Every day a quarter of the
world's population wakes up and they're Chinese. Added to this,
here in China's SW they might be Tibetan, Naxi, Yi, Lisu, Hui
or any number of smaller nationalities contained within or interfacing
with the Han majority. Obviously things are remarkably different
over here - which is rather the point.
Travel in the modern day reality of SW China & Tibet is amazing
enough without using gimmicks or claiming the existence of mythical
“ancient kingdoms” - except as a historical perspective,
it's unnecessary. Although a certain tendency towards flowery
language is inevitable, we try to approach the whole subject intelligently
based on the logic that that exploration is exhilarating without
skimming things over with a palatable and dumbed down "mystical"
gloss. We do this safe in the knowledge that, in any case, in
this part of the world, truth really is often stranger than fiction.
This translates into...
Our intention has always been to facilitate exploring and experiencing
this difference to the full. Often a little intimidating and sometimes
outright exhausting, it is coming face to face with this difference
(be it the people or the landscape) that gives a trip its exhilaration.
Just remember that most people you meet will be just as interested
in you as you are in them, and given the opening would be as thrilled
to know a little bit more about you and your world, as you theirs.
Consequently, the ingredients of a good trip seem to be twofold
- firstly, by in large this kind of experience isn't to be found
in sites that have been worked over and set up for tourism, as
all this allows is a glimpse of how the tourist industry works!
And secondly, you should be at the forefront of your own experience.
We see guiding as a process whereby we provide the means for you
to follow your own nose - not ours! In this, our philosophy as
guides is to be facilitators, and not 'mothers' - the trip should
be personal to you - not us.
Are we an eco-tourism company? Honestly? No - but then really, who is? In our experience,
this is a label dreamed up by marketing departments, and represents
some very fuzzy thinking indeed - a huge simplification - that
at its worst turns into an oddly neo-colonial justification for
imposing structures, both business and social, upon local cultures
- enough said. However, if anyone can give us a clear definition
of what eco-tourism really means, and wishes to take us to task
on it, we'll take the question seriously!
It should go without saying, however, that
we do look out for the environment, both natural and social, through
which we travel.
On Working Methods
It's a matter of fact that
most tours in China are run by either agents in the big cities
or big foreign 'adventure travel' companies with no on-the-ground
presence, who contract out their tours. Haiwei Trails both works
and hires locally, for two reasons: firstly, because not doing
so keeps money and resources away from the communities in which
we spend our time, thereby increasing the concentration of wealth
in the big towns and cities while marginalising the villagers,
making them bystanders in their own community; and secondly -
a more practical reason - it's been proven over and over again
that in this area, the better drivers and guides are found not
in the big cities, but in the very villages and towns which we
generally visit on our trips. Additionally, by keeping things
local our sources of information are infinitely more reliable,
enabling us to keep abreast of changing conditions, the opening
and closing of roads, and new trail options as they turn up. This
in turn has been the key to much of our success, and is what handily
sets us apart from other companies running tours in SW China.
Another key has been the way we as a company work together. Trips
are run on a team basis with no sharp division between many of
the tasks - if you take a trip with us, you'll notice that the
drivers may lend a hand with the meal preparation, while the guides
will take a turn at washing the cars. Under such a system, and
with profits distributed proportionate to work put in, everyone
has a stake in the success of a trip.
Finally, much of our efforts have been directed
along the principal that finding the right people for the task
is everything - the extremely high quality of our specialist guides
and our drivers stand testament to this. If we can't do something,
then we find somebody who can, and this will be somebody upon
whom we unreservedly stake our reputation.
We tend on our trips to opt for local over international,
and the 'simple' over the 5-star as it's here that the particular culture
of a region is found. We therefore encourage spending as much time as
the pace allows in everyday situations, be it a roadside restaurant or
somebody's house. We do, however, recognise that new experiences, rough
roads and local lodgings can often be exhausting - and therefore we put
a lot of effort into providing the right balance between comfort, and
a real experience - as while the balance of a trip's experience is ultimately
in your hands, one of our jobs is to smooth out the rough edges so that
you'll be refreshed enough to take maximum advantage of your days! As
an indication of this, we have over the last few years taken people ranging
from 18-70 years of age, from a wide variety of backgrounds, and their
response has been generally highly enthusiastic.
Additionally, as no people or landscape exists in
historical isolation and cannot be understood on this basis, we like to
provide a large amount of contextual information within which you can
place your experience. In this way, by coming to SW China we hope to give
you a window into the wider Chinese and Tibetan civilisations.
to Expect On Our Trips
What's a Haiwei Trail... What are we doing here
and why... How will that affect what you'll be doing here ... and why?
Trails got off the ground in 1996 as a grouping of Americans and Brits living
in Asia with a penchant for travelling deep into China's far-off south-west
regions (in the bad old days of closed areas and police checkpoints!), who
desired to form a travel company founded on their particular special interests
in the area. After much prospecting, in 1997 we decided to set up base in
Lijiang, Yunnan Province, so as to be more responsive to conditions on the
ground, as we quickly realised that if we were going to be an organisation
known for its ability to access untrodden areas, then the front-line was
the only place to be. Since then we have developed naturally into the non-hierarchial cooperative
effort that exists today. Comprising an inner core of four to five people,
complemented by a wider circle of specialist guides and drivers whom we
have worked with over the last 8+ years, as well as a far-reaching network
of contacts throughout the SW and Eastern Tibet area which keeps us informed
of local conditions and changes, and provides local resources where needed.