Following the Bimo Towards the Black Crow Mountain

That day I met Hxabbu at the Xichang's "Champs-Élysées" - on a promenade in the city center. From there we walked to the marketplace with vegetables called Shimazi, which forms an intersection between a newly built "Big Bridge of Victory" and an old city quarter, where the bimo-oracles are sitting around, offering their services. Hxabbu made jokes with them, he read their books and shook their drums. After a while, he got more serious and with an unpleasant expression on his face he kept telling me, that these are not the real bimos from the mountains because those wouldn't behave like that. "Come on! It's not possible to offer such services as some street hawkers. Bimos are not oracles in the first place," he told me in one of the old wooden houses, where we had a bowl of hundun for lunch.

During this week there was a devastating hailstorm in a Leibo county followed by a flash flooding. Several people were taken by the water to the crevices beneath the earth surface, and these were already missing for several days. Later, there were pronounced dead by the authorities. Therefore, Hxabbu first planned to visit his native village and do the same thing, which his predecessor did some three hundred fifty years ago (if our calculations were correct). The afternoon we have spent in a company of Yi musicians and intellectuals on the porch of one of the hotels occupying the shores of Qionghai lake. Among them, there was Waqi Yihe, the emotional voice of the Yi hit song "Don't be afraid” (Moxi Zishi wrote lyrics). There, like baboon spiders, we weaved a web of a plan for the following days. Apart from visiting the village already for few times this year, we laid a far bigger challenge in front of us. It is worth mentioning, that here a cardinal communication mistake happened, as I failed to provide a sleeping bag for my friend.

The next day I woke up quite early, and I boarded a line to the eastern terminal, from where the bus to Meigu County leaves. I planned to leave Xichang around noon, so we wouldn't have to wait for hours near the roadblock due to the roadworks. Recently, there was a strange vice haunting the station. The people managing the buses collected ten extra yuan to the ticket. They told us it was for the driver because the road is in bad condition now. Those didn't pay this amount was at risk of physical abuse. Even this "regulation" was short on any logic. Everybody was blindly following it – including me - because I didn't find any support for a spontaneous uprising from my fellow passengers. Features of this problem can be easily projected into various other mechanisms on a higher level in the whole China... So there we left Xichang, we picked up Hxabbu along the way – near his rented apartment.

The journey was, as always, arduous. Dirty and muddy houses with fading totem symbols of the Nuosu Yi lined edges of the road. The inhabitants of these buildings glued to the dusty road strolled back and forth, or just sat reclining to the flaky walls of their houses. The elders were sitting at the courtyards wrapped up in their vala cloaks and were counting days. After a few hours of endless traffic jams, eating boiled eggs and potatoes with chili, we managed to arrive at Niuniuba. The road was blocked, so we left the van, traversed a road construction site over a wooden plank laid over a ditch, flashed past the depressive intersection and waved down a van heading to Houbonaituo. After arriving there, bimo bought some provisions including a fresh river fish straight from a vat, and we walked the remaining five kilometers to Baqian.

We reached his native village, as more than one month ago, in a complete pitch black. "Good evening, mother," I greeted a lady, whose whinstone eyes shone into the darkness of this dim room. I was coming here so often, so the woman, struck by a painful destiny, but always cheery and smiling, temporarily adopted me as one of her sons. I guess the bottle of Havana Club rum, which I brought as a gift from Chengdu during the Yi New Year for her, fostered her fondness of me as well... Or perhaps the moonshine with a red star on the bottle – the priciest liquor in the whole Niuniuba? Added to these, if there was enough of tobacco and a daily press, to which she rolled her "rockets," even the crawling evening of the poor was able to in a split second transform itself into a klatch abundant by various luxuriousnesses.

The life-bitten Hxabbu, using the food he bought, prepared a delicious dinner for us. The kids of his relatives – neighbors also came to get a piece of it. He was gloomy all the time. His mother again sighed and lamented about her wish – to make her only living male successor settle down and start a family. "They found a bride for me. But she is terrifyingly ugly," he uttered in between of carefully removing the bones from the pinky and soft meat of the purchased fish. "Let's sleep early today, tomorrow there will be a lot of work to do," he said. We managed to down two bottles of beer, which his mother did not manage to sell after her eldest son funeral, and so we were able to peacefully fall asleep after a short conversation in a modest house next to the main one. "Bloody life. I have never passed a single light-hearted day since I was born," bimo told me, a longer pause followed. "I do not want to get married," he turned to his right side and fell asleep. I soon followed, being comfortable on the floor in my sleeping bag.

The next day morning, preparation of ritual implements for a small ceremony begun. Hxabbu took out his Meigu dress, hlubbu hat, ceremonial texts, vytu quiver and a haversack. His qike fan was broken and lost, he didn't have a spare one, so we had to deal with its absence. He didn't have the traditional pants, but it didn't matter. He put a sea coral earring adorned by a decorative fringe into his left ear. When he tried to throw a copper chain with vytu quiver over his head, the vytu split into half and from its hollow core all lovy arrows fell to the ground. "Oh, f*ucking coffin dodger," he uttered a disgruntled punchline over the unpleasant situation. After master had collected all the arrows, we were ready to go.

We followed the same path as during the autumn visit. The jungle already devoured our old footprints. Now it was middle of May, the vegetation got more aggressive than during our fall visit. It was the jingling sound of bimo's biju bell hanging on his vytu quiver which led me thru the intensely green abyss. After a while, we got a chance to spot bird's eye view a narrow valley – merely a crack in an opposite slope, a burial ground of Jjike clan souls. Hxabbu's older brother joined the rest of his people precisely a month ago. After being lost for a while, we reached Anzio – a spirit with an enormous phallus engraved on a boulder. Hxabbu had written some words in classical Yi on a piece of paper, and after necessary preparations, he burned it. Threads of smoke rose from a little pile of wet moss, paper, and a few twigs. Hxabbu recited the text written on a paper by heart. "I have sent him something," a mysterious man uttered and pointed to the engraving after I have asked what he wrote on it. By doing this, he prevented a similar tragedy that happened a few days ago in Leibo county occurring at his birthplace. At least for some time. This land is evidently prone to hailstorms, which would destroy all the harvest within a few minutes. During this small ritual, a small gang of local youth watched us. Those lads were obviously immune to bimo's curses. When I was observing my friend, with a traditional bimo hat and all that clothes, and compared this with those he usually wears down in the city, I realized that many Yi people are ashamed for their traditional garments. They are shy to express their identity of rough mountain dwellers, whose skin is dark by constant exposure towards the sun. In the valley, their identity is synonymous with something backward, boorish, stinky – in short something, that should be cast off and never accepted back. It is a mirror that sets valley dwellers towards the face of those, who inhabit the mountains. Those, who get rid of their "yiness" and move to the valley - even at the cost that after two, three, maybe even four generations they will be laughed at by the Han majority – are even ridiculed by their people by the term "The Yi from the paddy fields". But Hxabbu would never make such a move. He is not ashamed of being bimo. He is an embodiment of the power, which is at least partially able to shift the momentum on behalf of the young Yi being proud and self-conscious in questions of their heritage.

