Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yellow Mountain

              With little time left to travel, my friend Rob and I decided to make a spur of the moment trip to Yellow Mountain before his work schedule changed as this would be his last weekend to travel. Having planned this trip for a holiday a while back, it was cancelled because of the bad weather. Initially, we thought that that we would be hiking this trail, but later realized that it was at a different location called Huanshan, not Huangshan, where we went. Yellow Mountain is about a 6-hour bus ride or a 12-hour train in the ahui province in China. Friday afternoon we booked tickets for the train that left later that night. Unaware of how horrible the seats were and trying to save some money, we booked seats, rather then the sleeper, figuring they would be like the normal seats for the trains we’ve traveled on, which weren’t too bad. Boarding the train, our seats were right at the entrance next to the onboard ticket counter. These seats were hard metal and sat at a 90-degree angle with 4 seats facing each other with a mini table in between. The train was filled with so many people that some didn’t even have an actual seat and had to sit in the isle. Like everywhere in China, people were smoking at the entrance, which in return made the cabin smell like smoke along with the noise of all the other passengers and made for a horrible sleeping environment. A few minutes into the trip, I realized this would be a long ride and tried to upgrade our tickets to sleepers but the guy said that it was not possible, so I took a seat and tried to take a nap. After 2 hours of uncomfortably napping, and getting woken up to people trying to buy tickets and other seatless passengers trying to share my seat, my back was stiff as a rock and aching. I had enough of these darn seats and insisted on buying a new ticket as we had 10 more hours on the train and if this is how I felt sleeping for 2 hours, I can only imagine what it would be like for 10 more. 
           Like anywhere in China, money does the talking and this time I went back up to the ticket counter and flashed the cash pointing to my phone that I wanted a sleeper bed. With money in his face, the guy understood what I was talking about this time and upgraded me and robs ticket, which was the best move of the trip. Excitedly, we got out of our seats and gave them to 2 guys that were annoying the heck of the ticket person as they kept trying to talk to him and put their crap behind the ticket counter so that they could have room to sit. All in all in was a good deal as we got sleeper beds and they got seats and the ticket guy was free of their pestering. Once inside the sleeping cabins we set up shop, unfortunately our beds were not next to each other but that was the least of our concerns. We both had top bunks, which were fine, but it did get cold as the beds were directly under the vent for the air condition.

       After a decent nights sleep, we could only imagine what it would have been like to be stuck in our old seats for the night. We hopped off the train and hopped on one of the many buses headed to Yellow Mountain.  The hour bus ride took an unusually long time to get to the mountain as it kept picking up and dropping off people on way there. Eventually we made it to Tunxi city, which is the base camp for Yellow Mountain. As people kept getting dropped off to different hotels on the way, Rob and I were the last ones on the bus. Eventfully some guy named Mr. Chen jumped on the bus speaking English told us the bus stopped here and that we can go to his restaurant that was mentioned in Lonely planet. We jumped in his car and rode down the street to his restaurant where we ate lunch. Afterwards for an overcharged fee, he dropped us off at the bottom of 9 dragons waterfall where we started our hike. In what was supposed to be a 2 ½ hour hike turned out to be much longer as ¾ of the way through, we encountered the map telling us one thing and the sign telling us another. Initially we followed the sign for about 2km before turning around and heading the other way, as the map suggested. Finally after 6 hours off the train we finally were at the East entrance of Yellow Mountain. Due to the recent landslides we were unable to hike the trail and had to take the gondola up the mountain. The gondola ride was quite interesting as it started to heavily rain and fog covered the mountain making everything disappear as we elevated.

They call this the stairway to heaven, if you fall you will go to heaven

          Once at the top of the mountain, we tried to hike a trail but soon realized this was pointless as the rain was pouring down and the viewpoints were covered with fog. We hid under this little awning but others soon followed our lead waiting out the rain. Once the rain stopped we tried to hike some trails but once again the fog took over all the scenery and we couldn’t see anything. We eventually walked around the trails but it was boring since all we saw was fog. During this time, we bumped into a creepy girl who was surprised to see Rob, who is white, and even more baffled that I was an American since I look Chinese. After about a 10-minute conversation of me yelling “Wo Shi Meigueran” I am an American, she insisted on taking pictures.

        Rather than staying at one of the hotels on the mountain, which was about $120 for 2 twin beds, we decided to camp in a tent, we set up camp with a few others right outside of the bei hai hotel on this somewhat flat surface that had a basketball court on it. We decided to splurge and go to the $25 buffet at the hotel, which turned out to be a horrible idea. While it was nice to sit inside in the warmth, the food was disgusting and tasted worse than Chinese school lunches, which are pretty bad to say the least. I left the dining hall feeling hungrier than I entered it in and my pockets were also lighter.

