Now that I'm pumped full of anti-diarreheal meds (bet you were DYING to know that) I'm able to sit down and tell you a tale. Perhaps call it spinning you a yarn. No wait, that would imply it's not true. It's all true. True and weird.
Amy and I left the hostel in Huangshan city (Tunxi) bright and early on the morning of the 24th. We arrived the mountain around 7:30 and began the hike up at about 8am. At first, we thought we were brilliant for walking up the much harder western steps. After all, we were staying overnight at a hostel on the summit. No reason to fear a few extra hours of walking. The cable car would have saved us that, but isn't the fun in conquering the mountain yourself?
After walking 10KM on the great wall, I figured I can do up and down no problem. These are real steps, not the falling apart bricks on the wall. Shouldn't be too bad. Plus, the path was pretty empty. Just us and the mountain, the way we like it.
The first stretch to the Jad Screen station (where the cable car would let you off) took us 3 hours to walk! At this point, people were EVERYWHERE. No more quiet, peaceful, serene mountain time for us :( Truthfully, the climb was rather uneventful. It was beautiful, we took a million pictures, then Amy took another extra million, and we enjoyed ourselves.
I mentioned to Amy at the top that my stomach had been giving me these stabbing cramps and I'd have to go slow the next day. Day one on the mountain was more than a 15 km (I think about 17) climb and my legs were physically shaking, unable to hold me up anymore when we reached our beds.
The hostel was a overpriced and under repaired but we were glad to have a bed and not need to rush down the mountain in order to find a bus in time. By 2pm we plopped down in a room with two nice beds and three cots. We were first to arrive so we took the nice beds. No sense letting them go empty if no one else was perhaps staying in the room.
Another woman showed up knocking at the door not long after we arrived and she took the far bed. Then she left. Turns out, by being first we also got the only room key. Interesting. Anyhow, we crawled into bed in the set of sleep clothes we brought up with us and took a nap.
An hour later we heard the doorbell ring. Amy and I hazily looked at each other, wondering why we had a doorbell. She got up and opened the door, then headed back to the bed. At this point a hotel worker, a girl, and a VERY ANGRY CHINESE WOMAN burst into the room. The woman burst, the other two followed her looking kinda confused.
She pointed at Amy in the dark room and shouted. The hotel worker replied quietly. Then I sat up to see what was going on as the light went on. She saw me and there was more screaming. I think she was unimpressed that she didn't get the "nice" bed. Eventually the hotel girl left, the other woman came back and took a shower that SOAKED the bathroom, and the woman and her daughter sat around huffing,. Amy and I escaped to check out the mist after ther ain. When we came back the room was empty. We had to let the single woman in a bit later. She went to sleep around 6pm. I was asleep before the others returned so Amy let them in.
Now it gets weirder. The woman and her daughter both snored. The single woman left the room at 2am and returned at 4 or 5, ringing the doorbell repeatedly because we wouldn't get up. Neither did the snoring ladies. Eventually, she went and got one of the staff to let her back in. The room was musty and gross. We slept terribly. Fortunately, we got up at 6 and began our trek around the 3-4 hour 'circle'
For me, this was a very bad idea.
I was even more sick and now my legs weren't exactly functioning. I'd stumble every few steps and it seemed like all we encountered were endless flights of stairs. We did make it (I complained a lot. Poor Amy was very sweet to put up with me) and took the cable car at the Eastern Steps to the bottom. Phew, now it should be easy. The hostel said a lot of buses go back to Tunxi and it would be easy to get one. HA! Yeah right.
We wandered around from one building to the next, asking where to get a bus to Tunxi. The non-English speaking staff just kept pointing us back at buildings we'd already been to. At one point, we asked a guy directing the bus traffic and he guided us over to a lady in blue who touched our hands frequently and spoke very loud and fast in Mandarin. We looked at each other, then at her, then at each other.
"Amy, I think we're totally f***ed."