After this necessary act, we encircled the mountain and returned to the valley. Hxabbu showed me a burial mound, which is reputedly a grave of a young maiden, whose ghost is often heard whining on the adjacent glade. We walked around a corpse of goat with broken spine hanging on one of the trees. It reportedly died after falling from a nearby cliff. Therefore its meat is not for eating, This way it was offered to the spirits. Shortly, we reached a little, crystal-clear stream. Hxabbu took a long bamboo stick and drew aside a large tuft of ivy, which covered a surprisingly low-lying, but almost inaccessible rock cavity. "My father concealed here his sacred ritual texts from those insane people raiding our land from the valley," he explained, pointing to the blunt Red Guards and other cadres during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. "Some of them survived, but moistness and mold destroyed at least two-thirds of those," he continued his lecture while balancing on the rock in the middle of the creek. "Is it empty now?" I asked. "Yes... But many people thought that some silver ingots are still there. But many of them, while trying to climb here, ended up soaked by the water. Including me," concluded Hxabbu an excursion of this noteworthy place. It is evident that the defense against irrational frenzy and can label even such ordinary places a site of historical importance.

After we had returned to the Hxabbu's house, we decided to go to the Meigu County seat the very same day so that we can start our journey thru the wilderness right in the morning. During this seemingly short trip, we got stuck in the middle of the road on the cliff for four hours, because the road was under construction. Under such circumstances, only one solution was plausible for me – to get drunk like a Slovakian sheep herder. Snowflakes flowed to my stomach and Hxabbu abstaining from alcohol for the last few days laughed at me. Well, I didn't plan it this way, maybe I also succumbed to the weariness... After reaching Meigu and lodging at Gayola Hotel, we took to the streets to buy food supplies. "Damned laowai, because of you, I am gonna freeze to death, dammit!" cursed me Hxabbu, when we failed to obtain a sleeping bag for him. Even the Meigu army shop didn't have it. Hxabbu, therefore, disappeared for an hour and then emerged from the mist of dark city with a fleece terry blanket with the pattern of a tiger's fur. When we were stuffing our provisions into our backpacks, we found out that there is no place left for wieners. Hxabbu, clad in his regular underwear, solved this gargantuan problem by devouring them.

During the morning a vapor, which since the dusk hanged on the surrounding hills like a theater curtain, sneaked into our room. It wasn't necessary to get up so early because the bus was leaving the station whenever the driver felt like to – and that means usually late. After reaching the station, one of the drivers grabbed me by my body hair on my arm. He found it incredibly funny, but surprisingly, I begged to differ. "When I wake up in the morning, nobody should talk to me at least for one hour. I would even smack my wife if she would do that," once told me one neanderthal in a factory, where I was working as an interpreter. Unfortunately, I probably suffer a very similar disease - at least that day. Well, I wouldn't hit my wife, but I would certainly sucker-punch a stranger, who holds me by my body hair while laughing, as if he caught some primate, especially when such behavior was way too common around here. "Hold it right there," Hxabbu uttered by his calm voice and held my hand constricted into a fist. He emerged from somewhere with a plastic bag full of fresh cake. An exhibition of photographs, on which were depicted dead human bodies literally minced to meat, constant reminders of traffic accidents which happened because of not respecting the traffic regulations, intensified already a very tense atmosphere. Such photographs and such accidents are typical for such remote regions. After a non-violent mediation of the argument between the driver and me we get on a bus (of course, it was conducted by the very same driver) and we were ready to hit the road again. This link was going to Leibo County, but it went thru a dusty detour over the mountains, which was unfamiliar and mysterious for me.

The fog was constantly not willing to let up. We went thru a valley of nobody, on the slopes, there were newly planted trees, forming neat rows, on the bottom were heaps of stones and boulders. "Hmmm," grumbled bimo and, absorbed in his thoughts, he observed surrounding hilltops. Most of the people on the bus fell asleep shortly after the departure, those who were awake were vomiting from the windows – roads were too windy for their weak stomachs. We passed by a township called Njiyi texy and in the serpentines above we reached a fork. The driver stopped, opened the door, turned the head around and gave us a meaningful stare.

There was a sound of the engine of a vehicle, which was moving away. From the other side, I heard a muffled sound of the bells, which was accompanying a herd of goats, which were moving from one grassland to the other one. Their master asked me the greeting phrase "ne ka bbo" - where are you going? I turned to the direction of the winding road up into the hills and waved my hand towards it. "Oh... So do not hurry," came a courtesy answer. After the herd with its herdsman had moved away, only a frolicsome wind was left to be our company. He caressed the local blossoms, grasses, and clusters of heathers. Along with all this, he heralded signs of impending rain.

After a few winding serpentines, we have entered a mist dense as milk. After a few dozens of minutes, it lifted for a while and let us observe an interesting phenomenon. One of the hills held all those rolling white fluffs, on its top, there was a sharp rock which resembled a breastplate of a turtle. The slope in front of it was without fog. It seemed as if that hill had boiled the fog in its heart. "I have been here before," Hxabbu uttered somehow vaguely, while we walked to a meadow of stubs. The virgin forest covered the opposite slope, the lower part of it transcended into a little grassland. There was a neighing horse. It was a place of hope and doom at the same time. The stubs were a dim memory of the precious woods, which were mercilessly chopped down by someone who undoubtedly made a huge profit on the lifeless logs. It was a symbolical place. Hxabbu was irritated by this sight and kept cursing all the time. The fog suddenly devoured even those parts of the landscape, which were visible to us for this short period and we kept on walking.

