“Ok, here we go again…”, I thought seeing endless queues in front of the train station. We kind of got used to the Chinese security rules but it didn’t change the fact it was still annoying. The train station in China looks more like an airport, with countless security gates. There are no people sitting in a waiting hall unattended or crowds waiting at the platform for their train. Everyone and everything is in the right place, there is no place for any mistakes in China. And I must admit, it’s pretty effective and can prevent many problems or confusions but it still feels weird and too “controlled”. Anyway, the train came on time and that was the most important. We had our seats that, surprisingly, weren’t that hard and the day in the train passed quite nicely on watching films and writing my blog. The only annoying thing were the manners of the people around us who stared at us for the whole time without any hesitation. It was the cheapest class so I didn’t expect intelligence there but come on… Our defense was staring back at them, which occasionally worked. After few hours of comfortable journey I thought of horrible Indian trains but soon I realized Chinese ones are not much different. The only thing was that instead of “caaay!” other products were being sold. The number one were the modern, shiny toothbrushes but speakers and shavers were popular as well. We were lucky enough to sit next to probably one of the most successful sellers who’s success was based on how loudly he was shouting. Earplugs were essential. The train was quite full but we managed to find few empty seats where we could have some sleep and not being a zombie the next day.
At 8 am we were in Changde. The plan for that day was to get to Wullingyuan where we could enter Zhangjiajie National park. We got there right before a huge storm which we awaited in a 5 star hotel’s hall after someone found us wet hiding from the rain. After finding a room we decided to prepare the offense. Callum checked the area the previous day so when we woke up at 3am we knew which way we could sneak in to the park. Everyone was sleeping and no one saw us so jumping over a fence was a piece of cake. Trekking at night is one of the best things I’ve experienced in China. Mostly, because there are no crowds and you can enjoy complete silence and the nature for yourself. After getting to the top at 7am we had our viewpoint only for ourselves before all the crowds came. In the afternoon it became so annoying that we decided to come back home the same day although we planned 2 days there. Fortunately, we managed to hitch few buses with no tickets needed so we managed to see every corner of the park. I didn’t mention but this was exactly the park where “Avatar” film was made and it looked as impressive as on the film. The sky was clear and hundreds of karst columns looked like they truly hid some secret. We got home walking down the steps passing hungry hords of monkeys and few girls walking barefoot as their high heels didnt pass the exam. That day we realized how tourism can destroy the atmosphere of the place. And we started to understand why China has so high entrance fees. Even now when you pay Y200 for a national park, it’s full of tourists. Can you imagine what would be if it cost less or it was free? The park would look like a big shopping mall… So, mother China, who carries 1,5 billion of people on your ground, I understand you. And I’m not upset anymore.
Since few weeks I started to notice how much my mental condition affected my body. I had terrible headaches out of nowhere and constant stomach problems. The day we came back I spoke to my mum about my grandma. She sounded like she had no hope and like I should be prepared for everything. That evening I almost fainted in the toilet from stomach pain. And then I understood I couldn’t take it anymore. The next day I spent the day alone and it helped me understand few things. I realized that you will be never prepared for the death. As you can’t change the destiny, you can only accept the reality and be prepared for the worst. There’s no other way. Although I still had hope I completely changed my approach and it gave me so much relief I couldn’t describe it. I understood that death is a part of our life and, although hard, it’s completely natural. Cuz who can stop the death?
Hitching to Fenghuang was problematic, mostly because of few drivers who complicated absolutely everything. Fortunately, as it usually happens, we got lucky in the end catching a car that took us directly to Fenghuang. It was a little river town filled with lovely ancient streets and old women selling flowers on every corner. We spent 2 days chilling in our hotel room where I could do some meditation and finally skype my friends. Fenghuang, called the Phoenix town, was a really charming place. The Tuo Jiang river was surrounded by wooden stilt houses and the little bridges were full of tourists and local sellers. We spent the afternoon exploring the little streets and the local cafes with their Western spirit. The town was even better in the evening, though. We came back for the dinner which that time was about to be different. To be honest, those days we were so sick of Chinese food that we decided to eat anything different. From a buffet of animals kept on the street we chose a snake. The guys in the restaurant were really nice so we could observe the whole process of cooking. Snake was fighting till the end, even after chopping off his head the pieces of meat were still moving in the bowl. The snake’s meat, although very bony, was quite tasty and filled us for the rest of the evening that we spent in a local bar. Two guys playing live music there were really cool and even invited us to perform with them. After few beers and playing with an adorable puppy we enjoyed our walk home, admiring the romantic atmosphere of the lit up old town.