The Yellow Tent is our tent


        We decided to go to bed, and call it an early night as we were waking up to watch the 5:13 sunrise. Laying just on the in the tent on the hard ground with no pillows or blankets, I can confidently say ive had much better sleep, not to mention the voices of the crazy Asians yelling at the top of their lungs to hear themselves echo during the middle of the night constantly and the sounds of people trekking back and forth right outside my tent. With the amount of noise coming from people, you would never have thought it would be in the middle of the night.  The dreadful alarm clock went off and Rob and I jumped out of bed to catch the sunrise, only to see we weren’t the only ones with this idea. We hiked up to the highest peak near us only to find hundreds of people standing around taking pictures. After waiting around for about 30 minutes without any sunrise we decided to head back to our tent and get a early start since you could actually see the scenery. Sadly enough as we headed down the trail, the red sun came out for a brief moment, but at that time I was not in a good position to take pictures with crowds of people in front of me.

Rob & I

         Rob and I went on a tear, hiking through all the trails and viewpoints that we could not see the day before. Having an early start, we were able to see some of the thing before all of the tourist groups got the mountain and before others woke up. With all the fog gone, we could finally see all the beauty that the mountain had to offer and realized what the hype was. Almost as impressive as the landscape of Yellow Mountain is the fact that all the resources and materials used in the hotels and on the mountain are all brought by hand. All the food, blankets, sheets, beds, decorations are all brought by hand up the mountain. It is said that these men are able to make 2-3 trips a day, getting paid only $5 a trip. While I complained about how heavy my 20 pound bag seemed after walking up and down the endless staircases, I can only imagine what it is like for these guys who consistently are carrying these heavy bags while weaving in and out of tourists.
The guy in the front is carrying 210 ponds of rice

one of the many tour groups

         Being adventurous, Rob and I decided to take the Western Sea Trail, which was said to be one of the most beautiful trails on Yellow Mountain, which I would have to strongly agree with. Since we had plenty of time to kill with our early start, we figure this would be a good idea. This trail essentially followed the creek from the start of the mountain all the way to the bottom of it. This trail is only hiked by experienced hikers and is very strenuous as it ended up being almost 20km long weaving in and out of the mountain. Essentially this trail sends you up a peak and then back down it, which means that were thousands of steps. We followed the trail all the way to the West entrance, which was in a rural town. Having not gathered our bearings, we were just as surprised to find out where we were as the people were to see us. We were out in on the boonies almost 15 km outside of the main entrance.

              While in Shanghai, I can fake my way around acting like I know more Chinese than I do and get around fine, but, in rural China this does not work, it’s a hit or miss kind of situation and lets just say I struck out trying to speak with these people. I'll be honest, for the past few months I have slacked on learning the language and ive resorted into pointing to things rather than calling them by names, causing my Chinese to become incredibly bad. Being in the middle of no where and having a train to catch, we were in quite the predicament, get ripped off and take a  “cab” ride with one of the guys to the bus station or back track another 15 km to get to the main entrance with our legs feeling like Jello. Obviously, we bit the bullet and went with option one but only angered us more as this cab ride would have been about a 1/4 of the price at most if it were using the meter. The guy took use for a little joy ride and kept trying to swindle us of all our money.  We had to make multiple stops due to cow,chickens bulls and oxes crossing the street, which gives you an idea of how far out we were. After about a 30 minute ride, we arrived at the bus station to which the guy “offered” to take us another 10km to Tunxi, the base camp where we were dropped off at earlier for a small fee of 200rmb, to which one of the people in the bus station said in Chinese of course, are you stupid? They can just take a bus for 10rmb, which made me giggle a little bit. As we showed the guy our train ticket of where we needed to go, we created quite the scene in the bus station, as they probably have never seen a white guy in their life. 
            With the simple task of telling us which one of the four buses do we hop on to, it turned into everyone in the bus station huddling around us to look at the tickets, including the bus drivers, ticket sellers, passengers and even the janitors. With a bunch of Chinese people yapping at each other for about 10 minutes, we finally figured out where we needed to go and hopped on the bus. An hour later we arrived into the city at the bus hub, where we had to catch another bus to the train station. Thank goodness that we did not run into anymore trouble as Rob and I both started the trip with 1000rmb($150) and ended with 5rmb for him and 20 rmb for me. Although it was a bit stressful, it was a wonderful trip that added on to my experience in China.

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