The dusty (now muddy) road was going in the very same direction – for both of us it meant, that it is running into the unfamiliar place. It was kind of an indistinct corridor, where visibility oscillated between nothing to ten meters in radius. The mist got even thicker – a condensed raindrops hung in the air, and by walking thru this wet curtain, the water clung to everything. After a while, two persons emerged from the mist. One of them wore a grotesque cap and was followed by a mountaineer clothed in a vala cloak made entirely of tricolor plastic. He held an old mobile phone in one of his worn out palms and instead for wild beasts he was hunting for a signal. Another walking symbol of being lost in a question of modernity and identity – who should a person be is nowadays a hard choice, especially for the Nuosu.

On the both sides of the road, there were fences up to the height of our chests. Those were probably to protect the local wetland abundant with white, blue and red blooms against the animals, which would enter the place to graze. In particular places inside of the swamp, dwarf mountain pines tried to take roots. Somewhere, for reasons uncertain they were successful, and so between the blooming mountain flora, there stuck out the skeletons of these woody plant, which in combination with the white-to-grey mist resembled foreboding claws reaching and snatching for the necks of naive random beings passing thru these no-mans-lands.

On a few places inside the marshland, there were streams of crystal clear water running here and there, which rose to the surface from the soft mossy surface and after a while were disappearing in such as well. There was one moment when two mighty pools emerged from a gray nothingness, the moist floating all around gave this place a unique atmosphere. "These two pools... Those are probably eyes of a demon. All around them, there is a shifting soil. These two 'eyes' are interconnected deep underground. The word goes that a lot of living creatures disappeared around here without a trace, including humans,” Hxabbu had some stories to share with me. In the beginning, he tried to lead the way, but there were moments when we didn't reach an agreement, especially about the direction.

We soldiered on, being driven by the winding road. In some certain parts of this day, we were deadly serious, some other time we were laughing till our bellybuttons stuck out as we did some silly stuff. It continued up to the moment when we heard human voices and sound of hammers banging towards the stones. In a few seconds, silhouettes of people emerged in front of us. There was a bunch of shadows crawling along with them. They were visible despite the darkness, which ruled this time and space. Inside the green ground, there were, more or less randomly, deep holes with people digging for a red stone. Half of the group of the amateur miners frenetically dug the soil with their bare hands. When they discovered a rock that seemed to be an agate, they impatiently smashed them with their hammers. The soil and dirt were piling behind their nails. Those were all black and indicated a painful destiny of these people. The other half of the group was standing in front of a concrete construction and debated about the price. Next to the building, two vans were parked. Thru the grass stalks and dark puddles on the ground within a radius of a few tens of meters, the scattered agate grit glittered. "No. A hundred. I won't sell it to you for fifty!” an angry barking was heard from the people clustered together around a plastic bag, Hxabbu went there to take part in this spectacle and inspect a prey of the illegal miners. After a while, our attention turned towards the run-down house. To enter, we had to surmount piles of plastic bottles and different waste. The goods inside this shop were scattered all around the ground in every corner, in the middle of the house, there was a fire ring. The smashed window, only one in the wall, served as a chimney. "Four beers," told Hxabbu to the shopkeeper and started to hunt for cash in his pockets. The monotonic journey would be colored by a healthy dose of alcohol. We have paid seven yuan per bottle (more than a double price which would we have to pay down in the valley) and kept on walking. The soil, making a temporary road, was intensely red and indicated a presence of a volcanic activity back in the past. On the nearby fence, a sacrificial white cock hung attached to it. "That is a warning, protection against theft. Who would dare to steal the wire fence, he would be later struck by a terrible curse," noted Hxabbu.

That day was coming to an end, but the fog was still hanging everywhere around us. It was time to look for a place for a tent. The cold wind was blowing, smacking the faces of two of us with the omnipresent humidity. Suddenly, we noticed the smell of a fire. From a darkening space in front of us, a terrain vehicle emerged, and after a while, we were able to locate the source of the smell of burning wet wood. It was a group of several people, who decided to have a picnic here. It looked bizarre – because of the weather conditions which they chose for they free-time activity and composition of the group itself. After they noticed us, they immediately invited us to join them by the fire and became to feed us and soak us into the liquor. The menu consisted of thick chicken broth and zucchini soup with chili peppers served raw – a Liangshan form of gazpacho. The experienced taste buds identified awfully expensive Maotai alcohol – a spirit of a heavy sorghum-ish taste which belongs to banquets of corrupted officials – poured into cheap-looking plastic bottles. Part of these people were officials from a small township of Longtoushan crumpled under a massive mountain of the same name. The oldest and worthiest one was according to the clan surname a relative of Hxabbu. We feasted for a while from metal washing-up bowls and drank from the plastic bottles, by which we solved a painful question of "what are we gonna eat tonight." Our new comrades brought a hunting rifle with them and regularly disappeared in a fog in a chase for some small vermin. Meanwhile, I went looking for a suitable place to build a tent.

We have found one after two unsuccessful attempts. Originally, I wanted to put it in a different spot, but Hxabbu discarded this idea of mine by an unsatisfactory grunt: "Bah... You damned laowai! You do not know 'height of the sky nor thickness of the Earth,'" which metaphorically meant, that he doubted the validity of my (various) skills. In the end, I had listened to his advice, which turned out to be a good choice. The spot, which he designated for our tent, was in the middle of a thick dwarf pines – literally a hole just right to fit our tent. The height of the small trees also reached the height of the tent. It was also the only reasonably flat place on a slope, which later turned into the even more steep hillside, eventually becoming a cliff. Bimos has a gift of the wise designation of various places, so there was no reason for not believing Hxabbu. We didn’t have time to care about details whether the entrance is in the north-western direction, where, according to Nuosu legends, reside a "tribe of demons" and obviously it is not advisable to orientate the entrance in this direction. The companions bid us farewell and left for the valley, probably to enjoy the odd women, whom they brought with them. They were so kind to left us the rest of the chicken and Maotai. We managed to start a fire and enjoyed the pleasure of heat it brought to us, but the howling wind and persistent rain, which later turned into the hailstorm, chased us into the tent. For a long time, we weren't able to fall asleep. Hxabbu had lengthy monologs about his childhood and some crazy experiences, among which the one about a teacher bully, on whom Hxabbu took revenge by crapping into the "gaku" fireplace, was the most fruitful one. At night, an unbearable freeze came, and Hxabbu was suffering – partly it was my fault. The tiger-designed quilt didn't do his job well as my sleeping bag did. Therefore, Hxabbu was constantly moaning, panting, grunting, drinking maintenance rations of Maotai and snuggling against me as much as he could. So the night passed in a weird trance – as far from vigilance as from the deep sleep.

