Bill Longworth, April 16, 2008
For some God forsaken reason I decided to go to Ba Da He which translates as “Eight Big Rivers.”
I arose early from my “fancy digs” in Kunming’s Yunnan Finance and Trade Institute where I was employed. Along with my Chinese helper/translator, I biked to the train station at the south end of the city arriving at about 6:50 am. At this ungodly hour, even the young girl supervising the bike parking lot was just awakening from her little cubicle at the entrance of the lot.
Ba Da He was a remote town at the junctions of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces, a region in South West China populated by the Bouyei Minority People.
These people work as farmers and loggers and worship many “natural gods” like gods of mountains, rivers, moon, animals, and any other aspect of nature that they want to promote to that sublime state. In arts, they are famous for African-like batiks, mask carving, and brocade work. They are also versatile musicians, singers, and dancers all of which are traditional and integral parts of their culture.
The first stage of the journey was an eight-hour train ride to Luo Ping. The journey was over the mountains where we could overlook many wonderful terraced rice fields cascading down the slopes. Upon reaching Luo Ping in mid afternoon, we caught a motorcycle tricycle into town where we could catch a minibus for the 2½ hour ride over the mountains to Ba Da He.
The minibus was packed with people sitting on each other’s laps and hanging out over the side of the bus. Three women on the bus were dressed in the distinctive and colourful Bouyei National Dress.
The road, if you could call it that, was dirt, strewn with boulders of various gut wrenching dimensions—raw, narrow, treacherous, and gutted, with sheer drop-offs over the jungle covered mountains. Giant Bamboo clinging to the roadsides seemed a friend to impede us from going over the precarious edge, and the huge leaves of wild Banana trees overhanging the road provided comfort by blocking the view of our potential fate.
Finally, after a number of flat tires and potential nervous breakdowns, despite the gaiety and never ending chatter of the “regulars” on the bus, we arrived at our destination.
The town was a small place with one single muddy main road bordering a river. Everything seemed to be in a state of destruction.
As it was now approaching dusk and we hadn’t eaten for some time, I asked my Chinese helper to find us a place to eat. She asked, and was told there was no place to eat. I asked her to find us a place to stay, and was told there was no place. I was getting a little worried. Knowing that the Police would do their utmost to protect a foreigner in distress, I asked her to find us a police station. There weren’t any. Well then, How about a government office?
We were directed across the bridge to the adjoining province where we were told there were some “officials” stationed to oversee lumber being driven down the river to insure that the drivers had legitimate right to do so.
Feeling hopeful, we approached these officials, who confirmed there was no place to stay or eat. We asked about any way out of the town that night. We were told there was nothing leaving until 6:30 the next morning.
We were getting a little despondent!
After a period of gut wrenching stress, we were invited for dinner by these officials and invited into their yard, a precipitous lookout over the river far below.
As darkness approached, we noted that there were no electric lights within view. The only light was the full moon and the campfire, around which we ate a wonderful meal consisting of many courses, while the products of the next meal cackled about our feet looking for any discards to be recycled for future meals.
As the night wore on, the beer came out, and the stories and fellowship and laughter flourished. My translator helper was overwhelmed keeping up with all of the conversation.
Even some young doctors dropped by hearing there was a “big nose” foreigner in the village, probably the first and only non-local to visit the place.
Ba Da He…the trip to Hell? Hell no! Probably the best night of my life.
Map of location
This trip took place on Friday and Saturday June 12 and 13, 1998
Ba Da He was being destroyed as a new dam was shortly going to flood the location under 300 feet of water. I was probably in a place I was not supposed to go! Our overnight and party hosts refused any compensation for taking us in despite the fact that two workers gave up their beds and their rooms for the night.