The first order of business at the hotel, at least for me, was a shower. After taking full advantage of the limited supply of hot water, I emerged from the shower and put on some fresh clothes and my Teva's, which gave my feet some well-deserved relief. They had supported 30-40 lbs. more than usual today, and they had been trapped inside clunky Timberland hiking boots all day.
The day's events had really worked up our appetites, so we set out to find somewhere to eat. In this town, the only "fast food" they had were the stray dogs running down the street. There were no KFC's or McDonald's. As we thought about our options, we remembered our trainers' advice: "Food off the street is generally safe; you select the ingredients and they cook it in a big skillet right in front of you," they had told us.
Sure enough, about a block away from our hotel, an elderly woman had a stand set up with a large pot boiling on a wood-burning stove. On the table next to it, she had set up all kinds of unrecognizable foods and strange vegetables, spices, and meats. Steve hovered over the broad bowls. He squinted in the faint streetlight, struggling to make his selection. You could tell which items were the most popular, because some of the bowls were almost empty, while some were overflowing. I guessed that our best bet would be to go with the items that the locals weren't very fond of. Every time I eat in China, it seems like I can't stand the stuff they like most.
The woman nodded and smiled at me, revealing wide gaps where many of her teeth should have been. She waited patiently for Steve's request. Then they started conversing, Steve in his loud English and the woman squawking suggestions in Chinese, pointing to various bowls to answer Steve's questions, which I'm sure she couldn't understand. The two of them were quite a sight.
As entertaining as it was to watch, I felt obligated to intervene. I kept it simple and relatively safe, ordering chicken, spicy beef, and a variety of vegetables served over a bed of noodles with a side of fried rice.
A woman in her early thirties and her young son watched the exchange from a shop on the corner. A mixture of light from the fire and the lone streetlight danced on her face, which was clothed with an amused half-grin. I noticed that she had drinks for sale, so I walked over to purchase two large bottles of water. We would drink some with our meal and use the rest to pre-hydrate ourselves for tomorrow's hike.
The little boy peeked out from behind his mother as I approached.
"Ni hao!" I said, waving at him.
Although obviously a little sheepish, he mustered a "ni hao" of his own. His mother lovingly caressed his head with one hand and gave my change back with the other. Touched by their love for each other, I rejoined Steve at the plastic patio table where he sat. I glanced over at the mother and son every so often as we enjoyed a feast in the cool evening. It was great to be off the trail, and I couldn't think of a better way to end the kind of day I will one day tell my grandkids about.