In the morning, we woke up (well, "shivered with cold") to an entirely different scenario. The rain was gone, and the sun kicked in. "Well, now I am not afraid of anything," uttered bimo. "Only falling asleep," he added and lighted his first-morning cigarette. First of all, I let the tent dry in the sun and ran to the nearby peak (without a path) to capture some panoramic pictures. For the sake of orientation, I also wanted to check our geographical position, but I have not become any wiser nor were able to locate the Black Crow (nuo. Shuonuo ajjubbo or Njiyishuonuobbo). Goullart in his travelogue mentioned catching a glimpse of it from the valley, where nowadays lies counties of Ganluo and Yuexi. Vicomte d'Ollone, a French adventurer, saw it from the hill above the county seat of Zhaojue. Was it even possible? We haven't seen anything like that. Perhaps we did not reach the necessary altitude yet... Therefore, we had no choice but to follow the vague instructions of Mandarins from the previous evening. Meaning having to walk still straight and forward. When I looked around, I had to note that we are really in the no man's land. How many kilometers we could have walked the previous day? Thirty? We were surrounded by lines of mountain ridges, which seemed to compete "who would reach higher." For a person who loves mountains (like me) it was a delightful sight. Different shades of green were pouring one after another and eventually blended with the dark blue sky. The elevation already surpassed three thousand meters, the air after the rain was sharp as a razor and filled our lungs, soaking with the valley smog. The effect was beneficial. We soon started to pant while walking upwards.

Hxabbu put on his hat, this time it was not the one bimo usually wears, but the one from the Xichang promenade for a couple of kuai. Around the neck, he put his synthetical "tiger skin." He looked like a wandering gypsy now. We were ready to go forward again – thru a green grassland cut thru by a rocky path. After an hour we reached transmission tower and a decision. We had to make a decision which direction to continue. Hxabbu's sixth sense dragged him rightwards; my compass said quite the opposite direction. It took some time to convince a stubborn highlander, but at the end, he gave in. "That mountain over there – that must be it," I said steadfastly and pointed my finger to a giant towering over the horizon. I need to note here that this mountain was probably called "Shama Snow Mountain" and was on the other side of a deep valley separating Meigu/Leibo and Zhaojue counties. "That one??? No! We wouldn't be able to reach that one even in three days. That cannot be it," Hxabbu uttered with an apparent mixture of worries and disdain in his voice targeted towards my sense of orientation. "Let's go,” I told him emotionlessly. He kept grunting but kept walking my way.

We were lost somewhere around the boundary between Meigu and Leibo counties, somewhere around the redoubtable system of mountains, a massive called Huangmaogeng, a part of vast natural reserve called Dafengding, which I traversed during the autumn. Well, to admit the truth, I had fled from there... Around a meteorological station, we arrived at a crumbled house, where according to Hxabbu was once stationed a garrison of PLA. He had to know this very well because his recently deceased older brother retained a considerably high position in the army. It was hard to tell what they were guarding here. All in all, it was a good hideout – here in the middle of nothing, around four thousand meters above the sea level. We continued to the wetland, a crystal clear water accumulated within disappearing tire tracks. We decided to cook a lunch – instant noodles, on which are most of the Chinese dependent as a last resort before trying the local cuisine of barbarian lands. Someone once told me, when she was young and poor, instant noodles was a kind of candy for them – a little treat after school. Our happy feasting was interrupted by an arrival of a minivan, which in front of our eyes got stuck in the mud. I had nothing better to do apart from helping them out. The driver stared at a wet moss in front of his wheels in disbelief, then turned his sight back to the car – a humble mianbaoche with worn tires. Deducting this road is way too much for him, he somehow did a u-turn and went back. In a while, a jeep arrived, a few people with high boots and binoculars got off. I got the feeling that in this peripheral nature reserve is a way too much traffic. The driver reached for a pack of cigarettes. When he found out it is empty, he simply threw it out to the grassland – with all that plastic and toxic shit around it. We found out he was the head of this reserve. My blood started boiling. "Keep it cool," said judicious bimo when he noticed my face turning red. After a while of annoying conversation, the car headed back from where it came from, taking aboard his blunt crew. I took that empty, plastic-covered cigarette packet and put it together with another waste, which I carried on the outside of my backpack. Hxabbu did the same with a couple of other tracks of the presence of human stupidity, we packed our little kitchen set and got back on the track.

"You know, I admire one thing about Mao Zedong. And I mean it..." said Hxabbu and suddenly cut the silence of the grassland. "I admire the way he managed to wash the brain of all of the people to such a 'clean' extent," he continued. Meanwhile we, under the supervision of yak herds, were forced to make another decision. Yes, on another crossroad we turned left again and continued walking towards that towering monster. The road disappeared. After a while, we met a wrinkled herdsman with a thick, rough skin covering his palms, who confirmed, that our direction was correct. We arrived in the area of a flat pasture defined by two not-so-tall egg-shaped hill ridges. Dozens of small lakes, pools, and puddles with a fresh, running, crystal-clear water covered the ground. If those two pools from the previous day were eyes of a demon, this must have been a myriad of eyes of a mythical spider. We managed to cross this plain without soaking our shoes and kept going on.

We have conquered the last horizon, which was dividing us from the alleged final destination. On that thin line, which keeps shifting itself forward and never lets anyone to reach its border I found out, that Hxabbu was right. "You see," he kept saying when I gaped on the mountain with a snow cap, which was still very far away – at least two deep valleys with steep slopes stood between us and that beast. Luckily, we both were somewhat right. From this place was a beautiful view towards Zhaojue County, a place, where the palace of once-mighty Shama headman stood. Localizing the library of great bimo Asy Lazzi was also pretty straightforward. And finally, now we knew, where the Black Crow is. So everything leads to an ideal result, both our egos were satisfied by the sweet taste of victory. That huge mountain served as a beacon and lead us towards the Black Crow.

I saw Black Crow many years before arriving here. I saw that mountain in my dreams. Its unique shape might fool any inexperienced wanderer. The mountain pretends to be a billowing grassland, but on its summit follows quick and cruel death in the form of sheer, couple of hundred meters high cliff. The Black Crow doesn't have only one summit. It has plenty of those. They are uncountable – similarly as the feathers of this black-feathered bird. Amoebic shape resembled fingers of a clenched fist. I was eager to find out how does it feel to lie down near the fringe of that cliff. After Hxabbu and me with great effort finished this expedition and I was about to write this text, there was a fluid, vivid melange of thoughts and memories, which were obstructed by some awe during its way on the blank sheet of paper. So I procrastinated several months and sorted my mind, deciding what to write down and what just keep in my head as an omnipresent, fluid and vivid memory, before writing all this down. The truth is that the Black Crow emerged in my head and imagination way before I set on my way towards it and stayed there even after I humbly left the vast area it comprises.

