The theme of my winter holidays was one word: mountains. I started in Hong Kong and Shenzhen for a week, then I stopped off briefly at home to change my clothes (from warm to cold weather clothes) and then I spent the next week alone hiking mountains. (All pics are mine, taken with my iphone.)
My first mountain was Mt Wuyi (Wuyi Shan in Chinese) a UNESCO World Heritage site that is just a few hours from my home. The past year has seen several of my friends go to that mountain, but I didn’t join. I hate the heat, remember? And while they tried to assure me the mountains would be “cooler” it’s still located in southern China and doesn’t have very high elevation.
So winter is the time for me, even if it means rain, cold and no blooming flowers. Actually, as I was to discover, going in the winter was the best decision. The rain made it amazingly atmospheric and the timing ensured I had a quiet place. A little too quiet in fact. This was my first solo hike in nature for awhile and I’ve gotten accustomed to people and noise. Being totally alone, for long stretches, kinda freaked me out. At one point I was certain that I had stumbled on some secret, never used trail and I was worried that I would end up somewhere totally foreign and far away.
Turns out I was on the main trail. Whoops.
Once I was assured I wasn’t lost and would find civilization again, I began to settle into the quiet, dripping landscape. It was raining, I had to cross a few overflowing streams so my feet got thoroughly soaked, and the temps were low, close to freezing. Nothing like being cold and wet all day.
But I friggin loved it. Couldn’t believe my luck! It was gorgeous, it was fun. Birds were chirping, water was splashing, and as I hiked in the silence I had an overflow of creative thoughts. I kept stopping, whipping out my phone and writing things down. I may or may not have even skipped down the trail at some points. Scrooge himself would be smiling and skipping, as everything felt light, fun and airy.
The first day I got a ride to the gate from the hostel owner. He shuttled me and two germans to the entrance. It’s a heavily visited site, and as a UNESCO place they have a complex system of shuttles that take you around the large park. Usually you get in line at the designated spot to catch the shuttle, but because it was so quiet and empty we were the only people and the shuttle drove us to where we waned to go even though it wasn’t scheduled.
Our first stop was the Tianyou Peak, the most visited and picturesque part of the park. There is this tiny vertical staircase carved into the side of the mountain. Normally you have to shuffle, single file, up to the top but thanks to few people, we could go at our own pace.
The rain was dreary, but the clouds were stunning. They created such an amazing atmosphere that looked more like a ancient Chinese painting than real life.
Until, of course, we got into the clouds, then it was a whole lot of just dreary. The mountain wasn’t tall enough to break the clouds so instead of the amazing picture opportunity we were supposed to see at the top, we saw just a wall of clouds.
We then went to the Tiger Roaring Rock and got soaked as we walked through tea fields and forests. We came across a giant rock, and it sheltered us from the rain for awhile as we explored.
I then split from my German friends and took a bamboo boat ride on the Nine-Crooked Creek. I’ve taken a lot of bamboo boat rides in my life, and I always like them. The ticket was outrageously expensive (130rmb–$22– which was equal to the admission to the park), but there was no wait, and the river itself was gorgeous, twisting and turning throughout the whole park.
The industrious boater offered to give everyone a “tour” and explain the sites if we would all pony up more money. As the lone foreigner I kept quiet as one woman asked “what about the foreigner? She can’t understand so she shouldn’t pay.” Heh heh heh….
Turns out most of what he said was “that rock is called the black ants because it looks like giant ants” and “those two rocks are lovers who were cursed to never touch” and stuff like that so I was glad I kept my Chinese speaking mouth shut and didn’t pay the money.
It was also the longest bamboo boat ride of my life. Over an hour. If it was summer I think I would have loved it. But it was winter, cold, raining non-stop and I was out on the exposed river. My feet were thoroughly soaked by then and my gloves so wet they were more like icy rags then gloves.
I ended up shaking towards the end and after it was over I took the bus immediately back to the hostel where I stayed in my room the entire night. (I ate instant noodles for dinner.)
The next day I prepared better (I brought an umbrella) and I hit the park early. I wanted to go to a palace in the park, but again, due to the low crowds, the bus would only drive to where a larger group of six wanted to go. They were going to a place called The Water Curtain, and I figured since the bus was going there I might as well too.
It was gorgeous, quiet (I quickly outpaced the group) and thanks to the rain everything was wet and spontaneous waterfalls were everywhere.
I then followed stairs around the side of the rock and ended up on one of my favorite walks I have ever been on. It wasn’t until about 2 hours later that I saw people again.
Wuyi Shan isn’t one of the famous mountains of China but it’s gorgeous, not too strenuous and best of all, not overdeveloped like a lot of parks are. On the last day, as the park was getting ready to close, I really dragged my feet because I didn’t want to leave. Luckily it’s only a few hours away so I hope I can go back sometime (when it’s not too hot!)
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