We have been living in China for a month, and that feeling of being settled is settling in on us. We have routines and responsibilities. We go to the grocery store. We do our laundry. We mop our floors and make our bed. It’s no longer a vacation—it’s our lives, which means that little itch has started up. That itch to go places and see more than what’s right outside our door.
Well, if “the itch” is a cry for spontaneity, newness and adventure, I got plenty last week when I walked in the door at 9:00 pm after teaching my new English class, and Chris informed me we were leaving for Huganshan (Yellow Mountain) in promptly 25 minutes.
The great adventure involved a lot of traveling, the most enjoyable of which was the night train. We had a sleepover with Britton and Heather in our cozy little train compartment. I imagined myself on the Hogwarts Express and was half expecting someone to wheel up a little cart selling Bertie Bots Every Flavor Beans and chocolate frogs. It was amazing. We are big fans of the train. Alas, our sleepover ended at 5:00 am when our compartment stopped gently rocking and we were booted onto the dark platform. It was dark but it definitely wasn’t lonely.
We literally got attacked outside the train station. The townspeople who make their living from tourism are very… determined. We were herded and haggled. We were pushed and pulled and yelled at. As Chris was boarding one bus, a man owning another grabbed his backpack and tried to drag him off. Ponchos, walking canes and maps were shoved in our faces. The barrier of the bus didn’t do much to deter the townspeople who just shoved their ponchos and maps against the bus window–for anyone with un-buyer’s remorse (remorse after having not bought a spectacular item). Chris had un-buyer’s remorse and bought a map, which we lost 30 minutes later.
We were finally tucked away on a packed bus that was ready to take us the rest of the way to Huangshan when the bus driver kicked us off. There were more people at the station in need of seats, and the Chinese prefer to serve their fellow Chinese before they do a foreigner, so we got the boot. Once again, we braved the storm of maps and ponchos and awkwardly boarded the bus of the man who tried dragging my husband away 10 minutes earlier.
After a bus ride and another bus transfer we finally made it to the base of… Yellow Mountain. Dun dun dun dunnnn. In a sentence, Yellow Mountain is one of China’s most popular national parks, and it is comprised of intense granite mountains… and that is pretty much all we knew upon our arrival. Oh us of little preparation. Fortunately we knew enough to wear hiking clothes and a coat.
Yellow Mountain is unique for the little villages across its summit, but that’s only half the fun. You have to get there first. The ascent can be done one of two ways: there is a gondola that will sweep you away to the summit in 10 minutes, OR you can take the road less traveled and hike. Naturally we had to be adventurous and opted to hike/climb/crawl to the top.
From the base of the mountain to the top is 5 miles of stairs. As I write this, stairs don’t sound that daunting, but seriously… picture doing the stair stepper for 4 hours. We climbed over 10,000 stairs. To say that my legs were giving out is an understatement. To say that I was exhausted would be such an understatement it would be insulting. To say that these guys carrying hundreds of pounds of cargo beat us would be an overstatement. Sadly.
So you remember how I mentioned the village on top of Yellow Mountain? It is complete with hotels, a few restaurants, and small markets. Everything in the village from linens to food has been carried up there by a porter. Why don’t they send it up on the gondola? It’s a mystery to me too, but they don’t, so these men get stuck with the job, and it’s absolutely remarkable that they can make the journey with 200+ pounds balancing on a piece of bamboo across their backs.
I was carrying a tiny camera backpack with a few toothbrushes in it, and I was literally crawling on my hands and knees. These men are slow and steady. They make $30 a day for their pack mule assent and decent. I was humbled. I was especially humbled when the porters we started the climb with beat us to the top. And then I was humbled and saddened when I saw a porter dropping his load at a hotel. He had raised purple welts across his shoulders the weight of his load. My heart goes out to the porters, especially this sweet man who has been carrying a load up every day for the past 20 years.
When we finally made it to the top, we aimlessly sat around freezing. The “village” (a cluster of out-of-our-budget hotels) was a little anticlimactic. Most people ride the gondola to the top and then have the strength to explore the endless paths (stairs) that meander across the mountaintops and take in Huangshan’s stunning views. However, we didn’t go that route, so instead we got to the summit and collapsed until we were cold and bored and decided to find a place to stay for the night.
The “dorm” we stayed in was very suspicious. It was an under the table transaction, and it was far from great. Since there weren’t any amenities (a lobby, pool, a shower.. hot water), and we were sharing a room with an old Chinese couple, once the fantastic sunrise ended, there wasn’t much to do but go to bed.
The four of us slept together on three pushed together bunk beds. The ponchos were a precaution against the blood, crusties, and other stains on the “clean” bedding.
5:00 the following morning we were up—Yellow Mountain is known for its spectacular sunrises, and the Chinese don’t seem to avoid early rising the way most Americans do, so we had plenty of company.
During the night, the clouds had settled over and around Yellow Mountain, leaving everything misty, cold, and dark. We all stood around squinting at the horizon through the mist, doubtful that the show was going to be worthy of the sleep we sacrificed, but then a hint of light preceded the sun’s reveal, which brought enough warmth to suck away the cloud like a giant vacuum. Once the intense wind had settled and our view was cleared, the sun made its grand entrance.
We whish we would have had the mental and physical strength to explore more of Yellow Mountain, but we were exhausted from too many stairs and too little sleep, so we opted to end on a high and ride the gondola down the mountain. Best decision of the day. We sat back and stared in wonder at Yellow Mountain and wondered how we had made the trek the day before.