“If you want the van to stop, just yell ‘ting'” Dannie said.
I repeated it back to her, “Tin?”
“Ok, got it.” I didn’t have it at all.
The van seemed to tilt as the driver barreled around another curve. One side of the road was littered with wet rocks and sand that had crumbled from the rusty red cliffs above us. The other side of the road, which I nervously noted we were on, overlooked an even steeper slope down to the sapphire blue water of Lugu Lake. Islands speckled the Lake far below and in the hills all around, farm animals were poking through the shrubs looking for something to eat. My eyes were on the clouds.
Dannie had done her research and learned that on hot days at Lugu Lake it usually rained in the early afternoon, and that the rain usually cleared off after a few hours. This morning had been hot, and now the rain was just letting up. It would stop and then start again, but so far there had been no break in the cloud cover. I wanted a photograph of the light shining down onto those wet hills or over the islands.
We had rented the van to drive us around the lake, stopping at scenic vistas and local cultural icons. We split the cost with another couple from another part of China. They owned a tourism company, and they seemed to go everywhere we went, observing the activities of the only Americans at Lugu Lake. Whenever we stopped to take photos, they got out too and walked around with their phones snapping pictures.
The driver was clearly going through a routine. He took us to the spots he knew tourists liked to go, and he seemed a little rushed at times, pointing out that we had to make it to a certain spot by sunset. Not that there would be much of a sunset if the clouds didn’t clear out a little. At one point he stopped in a village and told us we could go shopping, and while we were there a woman filled up the front seat of the van with produce that he delivered to the next village. We bought a bag of dried apples, one of the local specialties.
Right now we were halfway around the lake, peering through the tinted windows from the back seat of the van. The road was gradually descending and soon it was nearly level with the water. Instead of cliffs, tall grass rose up from the shores of the lake, and ahead of us was another village.
Then I saw the clouds parting, not over the islands or the hills like I had planned, but in the distance. The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain that had dominated the skyline for most of our stay in the Yunnan Province was visible even from here, we just hadn’t seen it from our hotel’s side of the lake. It rose above the lake and the hills, and its dark slopes looked like cloudy skies until the eye caught the snowy white peak high above. Higher still, sunlight was cascading down and basking the mountaintop in surreal light.
“Tin!” I yelled, and four blank chinese faces, including the driver’s, turned to stare at me in confusion. “Tin?” I said again.
Dannie rolled her eyes. “Ting,” she clarified for everyone, and the driver abruptly pulled to the side of the road. I waited impatiently as the other couple climbed out of the van and pulled their seat forward so that I could get out.
Leaving my tripod in the trunk I hurried to find the best point of view. In the time that it took us to stop we had gotten so close to the village that the buildings were now obstructing the mountain. Instead of walking back, I decided to go through to the other side. After running about a hundred feet the road bent to the left and there was a gap between the buildings. Luckily I had my telephoto lens already attached and I took this photo. I felt a little silly afterwards as the locals watched me walk back to the van having just sprinted through their town, but I knew I had gotten a good shot. Soon the mountain was back in the clouds. I climbed back into the van and we sped through the village and continued on our way.
“Tin?” I asked, and Dannie just shook her head.