At this point, a boy who spoke English poppedu p and said he could translate. It would be 25 RMB (about 3.50 CDN) to join their bus back to the train station in Tunxi (exactly where we needed to be). She left us in a building full of accupuncture equipment and jars of snakes and said she would come back. All of a sudden, Chinese tourists were all around us. The few who spoke English asked lots of questions. Where are we from? Do we like China? Have we seen <remote town in the province they are from>? Are we students? Are we twins?
Slowly, they were directed by the woman to different buses, leaving us and a small group behind. This is how we met Vicky and her 'sister' Cookie. They are 25 and 24 respectively, just like Amy and I. Vicky spoke very fluent English. Cookie also spoke some english but not as much. We were on the same bus, so the woman in blue put Vicky in charge of us.
We got on the tour bus and were told that first we had to go to the supermarket. Okayyyy. We entered this 'museum' about some kind of tree and all its uses. Then we got to sample the things they made of it. Some paste that tasted like peanut butter, bark to cook with meat for good organ health, tea, a clear white goo they served hot that had the consistancy of snot but tasted really good. Amy and I bought a small package of what tastes like corn nuts and coffee (that's what vicky said it was. Corn and coffee and something. This morning we found a cigarette butt inside the package also).
Back on the bus again. Great! now it's time to go back, right? No? Now we're going to see a temple. It's free. Did you want to come? Well uhh... yeah? I guess we have no choice. Vicky explained that she is a believer in Christ, not Buddha. Do we believe in Buddha?
"Err... No religion" Amy chuckled nervously.
"Not sure." I shrugged my shoulders and tried to look embarrassed.
That was a tricky subject I didn't want to discuss. The temple was small, lovely, way too hot, and didn't allow you to take pictures. So Vicky and Amy and I waited outside the gate while Cookie went through the prayer motions. Suddenly, we became the attraction. It was at this point I REALLY realized we had joined a Chinese tour group.
We were absolutely surrounded by people wanting pictures, telling us in their best English that they think Canada is a lovely country full of friendly people and they hope we think China is nice too. Mothers telling us we should come to their houses and visit their sons and boys nervously trying to ask us to "make friend" with them, handing us paper with their phone numbers on it.
We exchanged email addresses with a few people (Cookie and Vicky specifically) then we were back on the bus. Now it was time to go to the train station. She and Cookie were catching a train to Nanjing that night. The same train as us. They seemed really amazed that we could live alone or go to another country by ourselves.
"For me it is not possible but I think if I go one day I like to go to Canada!" Vicky laughed. We insisted she could do anything and they should come and visit us. We would show them around.
We said goodbye at the station, hoping to seem them before the train left since they weren't sure if they were on our train. Our hostel (they were storing our bags) was SO nice! They let us have a shower and gave us towels to use. They helped us book the hostel I'm now at in Shanghai and cooked the most amazing food. We were really sad to leave it behind.
Fortunately, at the station we ran into Vicky and Cookie again! Same train after all! We snapped a few photos (with the help of another person waiting) and soon everyone was crowded around, looking at our heavy luggage and watching us talking with the Chinese girls. We parted ways when the train came and for the first time since we'd met someone here, we were really sad to see them go.
So now we're in Shanghai. The train ride was good. Soft sleeper (basically first class) is the way to get around here. They make sure to tell you when to get off the train and you have privacy. In the hard seats, you're on your own and no one checks on you. The room is FABULOUS and we actualyl extended our stay so that we're here for four nights, not three. We're meeting our new friend Jordan (a texan we met in Beijing who has been working in Shanghai but was on 'vacation' before he has to return to the states) tomorrow morning. He's going to play tour guide for the afternoon and show us around.
Let me just say that we LOVE Shanghai. Sure, Beijing has the great cultural sites and heritage. But Shanghai is like New York or Vancouver. It's shopping and malls and bakeries, and starbucks (yes the blended ice in that sent my stomach reeling again), and and and! We LOVE it here. More caucasian people too, so we've been stared at less.
Phew! There we go. I think that's everything. I've uploaded a couple videos from Nanjing and lots of mountain photos. Mom, Dad, don't be scared when you see how close to the edge I have to walk on that mountain.
More updates will come in the future when more has happened here! I can't believe my trip is officially half way done :(