in teeth, she made up for in spirit. She laughed when I said I wasn’t interested in taking (and paying for) photos, but she was saying something else I couldn’t figure out, so I followed her to see where she was going. She walked over to a basket of tree limbs she had been collecting and took out her machete. She whacked away at a few limbs to try to get them all to fit. I wondered who would be coming by to pick the basket up- it easily weighed as much as she did. She took the left over limbs and put them in a neat little pile and then crouched down and lifted the entire basket pn her back. I was overcome with a torrent of guilt – I had been complaining to myself about my 20 pound backpack, plus- how could I let an old woman carry something so heavy? I tried to help but she shooed me away, so I picked up the pile of sticks she had left. She was delighted to have the help. She said something about eating and I figured she wanted me to buy her lunch, which I was thoroughly glad to do. Hell, watching her carry that load, I wanted to buy her a personal masseuse and a four wheel drive wagon!
I followed her down the path, knowing that we must be close to the next village (Zhong Liu). The path is a series of slippery uneven rocks that she delicately floated over like a gazelle. We passed by a collection of 7 foot long tree limbs that someone else was collecting. I was leading the way and when I looked back, I noticed Po-Po had an ax in her hand. Had she left the ax there or did she swipe it from whoever had collected the 7 footers? We walked a bit farther -my arms already tired from my paltry collection of limbs- but when I looked back at supergrandmawwoman, I saw her hiding the ax in the shrubs. Was that where she kept it so she didn’t have to haul it back home? After 15 minutes or so, we came upon two other Yao women with the “long hair hats” (like the one from the previous video). They picked up their sticks and joined us on the long haul back to the village. Along the way the cluster of women that had been collecting the 7 footers came by and there was much whispering among the ladies I was with. They were intent that I understood I would eat with them- or something like that…. I wasn’t sure what they were saying, actually. I think they wanted me to stay at their place for the night, but I had to make it to the next village to make the morning bus. I think they were saying they would be cheaper than a place in Dazhai, but Po Po sweetly held my hand and shewed them away and I think (or like to think) she was saying I could just stay with her for free.
Finally the village was in sight and we stopped just short of the village so Po-Po could put her traditional dress and skirt over the t-shirt and pants she was wearing. I helped Po-Po take off the basket and massaged her shoulders. I pulled out all the food I had to share – bacon, eggs and toast- leftovers from my morning breakfast and we shared my coffee as well. I was imagining the meal I wanted to buy for her- something that massaged her from the inside and pampered her like a Swedish Spa.
As we got closer to the village, I looked around to see where a restaurant might be, but I could tell this was not a village for tourist. No restaurants, tourist trinkets or signage anywhere indicating you could buy something. I followed Po-Po to her place to drop off her load.
The bottom of the house was like a barn with things strewn about and small pens that looked like they once housed animals. They took me upstairs and insisted I sit down and it was then I realized that they were going to cook ME lunch. I tried to explain I wanted to buy THEM lunch, but they were already in meal making mode. Po Po was concerned I was hot and she insisted I take my shirt off (Okaaayyy?), then she got a stiff rag to wipe down my back and brought a shirt of hers for me to wear.
When I travel, I love to give away the clothes I bring, so I decided she was the perfect person to get this one:

I visited with the other ladies as Po- Po disappeared to her garden. They dressed me up in the traditional attire and we had some Kodak moments. Another woman came over with her baby and we all giggled like teenage babysitters.
I heard that they have an “open mind” about relationships and I am wondering if this might also be the matriarchal tribe of women I’ve heard about that ‘call the shots’ in the relationship – choosing who they will marry and if they want to stay with them. There was a man in the house when I was there, but he never came out.
After lunch, we said our goodbyes in a delicate “wonder if I’ll every see you again” kind of way. I hope I do and do it with photos in tow, because they really cemented a memory in my brain and I’d love to pass it back.

I began the long trek to the next village. Along the way, I saw another women that had collected a huge pile of 7 foot tree limbs. She was about to haul it on her shoulders and I asked her if I could try it. No way. It was like trying to lift a dead Sumo wrestler. This gal had the body of a third grader- about 4 foot 10″ and 95 pounds and she too glided like a gazelle on these slippery steps, passing me on the path as I stepped like a cautious cripple.
Once I made it to the next village, I got a room for $5 and dissolved into a pile of aching muscles.
I hiked the rest of the trek to Dazhai the next morning and then caught the bus that ekes out a long descent through pristine countryside that’s just perfect for reflecting on the Huanglao Yao sisterhood.
Here’s a little Ladies Home video Journal .

2 Comments on “The trip to Dazhai”

  1. Jen says:

    Laura, you are so inspiring! I love how you just embrace wherever you are, yet seem so comfortable and curious. It’s been wonderful living vicariously through you. Hugs.

  2. Ray Sapirstein says:

    What a beautiful passage in your travels. You have such a knack for this, I’m so impressed with your enterprise. But we’re looking forward to your homecoming too. xx,Ray

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