Traditional Chinese medicine has never really been my scene since I was on the receiving end of some very uncomfortable acupuncture (and I’m sure there are a few dead rhinos who would have a few things to say about it as well if they could). But it’s obviously a big part of life here, especially up in the mountains where the Yao people like to end a day’s work with a medicinal bath, full of plants blended to heal whatever ailments might be bothering them at the time. After a rocky ride through some slightly dilapidated looking villages we arrived at the Gaohua village, with beautifully preserved wooden houses nestled into the wooden hillside. First we met the chain smoking Doctor Chow, who led us along a slightly terrifying path on a steep slope to collect various plants with our sickles and baskets. Next Barney and I watched him cook up a mixture specially formulated for us both, before donning swimming trunks and climbing into small wooden tubs of hot dark liquid. Mine was supposed to wake me up, and the albas oil smell and steaming water certainly did that. Barney’s was supposed to cure travel sickness – I can testify after seeing his green face on the way home that evening that in his case it didn’t really do the job.
Our bath making hosts cooked us up quite a feast for lunch, including a duck that one of the crew saw being “despatched” a couple of hours earlier. Then we made our way up a path to a paper making house, where two local residents showed Barney the ancient 2,000 year old process of making paper, whilst I dressed up as Frenchman Rene Mangetout and shouted at them. We got it all done just before the sun went down and made our way back to the hotel, driving through villages the seemed to have limited access to electricity, each doorway filled with a resident whose face was lit up as they quietly scrolled through their smartphone. Seems like they’re just as addicted as us back home!