At that moment I was still full of doubts. Such a long journey... Is this the Black Crow? Or is it one of the many local similar mountains? In front of us, a vast valley without a path emerged, and we were forced to walk on the sharp grass stalks on an uneven terrain, which made us tired faster. Hxabbu had his crisis, and he muttered how is it possible that I can walk so steadily during the day. Therefore, I let him go in front and feasted my eyes on the breathtaking panoramas. He quickly became a small figure in contrast with the vast space bordered by summits of mountains and always-floating clouds. He seemed to be so small, insignificant. It was a purely unique moment, and I dare to say, that it was one of the unique and unrepeatable experiences, which naturally came down to me under this azure-blue sky full of stratocumulus and cumulonimbus clouds of various shapes.

A chain of people pierced thru this idyll. They were carrying heavy sacks on their back. I do not know what was inside, but when I have approached them and inquired, whether that "windflower" in front of us is THE Black Crow, they looked surprised and kept saying, that they are not sure. We had no choice but to keep walking towards the bottom of that valley. We found humble shacks made of wooden planks of the local herders. Sometimes they were even dugout shelters lacking the features of traditional Nuosu features found in clusters of houses nowaday called villages. The Nuosu formerly didn't know cities. And when some cities flourished down in the valley, they didn't like them as they were not feeling comfortable there. They usually went there just for a (barter and monetary) trade and hastily returned to the heart of their mountains. The cities are local inventions of Han people. The Yi were always living in the clusters of houses according to their clan membership. The local placenames reflected the complexion of the landscape, alternatively other local characteristics. "Drag the city into the mountains and let the dogs devour it!" This verse belongs to a Nuosu musician Moxi Zishi. It emanates from the not-so-distant past.

The inhabitants were desperately poor. Fierce dogs were tied to some of these buildings by a piece of rope or chain. The locals were very insecure and diffident. Nobody walked towards us, despite the fact we felt the nervous eyes in the dark cracks between the planks following our every step. At the bottom of the valley was a lot of water, which flowed everywhere around in the complex network of creeks and streams. All around there were multi-coloured blooms along with peat bog. A few robust cows were in evidence as well. I swear that if I didn't know I am in Liangshan, I would think that this must be Switzerland. Meanwhile, I was taking pictures of this immense beauty, Hxabbu already jumped over a few streams and reached the opposite slope. His folk costume was shining with colors and therefore totally resonated with the local landscape as if it would belong here since the very beginning of everything around us. On the opposite slope, my companion and a formal clan-based relative put down his tiger-patterned quilt, lied down and waited for the damned laowai.

It was late afternoon already, and the weather gave us a signal, that the storm is coming. It was the right time to think about where to spend a night. Hxabbu miraculously returned to the life and wanted to walk as far as the light-filled sky would allow us. At that moment, the crisis started to crawl up on my back, but I agreed to his plan. At the foot of another long slope, we met a herder, who finally confirmed us, that the mountain in front of us is the Black Crow. That poured some energy into our veins, and we were able to continue. One of the lower rocks was towering as a warning finger. There was a lot of fallen stones under it and another little settlement. They were dependent on the mercy of falling stones, but they were probably wisely hidden before unpredictable gusts of the wind. After a while, the path took sharp ascend. Of course, the way was not going straight to the top but was hanging on the right-hand side slope, under which there was a steep precipice. On its fringe were fascinating views to the valley on the boundary of the three counties. The herdsman followed us for a while, above our heads, we noticed swarms of people. Even from this far the heaps of garbage were evident.

"What the hell is that?" I asked Hxabbu with the voice full of surprise. "Agate," he replied with a dark tone. The thin line up there wasn't a road. It was a exploited agate vain, which skirted the surrounding hills in the length of tens of kilometers. It was like that line indicating blood poisoning quickly running towards the heart – when it reaches it, a person dies. "They are gonna smash these mountains to pieces," I uttered. "Hm," Hxabbu dropped one sigh and turned his body to the right – towards the void. That garbage, sound of heavy machinery and hammers shattering the rock. Those... Those idiots! It was pointless to be angry, we all knew the story of the agate here in the Cool Mountains. We tried to ignore this agate-abundant vein. It was still kind of far away. It was impossible to displace it in the brain, though.

The path was ascending and became thinner and thinner. On the left there were rocks, we were following a trail full of fallen bigger or smaller stones. On the right, there was a gaping abyss. Therefore we obediently followed its frilled fringe. At one moment we had to follow a long gradual wave leading into the slope to avoid a hundred meters wide chasm. On the hill above it, there was a settlement, the biggest one that day. When we reached its height, we turned the opposite direction than the path leading to it. One of the summits of Longtoushan was dwelling amidst a cluster of clouds. After a while we found almost perfect for a tent – on a little flat platform, quite close to the cliff, but still at a safe distance from it. On the right side, a summit resembling human tongue towered. "On the right, that is a female peak, on the right, that is a male. These are two main summits," clarified Hxabbu, while we began to build our tent and making dinner. On the left side, a single dwelling weaved of grasses, lichens, and wooden sticks were attached to the slope. "There is a stream, I will get the water," said bimo and disappeared into the bushes. He returned in a while. Unfortunately, he had a company. A bunch of rogues stuck to him, which he had according to a Nuosu custom had to invite for a sip of the liquor. On the slope above us, streams of people were running to find a shelter in the bushes. "Police arrived," Hxabbu said. Agate mining without permission is illegal. We heard a sound of a siren coming from afar. The professional eyeballers were probably freelance-miners as well, and their presence was, to be frank, very uncomfortable. "Shouldn't you be going?" I gave them a semi-polite advice after some half-hour. Without effect. "Please, could you tell them to scram?" I asked Hxabbu, who was accustomed, therefore okay with their presence. "Just ignore them, they will leave eventually," he advised and went to take the boiling water off the stove.

