43. Back to dynastic times. Xi’an-Huashan-Pingyao-Gugaon

Chinese trains maybe aren’t as comfortable (in China every inch is used efficiently) and entertaining as Indian ones but at least no one played Bollywood songs at 4am and we got to Xi’an on time. From the first moment we entered the city I started to miss our farm. Concrete, pollution and horrible noise, wherever you go. Once again I was reassured I’m definitely a village girl.

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Chinese trains are pretty comfortable

The heat was unbearable, once we got to Daming Palace right next to the train station we could only see the hot air flowing above the concrete surface. Callum’s gingernes screamed to get out of there. We didn’t want to spend the day listening to endless honking (our hotel was next to a busy street) so in the afternoon we went to see the city. Obviously, Xi’an is famous for its Terracotta Army but as everyone we met told us it’s not worth going there, we skipped it. Actually, the whole city has been “skipped” in a way as we spent there only 1 afternoon in order to escape to the nature again. We’ve seen the old town, though, The Bell and Drum towers with its endless crowds of tourists. The Muslim quarter was awesome, the smoke of cooking and the smell of local food was filling up the whole street where we tried local specialties and bought a few souvenirs.

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Mini Terracotta Army
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Street food in Xi’an
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Muslim quarter

After leaving pretty boring Xi’an, Huashan was about to be a real adventure. We got there in the afternoon and started to prepare the strategy. How to enter the national park (Y200 fee) without anyone notice?? The gates were everywhere, so were the guards. Callum, whose sneaking skills were admirable, found a path from the right side of the entrance that led through some meadows. A little shepherd and his goats must have been surprised seeing us wandering through a bush but no one said anything. The next obstacle was the river that luckily was totally dry so we passed it easily, avoiding the look of grandpas stretching their legs for 1 hour. We thought it was over. Well, no. China is prepared for everything. Right after entering the valley there was the last gate. We checked everything, every secret path was secured. There was no other way, we had to wait until the guard was asleep. After a 3 hour nap we checked the entrance at 1am: a second gate was added and the lights were on. Well, we had to try the guard’s mercy. Surprisingly, there was no one there. Now or never? When Callum jumped over the fence first, the alarm went off. No one came. Ok, here I come! That’s how we didn’t pay for the entrance to one of the best national parks in China.

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That’s how we do it! Huashan 🙂

Afraid of the next gates we made the hard decision of climbing up. No, not climbing, crawling. I don’t know if I’ve ever climbed more steps in my life than I climbed that night. At 5am we were 1000 m higher and sunrise started. We decided to have a nap by the trail before the hords of tourists came. At 7am a guard woke us up. “This place is not designated for sleeping!”, seemed to say his voice. Refreshed and stuffed with Redbull we abandoned our plan of sleeping on the top as the rain came and all the hotels were bloody expensive. The mountains, which were different from the ones I’ve seen so far, were beautiful but the weather made the trek really tiring. The fog covered the forest and the steps were slippery from the rain. Once we got to the south peak we were the lucky ones who entered The Plank Road in The Sky (one of the most dangerous trails in the world) when the rain stopped. The narrow wooden path led along the cliff face and if there was no security, you would be dead. The views were so unreal that in the end the excitement and adrenaline replaced fear. Even Callum was happy although he called me insane before. The way back to the town was a nightmare. The rain poured heavily and going down was even worse than climbing up. Once we laid down in our beds we coudn’t feel our legs.

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Beautiful Huashan National Park
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Hiking path for daredevils
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Plank Road in The Sky

After such a marathon we couldn’t walk properly for about a week. We took 1 day break in Huayin, recovering from the trek and curing our stomachs after 2 weeks on the farm. The day after we finally got the results of my grandma. The cancer took the lymph nodes… After the next examination we will know if the radiology or chemotherapy is needed. I gave up again. I really hoped everything would be fine, that it would be over. But the cancer has its own rules. That day I much preferred hitchhiking from sitting at home deep in my thoughts. It wasn’t too comfortable, though. It rained and the cars seemed to go not more than 30 km. In the end we got lucky as we caught a car going directly to Pingyao.

