I apologise for the lack of blogs over the past few weeks. We have been hit with a nasty bout of Man-Flu and therefore have stayed in on weekends, playing video games and reading books, and aside from one outing to a newly opened Irish bar for a colleagues birthday, we really have been boring old farts.
As we got better this past weekend, though, we decided that we needed to do something. Callum very skillfully played badminton in a tournament (which he’ll write about later) and I buggered off to a local mountain,
TaiMuShan (Or ‘Old Woman – the highest mountain’)
Early in the morning a friend and I jumped on a train to Taimushan. We arrived there an hour and a half later, eager and raring to go, but with no actual plan, Sitting outside the train station trying to figure out where we needed to get to, is there a bus?*, a man approached us and told us he’d drive us there for a small fee. £2.50 later and we were at the entrance gate. All ‘good’ mountains in China charge for tickets to help with the upkeep of the land, and we learned that this was one of the top 13 mountains in China, and so it wasn’t as cheap as we expected but we bought our ticket anyway and boarded a sleepy bus.
*There are busses from the train station and they go as and when needed between 7am and 5pm, we learned later.
It was out of tourist season, on a Monday, and so aside from the obligatory construction works, it was eerily quiet. The tourist busses rarely leave until they’re full and we worried that we wouldn’t have enough time to see the mountain. It was already 11am. The bus didn’t fill before it left, it maybe carried 10 of us out of the way of the construction works to an idyllic courtyard of restaurants and newly-built hotels. Stopping here for a bathroom break I noticed, in the corner, a few fibreglass dinosaurs just knocking about.
Beginning our journey took us to a signpost. Where did we want to go? To see the caves of course!
We set of down the route for the caves before realising what a silly idea that was with backpacks, however small they were! We ended up crawling through tiny holes, sliding sideways between very close rocks, and my friend even had to commando crawl on his belly, to get through these fallen granite rocks. They were incredible to see; the weather over millennia had eroded the rock beneath them and they had simply toppled down the mountain and stacked on top of oneanother to make these great caves and walkways. We spent over an hour on this path, taking our bags off and putting them back on, scrabbling through these tiny tunnels.
After finally reaching sunlight we stopped for a snack of peanuts and dried papaya, before deciding to walk further up the trail to see the famous Nine Carps Lake and a temple.
The temple was indeed beautiful, and almost entirely self sufficient with vegetables growing in a dried river bed, its own well, and chickens clucking about.
The lake was just as idyllic, with a small arched bridge and orange moss. The shining sun and cloudless sky made the water shine. It was very peaceful and we rarely spoke as we walked the path around it, just taking in the beauty of it all.
From here we were ready to climb more stairs (pah!) to reach White Cloud Temple. As it’s name suggests, we had to climb A LOT of stairs. However, it was well worth it.
If you have been reading our previous blogs, or have any knowledge of Chinese Temples, you will know that they are almost ALL bright red, made of wood, have beautifully painted dragons and mythical creatures about them, red walls and painted rooves. They all look similar, they all had to be rebuilt after the purge of China’s Cultural Revolution.
This temple, however, seemed to have been remote enough to miss that, and instead of looking new and red, with painted dragons and gods, this was built simply of wood and stone, with intricate carvings and incredible masonry, The wood and stone was carved into dragons that looked regal and terrifying without the need of paint. We sat in awe for a minute and listened to the two monks playing the huge drum whilst praying.
From here we decided that it was getting late and that we should probably start heading down the mountain as we didn’t know when the last bus would be to take us back to the entrance gate. It was about 4.30 and the sun goes down around 5.30…. so we decided to take the path that we hadn’t come up on.
However, as China’s mapping of it’s national parks isn’t at all logical, we ended up back on the path we came up on (all those stairs!) and couldn’t work out where we had gone wrong. Oh well, we followed this one down and took the path that overlooked the sea, above the caves that we scrabbled through 5 hours previously. We were able to watch the sun go down behind the strangely shaped mountains, and even managed to catch the last bus back.
