Shaanxi Province went faster than expected. We also gained many more friends than anticipated! Starting from Xi’an’s city center, betwixt the drum and bell towers, we headed northwest toward Famensi before veering southwest to Baoji and the mountain pass beyond that lead us into Gansu as we continued on toward Tianshui.
Southwest Shaanxi Province is a fertile basin ringed by mountains and smattered with villages and towns with few big cities. Most of the time, we walked past farmland and villages of farming communities. The farms seemed to be mostly corn since all of the villages were fully decorated with corn hanging, stacked up, wrapped around poles and pillars, and all the husks laid out on the roads crunching and crackling under our feet as we passed through town after town. The corn was drying, awaiting the many purposes the farmers use it for—selling, storing for food, and saving seeds for next years crop. The husks on the roads gave us pause to query until we saw the bundles of previously dried husks and stalks neatly organized next to little furnace doors on the outside of the houses, about to be used for tinder and kindling in the winter months. The villages were lined with persimmon trees and rose bushes, both serving their purpose for shade and beauty as well as sweet persimmons whether dried or fresh and rosebud tea. Many of the fields had been harvested not long before we arrived and had already been replanted with wheat. We walked along highways and streets, but it was the dirt roads that wound us between these fields and the apple orchards so full of enormously sweet apples that the branches sagged as entire communities turned out to do the picking and sorting. For kilometers on either side of these orchards, trucks hauled load after load of apples passed us. Who knows how far those apples will go before finding their end as a tasty snack.
During our time in Shaanxi, we camped out only one night (good thing time spent on-trail is measured in days) as cheap hotels and guesthouses were plentiful and not too far apart thanks to the smattering of towns in this fertile valley. As for our meals, we were also lucky enough to stubble upon noodle shops and other eateries (mostly noodle shops) whenever we felt the need to belly up. During each lunch, a common theme emerged. While we ate, one or several local passers-by with a sparked curiosity would come in and ask a similar set of questions each time: where we were from, what we were doing, whether or not we could understand what was being said, our age, were we married, and many other questions. Leaving the restaurant, we were greeted by half the town it seemed, all fascinated by the walking trailers. This began round two of questions and a further explanation of our long journey to which many offered the advice of taking a bus or train. Most of these interactions were some of the best we have had during our journey thus far because of the crowds and the atmosphere and the amount of encouragement that came with the very friendly people of Shaanxi.
These interactions also involved lots of WeChat sharing. Since the 18th of October—the day before we started walking—, we have been adding people to WeChat and the group has been growing ever since. After thirteen days we are up to a whopping 165 friends that help us share pictures of our encounters, give us advice about upcoming sites to visit, weather updates, informing us on current holidays, and even a fair amount of chitchat between all the strangers that have us in common. It’s been nice waking up to people wishing us a good morning and a great day as well as encouragements throughout the days and even wishes for restful sleep. The momentum that has been felt by our 'Friends of the Silk Road' WeChat group has been added to that of our family, friends, and support team. Thanks for believing in us everyone, and thanks for all the help!
Most of the attractions and points of interest consisted of Buddhist temples. We also saw a Taoist Temple, a few churches, a couple museums, the Ma Wei Yi outpost just outside Xianyang, and lots of scenic areas noted by road signs. The biggest one we visited was Fa Men Si, which was kind of by accident as multiple locals from a few different towns repeatedly told us it was worth the visit. So, adding an extra eight-kilometers to our day and modifying a large portion of our route to Baoji, we ended up seeing the gigantic modern-day monolith that is the Famensi Buddhist Temple, host to a relic of the Buddha’s finger.
Highlights: Fried noodles, delicious apples, the gentle pace and smooth elevation changes as we began our walk, friendly people, cool temperatures, and beautiful fall colors.
Cultural Fun Fact: Apple in Chinese is píng guǒ (苹果), but píng also can mean calm or peaceful. Food is a big deal in China, in fact, a common phrase for How are you? is nǐ chī le ma? (你吃了吗) which means Have you eaten? Gift-giving is also very common, so, gifting food is a double win, even simply offering to share a few seeds or nuts is a very nice gesture. In Shaanxi, we have been given so many apples that we can't eat them fast enough. We even have designated a bag just for the apples we are given, and that bag is not getting smaller.
Written by Patrick Exe