As I said, the main process of hitchhiking is really easy. You wave your hand, you catch a car, that’s it. But all the other details aren’t si simple. First you have to pass the stage of “What a hell are you doing here, in the middle of the highway??” and then there is a stage of explaining where you’re going. Concerning Chinese ability of speaking English, it’s not an easy job. Saying the name doesn’t make sense (they don’t get your pronunciation anyway), it’s better to show it on the map and if the driver is smart he will shut up. In most of the cases, they don’t. So if you wanna avoid them explaining for half an hour that they are not going there but they are stopping exactly 2 km before that, you must be stubborn and force them to keep going. After 5 minutes of awkward silence they start to talk in Chinese again, expecting that after 5 minutes you learnt all the vocabulary. In the end you finally leave the car, shouting “Xie, xie!” through the window, take a selfie with them and go on. That’s how it, more or less, looked like with a couple that took us to Pingyao but their constant irritation of us not speaking Chinese made us really uncomfortable.

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Old town of Pingyao

Our legs after the trek hurt like hell so a long walk through the famous Pingyao was out of the question. Fortunately, we had our comfy room owned by a lovely family who clearly haven’t had any foreigners there before as they were outstandingly hospitable and stuffed us with their homemade food for free. The town had a nice local atmosphere and lots of street food that we adored. After a day of looking for something to do (it’s amazing how no internet stimulates your creativity!) we left our cruches and went to explore the town. It was one of the best preserved ancient cities I’ve seen and, except the main streets filled with tourists , its historical spirit was still alive. Although we paid Y60 for visiting the main taoist temples and museums walking down the empty, damaged streets where people led their peaceful lifes, was much more interesting. Most of the inhabitants were really old, working in professions that I thought were already forgotten. In a couple of years all the old people will die, young ones will move to the city and this place will be empty, what a shame.

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Typical crowds of Chinese tourists
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Old generation

Once you decide to hitch, it’s good to check the day of the week (sounds obvious but it’s not). And the weather. As we failed doing both of these things, our journey to the Great Wall was a nightmare. While during the week you can’t count the cars on the highway, on Sunday all the roads are dead. Once the storm started, the few cars that we saw preferred to honk at us with a surprise than save us from the thunder. After few hours the storm stopped and our luck increased. As we gave up on Beijing (another boring, polluted capital) we tried to find another way to see the Great Wall. The best option was Gugaon- a small town that contained a southern branch of the the Pride of the Nation. A single ticket cost £10 (!) and we didn’t have enough money anyway so we went to explore the parallel hill. And, surprisingly, there was another entrance. We didn’t even have to search, the local people pointed the stairs that led us right up to the hill where we could easily enter The Great Wall ruins. Someone someday said that it’s “The All right Wall” (Sean?;D). Yes, it is. Well, the lenght and the history of this massive construction is impressive but the appearance itself is all right. Not too high, not too wide, perhaps the best thing about it are the views as most of the wall is located in the mountains. It was still “The Great” wall, though.

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Gugaon heritage site
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Exploring the Great Wall
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Now we can say we’ve been to China 🙂

After a photo session there was a time to get back to the city. Reviewing our program, we decided to get a train from Shijiazhuang to Changde- a city 1200 km to the south where we could continue our journey, skipping days of tiring hitchhiking. 3 gentlemen brought us directly to the city where after buying the tickets the accommodation found us itself. A married couple waited for us with their e-bikes and a poster advertising their beautiful shiny rooms. “Do shao cien?”. ” Y120″. “Oh noo, Y60!”. “Y80″. ” Ok, Y70″. “Ok, ok!”. They took us on the back of their bikes to their flat that was rented for the guests and left us alone with a snoring man in the next room and perhaps the most disgusting bathroom in the world. Well, at least we had a king size bed to rest before our “hard seat” journey the next day…

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