There was no transport from the entrance gate (it all finishes at 5 or 5.30pm and it was now almost 7pm) so we walked the couple of kilometres towards the lights of the nearest town. We hadn’t booked a hotel incase we booked MILES away from where we wanted to be, so we just walked into one and asked for a room (like they do in the movies).
No one here speaks any English, so this was a real test of my limited Chinese. Asking in the first hotel we found, we were turned away with no vacancies. Hotel 2 also turned us away. Hotel 3 turned us away, so we asked where we could stay. She pointed us to Hotel 1. I replied that they had no vacancies. Oh, she said, go right. Hotel 4 turned us away, and pointed us back to Hotel 3. Repeat conversation. Oh, Hotel 5?
I stopped and booked a hotel on my phone. We headed there. Hotel 5 said they couldn’t take us, even with a booking*. WHERE CAN WE STAY? Hotel 6?
Hotel 6 cant take us, but Hotel 7? We walked in and saw the prices. Almost fainted. We were tired and just wanted to take our bags off. There was some translation issues in Hotel 7, so I asked for a paper and pen (my writing s better than my speaking). I wrote: Please give us one room, two beds, for one night. Please.
*Chinese hotels need to have a different licence to take foreigners, We later learned from the booking company that only one or two hotels in that town have that licence. They are the first one with no vacancies and the one we finally booked into – the Dong Fang Hotel.
She read it, Oh, passports please. YES. She didn’t charge us the prices on the board, instead she only charged half of that, and we happily raced (as fast as our tired legs would carry us) to the room to take our bags off.
Leaving the hotel in search of a meal (neither of us had eaten all day) we easily found and ordered Chinese food of soy braised aubergine, fried potatoes, and egg, tomato and ginger soup. The latter was great!
It was now 9pm and we were both shattered. We headed ‘home’ for a shower and fell asleep almost straight away.
The next day we wanted to get a ferry to YuShan Island, and we were informed that the ferry was at 9am. Get to the ticket office fr 8.30, and don’t be late. So we woke at 6.30, checked out at 7, and headed to the bus station. Checking out of the hotel, we gave in our key, the man made a phonecall, and gave us back half of what we paid in cash. Today, our luck was in.
At the bus station we were informed that the busses run on the hour, and therefore we had missed the one at 7. We waited in the station office playing cards (much to the intrigue of the staff) and waited until 8.10 before being allowed to get on a bus.
That took us straight to the ferry, and getting on we were told we must go and buy a ticket. At the ticket office a friendly guy called Jon informed us that we had missed the 9am ferry, and depending on how many people wanted to go over, there may not be another ferry.
Luckily for us, there was another ferry, and as we were escorted on, Jon informed us that the very last ferry was at 1pm this afternoon. If you miss that, he says, change your train tickets. You’ll be staying the night on the island.
Getting off the ferry on the other side, we headed up to the bus station to take a bus to the centre of the island. There was only us and one other couple and we were informed to be back where the driver dropped us off at 12.00.
We hadn’t eaten (again) and it was now 10.30. A couple of chaps had started cooking in their shack and I cheekily asked if we could eat there also. Of course! They said. Are noodles, eggs, and vegetables okay for you?
They cooked us up HUGE bowls of noodle and egg soup with vegetables they went and picked from their own patch around the back. It was a lovely cosy breakfast hearing the wind whip around the hut, and drinking down the savoury soup. How wonderful. We passed them some money, they wouldn’t let us do the washing up, and we headed off to explore the worn (not paved!) trails the island had to offer.
I felt so at home, the island looked exactly like Northern Wales or Scotland. Any homesickness I had was instantly cured. You can camp on this island, so I shall definitely go back with Callum for a longer explore!
We left the island without a hitch, arriving back on the mainland from the 1pm ferry. Our train was at 8.30pm so we decided to bus, hitchhike, and walk our way from the ferry port to town, then from town to the trainstation. The whole journey was about 19 or 20 kilometres, and we walked about 12 of those, interspersed with a pick up and a bus ride.