Night slowly came, the entrance to our tent pointed right towards the sight of the abyss. It was a luxury hotel. The first star weaved the first seam into the sky, from the valley below us here and there flashed a lonely light – probably sole dwellings. A mighty tree growing from the slope of the "female" blended with one star into a single silhouette. I was sitting there, sipping a liquor and thought about Adela from Shanghai – she would be tempted to jump down. I wrote this simple poem in Chinese. It was supposed to capture this unique moment. It was, again, A Beautiful Maiden, which didn't let me sleep. Like so many times before.

One tree
one wolf
two friends, till death do us a part
four eyes
five houses
ten persons
twenty yaks
one hundred of horses
more than three hundred of sheep
one Ke Yang, which likes to fly high and deep
dozens of colorful birds
snow leopard
more than five hundred of those, who are digging the agate
a great many stones
more than three hundred kind of herbs
a myriad of stars
three songs
one wind
several memories
all of those are hanging on a cliff
all of those are suffering insomnia

We woke up very early – way before 7 a.m. We packed our stuff and started walking towards the (male) summit, which was clearly visible from our camp this morning. On the path, the agate grit was lying everywhere. Sometimes we stumbled across the hole, from which someone tried to dig out the precious stone. The path was becoming more dangerous, at one point we had to traverse a crumbling slope full of small fragments of soft slate, the slightest mistake would lead to falling into the void underneath us. In the next stage, we were struggling at the layered grassy slope with paths smoothed not by humans, but animals. A few hundred meters above us there was a cave entrance. We decided to reach it on our way back. Thru the hillside we flashed towards a plain with a small lake, which was drying out. There was the last long grassy gradual grassland slope ahead of us, the tangled masses of vapor, fog and clouds were rolling back and forth over it. We even didn't stop for a short rest and being aware of the closeness of our goal. We had carried on walking.

The last part wasn't the easiest, as it may seem at first sight. Hxabbu kept it slow, and when I was waiting for him at the top, an extraordinary sight rose in front of my eyes. The vapors with fog rising from the chasm under the cliff were pouring over the sharp edge of this world and sprang on the inclined grassland full of various blooming flowers, where it was slowing down and created different levitating patterns above it. After forty minutes, we were already very close to the summit. Bimo found a suitable place for a small ritual of sacrificing to the mountain – jishan. Here we were, drowning in the mist, which in irregular, ever surprising moments teared up and let us peer into the petrifying maw of the gulf gaping only a few meters from the place, where Hxabbu was sitting. The mist kept revealing various parts of the sharp rock. It seemed like a shadow play during the bright day. Hxabbu took out all his bimo tools. After a short chant, partially reciting by heart and partially from his scroll books, bimo reached for the bottle of the "corrupted officials' booze” and splashed it into four directions. Before this, it was almost full. So that's why he kept carrying it all way along. Not because he wanted to sip it, but for symbolically paying tribute to the mountain, where according to the legends similar rituals were conducted by his ancestors from the Jjike clan.

A moment which left me baffled followed in a while. Bimo was packing his ritual utensils into a stylish backpack. He reached for his ear and released a sound, which was a mixture of surprise and discomfort – he lost his earring. He sat on the ground for a while, let himself dive into deep contemplation. After a while, he stood up, keep walking some thirty meters slantwise downwards and from an utterly indistinct, unmarked place he fished it out. On my dropped jaw he reacted just by a guileless smile.

These moments contained various layers of symbolism, which seemed unfathomable at the moment and I was consistently failing to sort them into the right order. Only now, recalling those moments, I see nuances of the humbleness towards the ancestors, efforts to preserve a continuity of Nuosu culture and disdain towards the superficiality of the bottle of "alcohol of the corrupted" and towards the potentates in general. Besides, all of this was completed by the unbelievable natural background, of which we cannot get enough thru those two hours being up there. We were climbing craggy mountaintops of the Black Crow, admiring breathtaking scenery, talked about the role of the "primitive religion" - bimoism – in the contemporary Nuosu-Yi society and so on and so on... With every movement of the clouds, the scenery changed its configuration, gaining entirely new, unique and unrepeatable features and appearance. It was almost impossible to leave this place. We both had this feeling, that on this day, 19 May 2015, two oddballs – each from the different world, with the different everydayness and problems, which it brings – touched the eternity. We not only touched it, but we were also able to rub it between our fingers, holding it in our palms and gulp as much of it as we can. The harder I try, the more difficult is to find words to describe those moments up there. How many unbelievable coincidences must have met to let all of this happen? A vytu quiver with the biju bell were both swung by the wind on the bimo's back, with the mild sound of the breeze caressing the plain, a quiet jingling can be heard... And apart from this, nothing else.

Even eternity is probably not eternal. At least not for human beings. After a while, we had to set on the road towards our world – world of the mortals. We were not exactly sure if we would have to walk back the same way, which led us here. But we had to make a stopover in the cave, which we saw on the way here. "Goodness me, what is this?" screamed Hxabbu into the silence, when he managed to remove part of the skin from his face. "Well, you have a sunburn... What else would that be?" I replied to him, amused by his expression of his eyes, where a leprosy was reflecting. I have to confess that for the following few days my skin had a color of the volcanic soil and for the first time in my life, on my nose popped up yellow, weeping blisters.

According to one of many legends, at the foot of the Black Crow was a cave named Bi'er, where a great ancestor of Hxabbu, a mighty bimo Asy Lazzi practiced his self-cultivation. The cave, which we found, probably wasn't the one from this legend despite the fact, that this place abode with the scent of mysteriousness and mythology. A few meters under it was a rock in the shape of human head guarding the slope. It coincidently resembled some artifacts of Sanxingdui culture. Some other legends reflected the ability of Asy Lazzi to turn living beings and plants into stone. Was it "that" place after all? Or was it one of those, which Asy Lazzi passed during his long journeys, or another location where he dwelled? Common knowledge in Liangshan says that the great ancestor of bimos crisscrossed the whole Liangshan, some even say, that he was able to walk to India and back. Li Shaoming, a great yiologist, a couple of months before his death presented his last paper at the conference, bringing some convincing evidence the Yi people really migrated to the various parts of Southwest China from India thousands of years ago. In the Indian states adjoining Myanmar, especially in a culturally diverse Nagaland, some customs resemble those of Yi, i.e. men also like to knit a "horn" on their forehead. A French adventurer Vicomte d'Ollone more than hundred years ago also pointed to the affinity of the Yi to the Indo-European race. Whether some of these hypotheses are valid or not, I suggested to Hxabbu he should declaim few of his texts inside this cave. It seemed like a good idea. We were walking in the footsteps of the ancestors after all... Bimo was reluctant in the beginning. "To declaim texts inside the cave... I will look like some (Buddhist) monk," he kept muttering. In the end, he thought it is not such a bad idea. He hung his books all over around, partly to let them breathe a little bit and remove dampness after being trapped in the backpack for a long time. He recited from one of these books – everything following the rhythm of nature, which at the moment wore its lace lingerie over the female part of the Black Crow, letting it disappear for a moment. His songful, but very consistent and crystal clear voice resonated thru the whole cave and from its walls it kept bouncing into the landscape, where it merged with the wind, murmuring grassland and singing of the various birds.

