This weekend we were once again jet setting (is it still jet setting if you go on a train?) all the way to Wu Yi Mountain. It’s a national park just outside of Fuzhou – only an hour and a half on China’s super-duper high speed rail.
We arrived late and jumped on the last bus, a small shack on wheels, full of Chinese locals and Chinese tourists, to our hostel. Needless to say we had already caused a bit of commotion packing the four of us and our rucksacks into a space meant for two. It was a bit of a squeeze but we made it unscathed, and alighting fifty minutes later we found our hostel.
WuYi town is small, both in area and in height. The buildings were no higher than four storeys which gave way to a beautiful skyline of mountains. The night was clear and we could hear local birds and insects chirrup-ing in the trees. The roads were busy, even though it was late, though there weren’t many people in the street. Our hotel was small and pretty, and through our abashed attempt at Chinese we managed to check in. We had every intention to go for a stroll, but after a long day at work we just about made it to KFC for an ice cream each before falling into a dream-filled sleep in beautifully comfortable, large beds.
Awaking begrudgingly early we were grumpy until we realised where we were, and that there was an adventure in front of us. There are three things that all proper adventures need: early mornings, a large breakfast, and an adventure hat.
The early morning was taken care of, and the breakfast was provided by our hotel. The picture in the lift promised crusty white bread, butter, hashbrowns, and a garnish of fresh pink flowers. Excited we dragged ourselves, half dressed, to the breakfast hall, to find noodles, tofu, fried rice, cauliflower, dumplings, and roast potatoes. Happy enough we filled our bellies, donned our hats, and left the hotel to board a bus to the park.
We again caused a stir on the bus to the park – maybe it was everyone’s morning commute? – but arrived in one piece. Handing over our tickets we entered the park and were directed towards a second bus. The park is so large that the only way to get around it is by bus, and so hopping on (not without a ruckus) we headed towards spot number one – YuNu Peak.
YuNu peak tells of a “Jade Maiden” – a heavenly fairy who looks after the Daoist monks in heaven. Heaven was correct, our walk up the “brave trail” provided beautiful views, clear skies, and fresh air. We threw a coin over our shoulders on Fate-Setting Bridge – a small slab of concrete over a gorge so deep, no photo could do it justice, and headed down a thin staircase of protruding concrete slabs held together by rusting steel.
Finding ourselves at the bottom we had to pass though someones back garden towards the river to see the mountain statue of the Jade Maiden, standing on the river. Whilst the boys skimmed stones and played on the beach I took a well earned rest on the river bank. The sun was shining and the day already beautiful.
Our second stop was for a bamboo raft down “Nine Bend river”. Turning up a little late, apologetic as only Brits could be, no one seemed to care and we were ushered along to a small stony beach by a short man in a bamboo hat. He led us onto a wooden raft, before climbing on himself and pushing off.
The scenery was beautiful, the fish in the river large (on more than one occasion, our Chinese cohorts passed some bread around and showed us that we were able to feed the fish) and the water swift. On more than one occasion we were white water rafting, and near the end we saw turtles. Naively pointing it out (in Chinese), the raft driver drove us into the trees to catch it for his dinner. That was the last we spoke Chinese on the raft.
Alighting the raft we stopped at “English Time Hotel” for lunch (turtle not included) when the heavens opened. The rain came down light but steady as we headed towards our third and final destination, YiXianTian – or Narrow Heavens.
Walking through a beautiful garden, and with a detour to Screw Cave (through which we went, regardless of the no-entry signs, one could climb all the way through and out the other side, provided you had a torch) we found “Narrow Heavens”, two mountains almost touching at the top. Heading up one side we found a narrow staircase leading to the top of the mountain, home to a bungle of bats. Our presence woke a few, who looked like daemons flying around the top of the cave – their wings were a translucent beige colour. It was a beautiful sight. Not wanting to leave, we then tried the other side. Here the staircase was even narrower, and we all had difficulty with our rucksacks. The stairs were high and narrow, and with no space in which to bend your knees, climbing them was more than difficult. After an everlasting climb, and one successful rescue mission, we found ourselves in a more breathable space with yet more bats. They were beautiful, squeaking in the darkness, all lined up and covering an entire cliff face. Leaving at the top (there was no way we could turn around) we all felt a little awestruck.
