Thursday 13 May

Cloudland International Youth Hostel seems much more benign this time round.

Cloudland Hostel

I am again in the female dorm – again with loud Chinese women who have no sense of privacy. The staff here are actually extremely helpful, there is reasonable wifi connection and the showers are hot – 24/7. I easily caught a cab from Kunming airport, and arrived by 4pm.

My main task was to get a new zip put in my trousers! It had gone shortly before I left China in December, and although I’d bought a new, metal, one in Bath, I had had little time to replace it, so had brought it along.

Kunming local market

I went around the corner, dropped the trousers off and returned a few hours later, whereupon the man had replaced it with another plastic zip, completely denied I had given him one and charged me double what it should have been. Not a great start.

Boy and motorcycle

Friday morning. It took longer than I’d expected to gather myself from a fitful night – the room was stifling hot and I had strange disjointed dreams about some impending finality.

It was about 1pm before I was together enough to head off for the China Mobile office to re-activate the SIM card I had last used back in December.

But the directions were wrong and after half an hour wandering up and down a hot, sticky, city street, I headed off to Kunming Botanical Gardens to meet up with Feng Shi, the personal assistant to Wei-Bang Sun, Director of the gardens.

I arrived at the now familiar North gate and asked them to phone through that I had arrived.

Feng Shi - personal assistant to Wei-Bang Sun

Feng Shi arrived almost immediately and asked if I would like to join Wei-Bang who was leading a group of Western botanists on a tour of the gardens. Of course! So I met John Shipton from Wales, and Klaas and Hans from Holland.

John, it turned out, was about to go on a recky for Nature Trek, with no other than Jason Lees of The Raven pub fame at Zhongdian leading the party. Klaus and Hans had been a number of trips with him before, and the other members of the group would be made up by Gordon and Judith, and Mike and Jan who were to arrive in a few days time.

It turned out that the eminent botanical artist Christina Hart-Davies had been due to accompany them but had canceled for a number of reasons – it also turned out that there was now a space in the vehicle, and that this botanical expedition would be heading up the Nu Jiang Valley to Gaolingong shan National Park and beyond – an area of high biodiversity bordering Myamar (Burma).

Feng Shi, John Shipton and Wei-Bang Sun at Kunming Botanical Gardens

After a very hot tour of the garden (it was incredibly dry, having had little rain for the second year running) Wei-Bang invited us all to dinner where we continued various discussions about his ambitious plans for the Botanical

Magnolia, KBG

Gardens – including creating a native plant garden adjacent to the new airport currently under construction, and an impressive development programme connecting important parks and gardens across the city. In and amongst, I would turn the conversation towards the botanical expedition that was about to take place – two days hence – to see if there was any way I could join in.

Green Lake, Junming

We continued the discussions in a bar next to the Green Lake – an area again familiar to me from my previous trip – before walking back to the hostel around 10.30pm.I had already spoken with Jason, who was still up on Zhongdian, and as long as I could get a flight to Baoshan, just west of Kunming, for Monday morning, I could join the trip.

We discussed the costs, which made my eyes smart, but it seemed as though everything was pointing me in this direction. But first I had to check with TNC and the Laojanshan National Park to see if delaying the project to produce a Flower Trail Guide by two further weeks would put it in jeopardy.

It seemed not, as it was already uncertain! The lawyers at TNC had suddenly realised that the intention was to sell the publication to visitors, and this contravened their strict guidelines of not supporting commercial products. So the Directors of the two organisations were now in discussions over what could be produced, using my botanical paintings. And this didn’t seem to be happening fast.

That being rather clear, and not at all sure if I arrived at Laojunshan National Park straight away that there would be anything for me to get stuck into, I swallowed hard, and bought my flight.

Saturday night was hot and sticky and distinctly disturbed – not just from the excitement of sudden change of events, but from a touch of food poisoning that had me up and down all night.

Sunday 15 May

Nothing much happened as I dozed and dosed with Imodium, eventually repacking and leaving the hostel, making my way to the Seagull Hotel by Green Lake to meet up with the Western contingent before heading down to the airport for a 7pm fight to Baoshan.

The flight was a brief hop out of the heavily polluted skies of Kunming, where the tinder-dry hillsides were being ravaged by fires.

Landing at Baoshan

We descended into Baoshan 45min later, to be met by Jason and his drivers: Ardong, who I knew from Zhongdian, and Nombu and Tsebho who I believe I met last year also. We piled into the three vehicles to Hua Cheng Hotel, a typical Chinese hotel (under construction/renovation, of course!).

Street-side BBQ dinner

But the shower was hot and we freshened up before heading down BBQ street for a late evening meal.