A sprawling flatland of non-identical housing estates, peppered with industry and farming, in a not so charming hot pot: that is how I would describe the greater Shanghai area. It is very green though, and the elevated highways do occasionally pass by nice parks with willow trees stroking little ponds. But mostly the above.
The housing estates, though very communist concrete in appearance, all have their own particularly out of place feature. A Grecian temple entrance for example, or a stack of poorly executed ionic columns. As you get further out there are occasionally charming little stone bridges over canals, bordered by rice paddies, tree fields, and lily looking plantations that I have no idea what are. I later found out that, yes, they are lilies. People like their pods for some reason. Good luck I think.
I had planned on getting up early this morning and getting to the bus station, (which is actually miles away from the one I thought it was) but I woke up at around 4am with a splitting toothache. Why, why did I not bring my customary drug kit with all the painkillers and powerful anti-inflammatory in the world?
At a local pharmacy where no-one speaks English and who sells almost exclusively traditional medicine, I manage to find some paracetamol and ibuprofen, only to get a ten minute long lecture by people who clearly have no idea what they’re talking about, trying to explain to me in Chinese that I can’t take both.
“Just give me the fucking drugs!” I say smiling, knowing that they don’t understand me. They’re actually pretty good.
Now I’m on a bus! Shanghai long distance bus station (which is at Shanghai South Rail Station, the coach terminal not the bus station, in case anyone ever wanted to find it!) reminds me of a Greyhound bus station in the US.
Unlike Greyhound in Australia or South Africa, which is actually pretty premium, a Greyhound bus ticket is all they give you when you leave prison in America. They are shit. So in short, it’s below average for western standards, but not as bad as say, Kenya, although Kenya’s magic hip-hop, UV light-show coaches are pretty fun.
I am the only white person in this whole station. A girl sitting opposite me is wearing an anime T-shirt with a guy openly fingering a girl. How on Earth, anywhere, is that appropriate to wear, or even make? The coach is pretty basic, but not as bad as I had expected. There are no chicken coups, it’s not a sausage factory, and there is functional, though non-directional air-con.
As we encroach on Ahnui the magic and mystery of China finally opens itself, as sharp hills coated in bamboo forests poke their heads out of the mist. A tiny patch of blue sky emerges, but the windows of the bus are still battered with rain. Did I mention it’s been raining for the last week?
At last a taste of Chinese hospitality. The nice English speaking hotel receptionist is doing all she can to help me out, even though I’m not staying at her hotel. She called a cheaper place for me and got their driver to come and pick me up, even though it’s late. I then arrive at the new place, get a cracking room for Y60 and then am asked if I want to eat.
The hotel has a restaurant that, though it’s clearly just closed, stay open for me and give me good grub at a reasonable price too. To top it off the guy is going to pick me up in the morning again at 6.30am and ferry me back to the park gates, and no charge!
The Grand Canyon, or so it’s called, suddenly opens up all its glory from behind the clouds, and is there anyone else here? No.
I have finally escaped the sea of umbrella poking, trash hurling, megaphone blaring, Chinese tourist groups swarming Huangshan (The Yellow Mountains) from every angle, by going down a little known side route to another valley. This is undoubtedly the finest scenery this mountain has had to offer so far, and the weather has finally cleared enough to see it.
Don’t get me wrong, this has actually been the nicest day since I got here. A pleasant bright morning with the occasional quick shower and some obscuring clouds, but I’m glad that it’s been cool for the epic ascent. What I could not tolerate however, worse than the fact that I was inside a cloud at the apex, ironically staring at a sign that said “Best views of Huagnshan!” was the continuous, obnoxious, unnecessary safety tannoy from the nearby cable car station. Oh my Buddha! How can they not know that it ruins everything!!!! I felt like it was the line for purgatory, but I digress.
The Grand Canyon was spectacular, with brown jagged teeth sticking up hundreds of feet from the bamboo forest, topped with impossible evergreen and hanging vines, splintering into the distant fog. In the far background, amongst the 3D pop-out of a guidebook’s wet dream, lies a lonely pavilion, barely visible, yet infinitely powerful. Superb. What China lack in audio sensitivity they certainly make up for in visuals.
The canyon just keeps on giving. Many steps and shady forest tunnels later, and I come across something that looks like an old 80’s isometric platform game scene.
The angles and architecture wrought into the imposing scenery are almost too difficult to describe.
The stone bridge over nothing in particular was breath-taking, apparently the only thing that connects the two valleys together. Unfortunately I cannot go further as the way is closed, probably due to the typhoon.
On another detour I found myself not being able to resist the archetypal adventure photo standing atop a precariously wedged round boulder between two cliffs.
I must admit that getting to it was a scary task and I couldn’t quite make it in 30 seconds, the maximum self-timer setting on my camera, but the photo speaks for itself (insert photo here).
Not much of an actual sunset, but the evening light was wonderful over the far hills, disappearing endlessly like a painting.
I caught another moment of solitude by frequenting a quiet place, but had my headphones in by this point anyway, to drown out the screaming Chinese tourists. Detours and all it was a punishing 12 hour day hiking up a mountain, heavy pack and all.
I resented paying the extortionate prices for soft drinks, but I could not resist, my anger immediately washed away by the cool liquid Gatorade. Best drink ever…twice. I must have drank 3.5L of water and I haven’t even peed. It’s not had the chance to get that far. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life. Totally worth it.
At the end of the day I stealth camped in a bush nearby the sunrise spot at Beihai, my black, waist height Vango Helium pulling its meagre 900g weight. Don’t listen to what anyone tells you about it being illegal to camp in China. Everyone does it, all the time, so don’t worry about it. Take a tent, you’ll save loads of money.
I had to don ear plugs however, due to the myriad of Cicadas. For those of you who don’t know these devils, they are the size of cockroaches, but fly around bumping into stuff, screaming at 90Db in a noise that is a cross between an alarm clock and someone shaving through a megaphone. Bastards.
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