Margo – Queen of Tiger Leaping Gorge

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.

Via In the Footsteps of Joseph Rock

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.

IMGP1245 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 IMGP1279former 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

IMGP1346I 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.

6 Responses to Margo – Queen of Tiger Leaping Gorge

  1. Aaron says:

    I’ve been there too Bryan at the end of 2006. It was a really beautiful place, but very rugged. It’s nice too to experience the lodge run by a foreigner I think. I can’t remember now. Your article brought back a lot of feelings and memories.


    • Bryan says:

      Yeah, the Gorge is quite amazing, especially where Yulong Xue Shan comes directly down to the Yangtze River. I’m worried about the on again/off again nature of Yunnan’s plans to dam the gorge to generate hydro power.

      Memories for me as well.

  2. Sue says:

    Interesting article about Margo. I suspect her life would make a great ‘made for tv movie’. Who knows what leads people to the pathways they take.

    Keep writing Bryan. About travels, and especially about day to day things. So many times I try to remember the details of trips, treks and events and I cannot; I so often wish that I had written it down. I treasure the travel logs that I have kept of our treks (which are pretty minimal compared to yours).

  3. Bryan says:

    Yeah, I’m annoyed with myself for not jotting anything down about Yunnan, Tibet and Nepal. Probably pound-for-pound the best several months of my life (so far). A lot of interesting things happened over those months.

  4. Pingback: Margo Carter – Queen’s of Tiger Leaping Gorge II | Bryan Crosby Dot Ca

  5. Kitsune says:

    I was due to be on the Kora with Margo with a friend of mine but sadly her and the friend didnt get along (my friends fault totally and now no longer a friend) so we dropped out just before the start. Margo was extremely upset by this but understood my position and regret. She called me while on the kora and mentioned police activity and then the call dropped. That was the last time I ever heard from her. I may have been one of the last people if not the very last to speak with her. I was later held by the police in Zhongdian for a few days while they conducted enquiries and eliminated any suspicion. I was interviewed at the police station alongside Sean. I had to call her family in Australia which was a very difficult call as you can imagine.

    She did have a temper and sometimes got the wrong end of the stick but I found her to be one of the warmest and most caring people I have ever met and it would normally blow over very quickly if you kept your cool and explained the misunderstanding. She was not bipolar, manipulative or a psycho though her way of expressing herself could be a little abrasive. The world is a much lesser place for her passing. She was a unique and splendid soul but was very much on her own path.

    The police gave up the search but Sean continued and found the body. It was a long, long distance from the kora route and far up the mountain. From memory a week or twos hike. Despite the comments here Margo was a very experienced guide and I travelled with her on arduous and remote treks all over SW china. She would not have made the mistakes detailed in some replies here. Most specifically you always go down hill if you are lost and never up. Something she often reminded me of. She also had looked at maps of the route beforehand. As many have stated this is a clear route around a very distinctive mountain with many Tibetans on it at that time of year. Impossible to get lost you just keep heading towards the biggest mountain by far in the region and keep going downhill.

    We will never know what happened. I think foul play is very likely. It is possible she was weaving a narrative and went off the route herself for some reason. What she said tboth to me in the call and the western group on Kora seems hard to incorporate. I have often wished I had dumped my crappy friend and gone with Margo instead. I suspect there would have been a different outcome.

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