The plan was to take the cable car up the mountain, hike a bit, and ride back down. Only problem, for reasons beyond my understanding, two of the three cable car lines were out of service.
Maya, a recent med school graduate from Israel, and I followed John, a phone app developer from London, to the base of the mountain.
John used to program 14 hours a day locked in his room until he realized he could work anywhere on earth with an internet connection. He’s been traveling the globe for a year and a half now. John was an absolutely brilliant guy, except…
“John, I think we’re going the wrong way…” I said.
“No, we’re not. This is the right way.”
Maya pointed up the hill: “I don’t think those cable cars are moving.”
Regardless, we followed him to the broken cable cars—passing, surprisingly, a movie studio in the middle of nowhere—then realized we’d have to hike all the way up the mountain. Good practice for Tiger Leaping Gorge, we told ourselves, a two-day hike through the mountainous country north of Lijiang.
Reaching the top, we headed toward the working cable car line to take that down. However, it closed at 5pm and we didn’t have time to make it. Instead we retraced our steps, and hiked back down the mountain. [The up and down part was basically stairs, and especially rough on the knees coming down, but our hour atop the mountain was beautiful. I would just recommend to future hikers, take the cable car.] To complete the experience, on the way back down, we saw the broken cable car above us was suddenly operational.
Having expected to take a leisurely cable car ride up and down the mountain rather than a five-hour hike, we didn’t bring food. By the time we made it back down we were famished.
After dinner (I ordered an egg and tomato soup which contained no liquid) we still felt unfulfilled. Which is how we found outselves standing outside the Belgian Waffle joint on Remnin Lu. The owner claimed it was the best in the Far East. Naturally we had to test her boast. We hadn’t come across any other Belgian Waffle places in the Far East so we couldn’t verify the claim, but we were not disappointed.
Lo and behold, walking through the town the next day I discovered a second Belgian waffle house, one block away!
How, you ask, can a town like Old Dali support two Belgian waffle joints, one street apart?
I don’t know, but according to Lost on Planet China, several years back the old town was a sleepy little backwater, until a blurb in Lonely Planet mentioned there was marijuana growing freely in the hills. Overnight it became the Amsterdam of China, with ganja-seeking dreadlocked backpackers descending on it from all over the Western World.
According to LP, in 2009 the authorities cracked down, and most of the banana pancake crowd skedaddled. The economic meltdown further decreased foreign tourism. But by this time much of the economy had been built up around them.
Dali is still a huge tourist destination. The bulk of tourists are from within China now, who come into Old Dali during the day by the busload, then return each night to New Dali, where they prefer to stay. From what I had read, I expected the town to be half Western, but often we were the only laowais on the street.
Today Old Dali is an amazing mix of ancient Chinese town and modern Western enclave.
As for the Belgian Waffle showdown of 2012…
The owner of the second waffle house explained how he had to tinker with the recipe to appeal to Chinese tastes, as they were the majority of his customers, without losing the Belgian flavor. The conversation at his place was livelier, but true to its word, the first joint was tastier, and thus remains, in my vast experience, the best Belgian waffle in the Far East.