Although the whole journey may be tiring, there are some days that are extraordinarily horrible. The day we left Fenghuang was one of them. Since the very morning we both weren’t in the best mood that is only one step from the catastrophe. Growling at each other for the whole day we tried to get to Longji but that day the whole universe was against us. And finally, there was a culmination- some idiot dropped us off on the tollbooth which is always very risky as someone can hook on. And there she was, a Chinese girl who didn’t let us get any car as she had a better plan (until today I don’t know what it was). No one wanted to stop for us and when we finally lost our patience and walked to the highway the hell started. They called the police and when we were one step from leaving that place with one car, the police wouldn’t let us go. The main officer who clearly wanted to show how powerful he was made up a rule the foreigners weren’t allowed on that part of the highway. I had enough, I started to cry not caring about the crowd that surrounded us from every side. In the end there was no way we could keep going, we had to walk into the city but before that I didn’t fail to tell the policeman what I thought about him. Surprisingly, the only argument he had was: “Do you know who I am??”. Yeah, I know, a little brainless puppet who will follow every fucking rule that his superior will tell him to… After the atmosphere released a bit we walked around the town and climbed the highway from the other side. Yes, Klaudia and Callum never give up. And, as I always say, karma comes back to you. After about half an hour of hitchhiking a motorhome with a lovely family stopped for us. “Longji?? No way!”. We sat on the back with a snoring daddy who was resting after long driving. The son, who join the parents for 3 weeks road trip around China, joined us later and, surprisingly, he had a good English. We spent the whole afternoon speaking to him on various topics and learnt a bit about the life of a Chinese student. The family left us in Longsheng which was only 10 km away from our destination. It’s amazing how things can turn out in only 1 day…
After a long night with the cockroaches (don’t expect much for Y50 in China…) we got to Longji to spend a relaxing day before the trek to Longji rice terraces. And it would have been quite relaxing if we both weren’t tired of the constant heat, humidity and China in general. It’s crazy how differently the time passes in different places. Almost 3 months in India wasn’t enough at all, we still wanted more. And here, in China, after 1 month we were good to go. I think it’s mostly about the energy of the place and the circumstances that make travelling much more difficult. But although Callum had a wonderful idea of rebooking our ticket to Philippines we decided to grit our teeth and keep going. In the end, it’s once in a lifetime.
We woke up at 4am. Rain. 6am. Still rain. Ready to give up trekking that day we found out we couldn’t sneak in there anyway as the distance was far too long for walking… At noon the weather got better and we decided to abandon our pride and pay for the entrance tickets. After getting by bus to Dazhai we started a trek through the beautiful hills, all cut by countless rice terraces. The area was inhabited by Miao people who looked a bit different than a typical Chinese. The women wear traditional colourful dresses and tie their long, never cut hair, on the top of the forehead. And although many local people sold themselves to tourism we found few really authentic villages where people led a simple, undisturbed by civilization life. One of them was Zhonglia where we shared our lunch with a lovely old couple in their empty guesthouse. Chinese people don’t like to walk too much so the path we took from Dazhai to Ping’an was completely empty. Luckily, we got to Ping’an right before the storm started and although there was no more local buses running, a tour bus driver pitied us and took us back to Longji. Luck again. But the best part of the day came in the evening. I got a message from my mum. “Cancer’s not spread, everything’s fine”. For the rest of the evening I was so positively shocked that I couldn’t really believe what I heard. Even after talking to my grandma on the phone and hearing her cheerful voice I still had doubts if it was happening. My grandma’s results were good and there won’t be any chemotherapy. Instead of that, she will have few radiology sessions which suppose to eliminate eventual relapses. Although I felt so happy talking to my family and hearing the news I still couldn’t comprehend the worst was behind. It was too good to be true.