Friday 31 July

Of course it rained! I got to the Nature Reserve around 8.30am and had a cup of coffee (it’s very expensive and difficult to find around here) before catching a shuttle bus back up to the top right-hand valley. Actually, it’s the bottom of the left-hand valley – their map places South at the top.

I headed straight for the orchids, but only one orchid stem was left – the others having been nibbled off by small creature. But at least there was one, and conveniently close to a stand of conifers which provided a modicum of protection from the rain. As I battled sitting cross-legged on a plastic bag balancing the umbrella over my head and the paper, I attracted quite a lot of attention – especially from the guards as I was actually off the designated pathway. However, I smiled and shrugged and kept drawing and I guess I appeared innocuous and novel enough for them to allow me to continue.

I wonder sometimes why I seem to pick the smallest of plants to paint. The flowers can’t even have been 1cm across, with the most delicate of purple markings, and the whole stem probably less than 14cm tall – I have made accurate measurements but have packed the sketches away. I then caught a shuttle bus back down (or up!) to the fork in the Y and along the other valley, again climbing all the while into the cloud-base. The scenery was not nearly as interesting, although quite magnificent really, and I thought it might be wasted for finding flowers, but just by the side of the path was another plant that I would have guessed was either an orchid or hellebore. Unfortunately I’m not a sufficiently experienced amateur botanist… I also got quite close to a little rodent – about the size of a water vole – to take some decent photos, it being quite blasé about the hordes of people rushing around taking photos of each other in front of the views.

There were some other interesting flowers and I’ve made a sketch or two, but really the weather was horrible again for sketching and I couldn’t get close enough to some of them to be able to study them properly.

However, it was satisfying to have actually done some painting at last, albeit probably a very common little orchid!

I had an interesting time at the Visitor Centre trying to make myself understood when I asked whether Emmenopterys henryi was actually in the reserve. I had the photos of when it had flowered in Belgium and the Chinese translation of its name, and just sort of gesticulated. No-one understood what I wanted but they directed me into the display area. I eventually found a door marked Science Room and walked in – much to everyone’s surprise! However, someone did speak English and they looked Eh up on their system, but sadly there was no record of it in Jiuzhai Gou. However, I did see a large photo of Rhododendron Augustinii something which was lovely – and had obviously finished flowering some time ago.

Back at the hotel/foodstall strip that has become home for the last few days, I discovered the International Youth Hostel booked travel tickets for a ¥10 fee – about one pound – so I arranged my flight to Chengdu for Saturady to meet up with the Professor who’s taking me to a Kiwi Research Station where I believe they want some photographs of an international visitor to lend kudos to their work. Hey, if it gets me to see another part of China for a day or two without taking a toll on my Fellowship, then I’m up for it.

It may also be extremely useful to me as the Professor speaks really good English and I’m hoping he might be able to help me with some real connections to locate Eh where my individual efforts have so far failed.

Given the difficulties I’ve had, I was quite upset to receive e-mail from Seamus in Ireland who couldn’t comprehend why I was unable to locate the tree at Badong which, he insisted, would still be in flower.

Perhaps if you have a guide who has good local and botanical knowledge, an interpreter, a driver and GPS. On which I scored “nil point”.

However, it’s made me even more determined to succeed here, even if it means retracing my steps thousands of kilimeters back to Badong – no mean task. Now, all I need are those Letters of Introduction…