We left Langmusi by bus and headed to the town of Songpan. The road is new and fancy between Langmusi and Songpan, making for a quick and easy trip. The quick bus trip gave us time to wander the streets of Songpan for the afternoon, before heading out on the longer bus ride to Chengdu the next day. Songpan is mainly a gateway city to a nearby national park and other horseback riding trekking areas and it has a walled traditional town center for the tourists who come to visit.
We saw some stalls selling hunks of dried yak, and we had a sample of the spicy Sichuan (Schezuan in America) dishes, now that we are leaving the Tibetans areas and heading into Sichuan. We had a classic blind ordering experience: we went into a restaurant with only Chinese characters on the menu and pointed at an item with a picture that looked like a simple chicken stir-fry, but turned out to be this huge tray with potatoes, peppers and chicken bits. The potatoes were spicy and delicious cooked in the chicken juices and with plenty of spice, but the chicken bits were mostly parts that we don’t eat (head, feet, neck, anything else without much meat).
The next day we had a long bus ride down to Chengdu. The road goes through a river valley in a massive, steep and rocky mountainous area that saw rock slides and roadway damage from the 2008 earthquake. The powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake occurred in a very mountainous area, and the rock slides and road damage made the rescue efforts even more challenging. While little of the damage occurred is still visible in the large city of Chengdu, the areas in the mountains west of Chengdu saw some of the most extensive damage, done to both structures and from massive rock slides and is still visible.
The size and scope of the rock slides and damage driving through the mountains to Chengdu was amazing. Whole sections of road were buried in massive rocks piles from the steep and rocky mountains. The rock slides are simply too large to remove, and in many place they simply re-built the road to the other side of the river. Bridges were destroyed and whole sections of the old road and tunnels have been abandoned. They have done large amount of roadwork and tunneling to reconnect the area, but the extent of the geologic damage was amazing. Some sections of the river were dammed by huge rocks slides, which resulted in water levels rising behind these new and naturally formed dams, which flooded some inhabited areas. All along the road they were making repairs and building new buildings. While some damaged buildings have not been demolished yet, there are many new buildings already built to replace them. After the long trip, we were happy to arrive in Chengdu, even if the skies are typical gray associated with the bad air quality near big cities in China.
The bus driver was passing on blind corners, with a steep drop on one side. This was a long and sketchy drive. We saw wreckage from a head-on collision. Our bus driver wasn’t fazed, we were passing a large truck on another corner once we got past the snarled traffic at the accident. There are cheap flights from Chengdu to Songpan. It would be worth flying to avoid this sketchy drive, unless you are really into sketchy, character building rides that you can tell stories about. But this is China, and we have had enough insane driving and plenty of stories about unsafe driving already.
(Yes, the format is different, we have internet access right now with some sneaky software so we can access our blog right now)