Day one over – we were the last people left in the park – we headed back to town. After a mediocre Chinese dinner and a shower we all retired, exhausted and anticipating of Day 2.
Day 2 began early and with a hashbrown-less breakfast. We started the day with a museum; apparently many scholars had lived in WuYi on the mountains, and there were many schools and temples littered throughout the park. Leaving with little more wisdom than with which we entered, we found our way to TianYou Peak – Heavenly Tour.
This climb started in the woods, with a few dotted caves and pagodas, before opening up to a steep staircase on the side of a cliff. We managed to catch our breath halfway up at the “Tea Cave”, a waterfall that led to a pond used for watering the tea plants that were all around, before ascending the death defying staircase.
Now, I had already been proved unfit once on this trip, with our ascent of YuNu Peak on day one. However, this was something else. These steps were high and narrow, and although they were a more modern instalment – there were remnants of old paths all around us on the mountainside – they were no StennahStairLift. However, I was lucky that my fitness is incredibly bad, as it meant that I could stop every once in a while to enjoy the view.
Excited that I had reached the top without having a heart attack (though I was sure one was on the way) and feeling three dress-sizes smaller, I had a little look around. The top boasted a temple and many people taking photos of themselves with Callum and our com-padres, whereas we were more awestruck with the views. We wondered again if the people who live and work here appreciate that they live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Our descent led us in the way of a Chinese teacher who wanted to practice his English. He also let us practice our Chinese, and as all of us were speaking in mixed Chinese-English, the way down was an entertaining walk along an avenue built through the woods. At the bottom we parted ways, wished him and his son well, and found a spit of land on the river upon which to stand and torment the fish.
Our second stop of the day was DaHongPao valley – Which directly translates as “Scarlet Gown”, but is also the name of an expensive brand of oolong tea. We figured quickly that the name was referring to the tea, and not a robe, as we found ourselves in a valley of tea plants that stretched for miles. The attraction here was the six seeding trees on the side of the cliff that provide this whole valley (and the tea company) with seeds, and that they have been doing so for over 300 years. On a sunny day like Tuesday, they had caused quite a stir, with people in the trees on the cliff harvesting seeds, and people down below with large scale cameras and handi-cams strapped to drones.
From here we began to follow some signs towards Water Curtain Cave, allegedly only 2km away. We began trotting through the valley of tea, more often than not meeting men and women in bamboo hats bringing large baskets of tea down the narrow stone paths. There were a few spots of interest along the way, including a rock that looks like an eagle, and some ancient, inaccessible relics from thousands of years ago when people used to live in the cliffs and the valleys, but the majority of the walk was easy and relaxing, and exactly what we were aching for in the early afternoon.
The walk to Water Curtain Cave was in fact, longer than the sign led us to believe but not by much. We found it with pleasure, and proceeded to follow the edge of the pool round to where we could walk under it. It had been a hot day and a long walk, so cold water on our face, neck, and shoulders was welcomed. It wasn’t so much a cave as a waterfall from the top of a cliff, but we could imagine that after a storm the sight would be majestic. Up the side of the cliff stood a small wooden hut that was “built in 1100s” and yet was “rebuilt in 1923”. It claimed to be home to be home to three daoist sages, who studied and taught here in the mountains.
The way down was not nearly as perilous as others we had experienced, and there was even a cool waterfall or two to skip under along the way. At the bottom, ladies were picking tea and gossiping, and all along the road we walked to the bus stop you could hear giggles and conversation coming, hidden, from the avenues of tea-plants.
Our trip was sadly over, and boarding the bus back to the train station we all fell asleep.
(nb: all the photos are Sam’s, watch this space for an updated version with Callum’s added)