The answer to the question "how to get down from here" emerged by itself. The eternity, after all, is a generator of answers to the unknown issues and its pieces stuck at the bimo's colorful folk costume. From the cave, we continued in the same direction which led us here. When we approached the village on the "female's tongue,” we met a graceful old lady in the traditional dress and with pearly disc-shaped earrings, who told us, that through the cleft between the rock it is possible to descend into the valley, where there was a winding road from Leibo to Zhaojue. It surely wasn't the wisest decision, but it was a shortcut, which would save us at least two days of walking. Because the weather was about to return to its state as two days ago, we were also driven by the passion not to get soaked. On the fringe of the chasm, we ate some of the energetical jelly (guodong) and started descending. The way, which leads down into the depths of this world, resembled a path only partially. Most of the time it was a system of terraced boulders sprinkled with gravel and dust. Thru corridor full of lush vegetation, clusters of vapor were rolling towards the upper plains. Therefore the visibility oscillated between hundred and a few meters. At one point I managed to clumsily start a stone avalanche I had stepped on the loose, comparatively big boulder, which began to move at the moment when it was behind my back. Luckily I managed to jump out of its way. "No problem," I shouted towards Hxabbu, who was about to faint. "No problem, of course! When are you dead, you will also have no problem, right? Only I will be responsible for dragging your earthly remains down there," he poured out his cumulated stress towards my face and breathed the sigh of relief. After a few minutes, I began to hallucinate – hearing an echo of human voices and even had a glimpse of a "caravan" ascending towards us. It was time to stick my head under a cold waterfall and cook the last pack of instant noodles for lunch.

After two hours we managed to reach a path, which led to a paved road. The landscape down there was again entirely unique. A massive Black Crow looked like a cluster of huge conical stones mutually locked into one another. It seemed like a unconquerable fortress. On the meadow below, herds of cows were grazing, which belonged to a nomad dwelling in the nearby wooden shack. He kept an eye on us all the time and shouted some rude and importunate questions towards us, being not friendly at all. The soft afternoon light created an atmosphere not different from German or French Alps, the summit of Longtoushan was covered by the darkness of deep gray color with a copper collar. After a while, we managed to walk thru a weird little lockable gate – probably a black hole in the local space-time continuum in the middle of the wasteland – to a path, which leads thru two villages full of surprised looks right to the paved road. We felt like being two Alices in the Wonderland. "You were digging up there, weren‘t you?” Such almost rhetorical questions were always flying around our ears. What kind of other business we would have up there... We were already drained, but a good mood was not leaving us, endless jokes and laughs were completing an atmosphere of success. The Black Crow was in such distance, that it was hard to believe, that this morning we reached its top.

On the asphalt road, we waved down a car heading to Liuhong, a local place of hopelessness and despair. The town was an unbelievable mess, heaps of garbage kept smoldering. In this place, there was a sole Han family, which run shabby "Han restaurant". The only bright moment was a presence of electricity, so freezers were running, and cold beer was available. At that moment, it tasted like the best beer under heaven. The wind ceased to blow. The weather seemed to "stop down." Probably it was the legendary and terrifying eye of the hurricane when seemingly pleasant and safe present time quickly turns into an apocalyptic whirlwind. By another lucky coincidence, of which we met a lot along this way, we managed to run into another distant relative of bimo from the clan Jjike (of course, they never met before), who promised to take us to Zhaojue County town for a small amount of money. After five minutes of the shaky ride, an unbelievable cyclone emerged and prevented us from continuing on this a while ago dusty, a now muddy road. We had to stop on a wider part of the road and wait for the natural element to calm down. We were trapped under a slope, from which stones of various sizes started to roll down due to the following torrential rain and kept falling all around us. After five minutes, this monster seemingly gave up, and we were able to proceed forward slowly. The driver was nervous and constantly observed the slope above us. One of the places was deadly, to say at least. Above the road, the gradual slope suddenly turned into an overhang, riding under it was a pure lottery. By the bridge, which leads to the main road, there was a small landslide. The mud blocked the road. In the middle of it, a part of collapsed rock stuck out. We needed to remove it off the road first, then let one of the trucks sketch two tire tracks into that mess, and quickly follow it before it closes again like the Red Sea in the biblical times... On the asphalt road, the situation wasn't any better. The road was full of rocks of different sizes and shapes, in some places, they kept showering from above. Therefore, we all were overjoyed, when after one and half an hour we were able to stand in front of our hotel. Of course, we didn't look very impressive – covered by mud, emitting a scent of various degrees... But the staff of the hotel was apparently accustomed to worse cases, so they even didn't mention the muddy footprints, which we left behind us in a gold and glitter covered foyer on our way to our room.

It still wasn't an end of the whole adventure. In the morning, the first thing I did was absurdly forcing bimo to ford a river colored with red clay, so we would reach a place, where ancient stone coffins on the slope of Mucuonaijie mountain rested. This shortcut was well-meaned, but at the end unnecessary. There was a concrete stele by the road to the Butuo county, which I spotted several times during my trips to this region. The place was empty at first sight. Even not my frenzied search for something resembling stone coffins didn't lead to more significant discovery than a little pile of stones deep in the forest, which resembled a grave. Meanwhile, Hxabbu was lying sprawled on my raincoat and alternated between smoking and sleeping. "Damned laowai," he said wisely towards me when I after a couple of dozens of minutes emerged from the afforested hill. "Those coffins are in the area of some 60 mu. There should be fifty-six of them, and most of them are unrecognizable from the forest-dominated landscape. Do you think you can find all of them?" I was looking at him in the disbelief... When this scientific spirit, which he disdain the most, possessed him? Then I tamed my consciousness again, and I noticed his smartphone with a Baidupedia page on the screen. "I called the office. They almost didn't know, that such thing should actually exist," he added. "Let's go then,” I replied in a bit of discomfort, and we were able to continue.

