Sometimes my RSS feed tosses a news morsel my way. Today is was a piece regarding the passing of an apparent fixture on the Yunnan backpacking circuit.
His group were surprised – to say the least – to be passed by a lone western woman traveling at speed (alone, that is, except for her dog and a local guide with a horse, left trailing well to the rear) and they noted that she was only lightly clad for the trail. Not only that, but they were taken aback by how rude she was to the trekking group, refusing to talk with them at all during their brief encounter on the trail.
Things got stranger later in the day when they saw her again and she chose to camp alongside them, but again was uncommunicative. That was until she started saying that she would ‘turn them in’ to the local authorities and warning them that they would be turned back at local police checkpoints further up the Salween (Nujiang) valley and the local Tibetans would shun them. The group were un-nerved by her unfriendly and bizarre behaviour (she would only talk to them in Chinese at one point) and her apparent threats.
Margo left early the next day and they never saw her again. In fact, they were some of the last people to see her alive.
…Margo’s body was found several weeks later at a large tree near the Shuo-La pass, and the Yunnan PSB are now investigating the case. It appears likely that she simply underestimated the harsh conditions of the trek and the difficulty of the terrain that she would encounter.
I ran into this woman, Margo, when I trekked Tiger Leaping Gorge in the summer of 2007. It was about halfway to Walnut Grove, about 2/3 way through the gorge. She was leading this motley crue of travelers with a mixture of backpacks and suitcase on a Intrepid tour through the gorge. Intrepid Travel is a company that organizes tours at the grass-roots level, largely utilizing public transit options and accommodations. I’ve kind of viewed Intrepid tours as traveling for people who want the independent experience but are too afraid to do it themselves.
I recall thinking to myself…”Who the hell is this woman and how’d she end up here?” She looked like she was in her 50’s, but was dressed like she was in her 20’s and blabbed away like she was the encyclopedia of all things China…in the loud, obnoxious way. She also had a rather ‘in-your-face’ condescending approach when talking to locals and to travelers. The kind of approach that makes one wince and think “I’m not with this person…” I attributed it too eating too many gorge mushrooms.
Exiting the gorge, one had three options…trek back the same way, take a taxi back (the road was washed out at the time) or trek out the backside, take a ferry across the river and hope that there is a bus/tax on the other side. I opted for the ferry because I don’t like retracing my steps, however there was concern about transportation on the other side, so I cut a deal with the tour leader (a former American ESL teacher, I believe) to tag along on the bus they had arranged on the other side of the ferry that would take everyone back to Lijiang. Margo was along for the whole ride. It’s been awhile since this trek, so I can’t remember too many details, other than the tour leader shaking her head and lamenting simultaneously about the many, many problems she was having with her tour group and how outrageously embarrassing this Margo woman was.
I remember after I did that trip and I would hear of other people traveling through Yunnan and up to Tiger Leaping I would always say “yeah, you’ll probably meet this weird Aussie woman when you trek the gorge…it makes the trip even more interesting!”.
Highly eccentric/weird people who choose this sort of life are in a way, sort of timeless and part of the cultural landscape of the region. Cringe? Yes…but they make life interesting. Besides, if one wants to be a modern village/city/town in China these days, you’ll need your foreign loonies.
I was thinking to myself, “oh yeah, I probably have a travel post archived somewhere about the time I met this incredibly odd foreigner in the middle of Tiger Leaping Gorge”. So I searched around…and searched again…and found out that not only do I not have a post about that interesting trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge, I can’t seem to find any record of any of that summer 2007 trip from Kunming to Kathmandu. To be honest, I can’t remember if I even wrote anything. I just assumed that I just did given that it was a trip that fulfilled many, many of my adolescent travel goals. But, it seems I didn’t…and I’m kind of down about that. I’ve got stuff from my time in Mongolia and Japan to Europe and India…but nothing about South East Asia either. Bummer.
I was traveling with my friend who maintained this beautiful written travel journal complete with doodles, glued-on business cards, flora/fauna and other tidbits of travel memorabilia. Granted, she was an artist, and had a knack for the creative, but I’m quite jealous.