After a short stop by the remnants of yamen belonging to the once-mighty Lili nzymo (local headman) in Daba township and finding out, that the bronze door from the former building is still being kept at the local archive of the "new yamen" - the local authority, we headed back towards Xichang. We left the negotiation with the officials for some other time. We boarded a van of a nitwit, which can only turn his wheel, but the other functions of the car, such as breaking, as well as following the basic traffic regulations he left to someone less smart than him. Apparently, nobody taught him even the basic knowledge of staying at the designated side of the road, we later found out, that he probably didn't even have a license. "Well, I am off, I am not dying here," uttered Hxabbu before Sikai township, silently gave some money to the driver and forced me to get out of his car. In a flash, we got on a bus line heading to the prefectural capital. Although bimo had arranged a ritual for the second day, he had to postpone it. One reason for this was a crazy traffic situation, which stripped a few pointless hours from our lives by being stuck in a traffic jam, the second, more important reason was a visit to the famous Boshenwahei cliff paintings, which the only and famous bimo Jjike Hxabbu never saw by his own eyes. It needs to be boastfully noted, that I have already been there once before. At one point, he took a duty of a traffic policeman to lead the not-so-well-behaved drivers, who weren't able to make individual decisions nor achieve some sort of cooperation to untangle the skein of the local traffic situation. A rightfully crowned über-moron of not only this day was a truck driver, who not only probably drove such a vehicle for the first twenty minutes of his life but also managed to stop wherever he wanted in a way, that he jammed the whole road from both directions. All of this just for smoking a fag or make a long call. In Jiefang township, our driver couldn't take it anymore and after a short chase and a western-like overtaking of this individual the whole, the passengers of this half-filled bus all inclined towards the right side of our vehicle and poured their anger towards the by fiercely exchanging insults and obscene gestures. Luckily, the only harm towards the bus, considering the quality and width of the road, were spattered windows on the right side. Due to the worn nerves of our driver, all this might have ended up much more seriously.

In a while, the bus fell into pieces after all. But it was on a straight and flat part of the road, only a few minutes from our temporary destination. We have bid our farewell to the driver on a crossroad and reached Wanchang township right before the dusk. We managed to buy some supplies and went a few kilometers from the village, where the magical glade with volcanic boulders full of carvings should be along with our imagined atmospheric overnight accommodation. Well, it was already a few years ago since I got here, today even the darkness was present. For an hour we were roaming at a damp, freshly plowed field. It was nine o'clock. "I will ask people in that house,” I told my companion, who only laughed at me. "At this time, they will be probably sleeping already," he added when he in a certain amount of discomfort sat in the middle of the road and waited for me to discover this truth by myself. He, unfortunately, wasn't mistaking. Therefore, we had to erect our tent on a random, partially dry place and spend a night there. Approximately around the second night watch, we were wakened up by a car. The drivers had typical Chinese-style-annoying question – what are we doing here, where do we come from and so on. In the end, they told us, that they are non-locals and only passing through, so they were strangers to this land the same way we were. Obviously, that information we had to provide were indispensable for the success of our and their trip.

Our bodies were aching. We woke up in the morning into three surprised stares, which belonged to the same number of young lads. With their help, we were able to localize the mysterious glade (it wasn't so far from our camp), under the small bridge we left a bag of garbage, which we intended to pick up on our way back. Well, we didn't anticipate, that the juveniles, sensing some sort of treasure from places distant and afar, tore the bags and went thru all that mess, ending their inspection on throwing the damned plastic all around this place, from where we had to collect them again at the end.

When we reached the boulders, bimo's pupils dilated like those of a tiger sensing prey. "That... This... This! This is incredible," he kept repeating, running around all of those depictions on the front of the rocks, which he examined carefully. Many depictions were very familiar to him. A Nuosu mythology was probably captured in many of these, along with the long-gone glory of the once mighty non-Han regime called Nanzhao, which here – at the foot of the Chinese civilization – sprouted during almost exactly in the middle of a glorious reign of Tang dynasty. Right, exactly at a time, when Tang started to have problems with themselves and also with Tibetans. On the boulders were depicted unique scenes from the Chinese medieval multiculturalism. Persons wearing typical Tang-dynasty caps and robes holding here bimo's quiver vytu and there a ritual fan qike. Hxabbu was often comparing these with his utensils and absorbed in thoughts, rubbing his chapped lips, incredulously eyeballed on the patterns chiseled into a hard rock. Apart from remarkable, as if cross-bred animal species there was an eagle, turtle, and horse, apart from the procession of people also scenes from the Buddhist way of life – again, mixed with the ancient Nuosu motives. It was absorbing to observe my bimo friend, how overwhelmed he was with his discovery. "This... We have to do something with this... Snap some pictures, even documentary..." he continued his semi-confused babble, when he was running around and touching hundreds of years old grooves into this seemingly ruthlessly solid stone.

It took us two hours to get enough of this unique, and for the Nuosu identity paramount cultural heritage. But then it was time to head back. There was a car leaving Wanchang soon. Hxabbu shortened his waiting by a bowl of noodles and semi-raw eggs in the only local cookshop, entirely colonized by the omnipresent flies. Walls such black and so many sticky objects in one room I have probably never seen before. I bought two beers and started to kill 'em outside. An elderly woman, curled up in her deep blue cloak was puffing from her pipe and by her glowing eyes, deeply engraved into her wrinkled face, was measuring me from toe to the head. Local rubbernecks, having nothing better to do, did the same. And so I also stared at them – the best way I could. One after another, they backed off and hid behind the taller ones, giggling like small girls. It was an odd sight, yet not unfamiliar, considering the fact, that these were grown-up men. I had a feeling I am somewhere in a thick forest of PNG. The way back home was smooth. Hxabbu stepped out of the care a few hundred meters before our final destination with his typically mysterious "I have to arrange something." In a moment he disappeared as though the scorching hot May Earth had swallowed him. The month was in its second half, but the weather was all the same since the beginning of March – the sun was burning to its fullest. Thirsty, I headed towards the corner shop for some ice-cold beverage. The elderly man at the door, probably a relative of the family running this shop, kept touching my face and consistently gave me one "thumbs up" after another. If that were a Roman emperor, I would survive this encounter even though I would lose my battle down in the Colosseum. I sat by the road, sipped my drink and started to sort out my thoughts. Well, yeah... For such a long time I didn't feel so worn out, yet so happy at the same time...


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