BACK AT IT: Day 123, Monday December 30 2013

Leaving Nate in bed I went over to hisense (Katrina’s building complex) to meet Sonya. She was waiting for me with a basketball. We played for about an hour and when we were tired we switched over to practice with nun chucks. Sonya is teaching me to flip the nun-chucks around my hand but I have yet to master it.

It was a gorgeous morning, warm and the sky about as clear as it gets (in Jinan). We were down to sweaters most of the time. I bounced home around 12:00 pm full of energy “Nate wake up!” I called as I walked in the door. To my surprise he wasn’t asleep. “It’s beautiful out lets go mountain climbing.”

We headed south again, searching for the next unexplored mountain on our map. This time we did not have to search for a way up, the first stair case we took yielded true. The most difficult part had been finding a bus route there. We ended up having a Chinese sprit guide to lead us, in the form of a law student on his way to visit a university in the area we were going.

The hill we climbed stood out because of these very tall pine trees that stood up above all the thin cedars. When we reached the trees we discovered they were fake! Branches had been attached to a wooden trunk to hide metal panels.

Once the fake pines were behind us we followed our narrow foot path through the silent cedars. Their branches were grey and the stones beneath our feet were chalk white cast with shadows from the trees. It was as if a thick dust lay over everything. We could still hear the sound of the road, but the woods itself was silent. I paused for a moment to examine some deep cuts in the bark of one of the grey trees. It looked like the Chinese character lai (come). I ran my fingers over the markings before hurrying after Nate.

We followed bright flower print strings of fabric tied to the tree branches. “Wow, look at that,” Nate’s voice was more of a sigh then a whisper, he pulled out his camera to photograph the splash of sunlight finally breaking up the grey as the forest turned into grassland.

The grass grew in tall thin blades with large seed heads that fanned out like snow flakes and the sun shone through them making them glow. The sun warmed us as we stopped, breath taken. The trees opened up ahead and the mountain path narrowed allowing us a view down on the fancy hotel/ apartment complex below. Ahead of us was a pile of large boulders leading to the peak, “I bet we could climb that,” Nate suggested.

I don’t know,” I said at first, but once I got a proper look, “Yeah we can totally climb this.” Ironically it was Nate that was constantly on edge, terrified I would fall off, “Stop, you’re worse then my mother!” I chided him. The rocks were big and steady with wide platforms to stand on and lots of nooks and crannies to put your hands and feet.

We took a path across the cliff’s edge, where the wind blew, chilling the air despite the warm sun. We could see a lake far below, as of yet not overly surrounded by buildings. The path ended at a fence and we had to retrace our steps. We took a path that cut through the woods, it was no more then a foot path, narrow enough to be made by an animal just as easily as by man. We figured it would lead back to the main path. It petered out before it did and we had to make our own way, crashing through the dead branches (on the lower half of the trees).

The part of the path we ended up on after our “short-cut” through the woods was covered in a thin layer of snow. The “mountain” was u-shaped and curved around the fancy hotel. We figured we could follow the path from one end to the other and find a way down, but that was just a theory. As the sun sank lower in the sky we hurried to find our way before dark. We followed narrow paths that would disappeared for periods of time before reappearing again farther down. We’d loose a path and find another, loose a path and find another. When we came upon a building we figured the rest of the way would be easy. It was not.

The path got steep quickly. It led us through a growth of trees with bright yellow branches that stretched up naked towards us like reaching fingers. The descent was fast, and we thought the hard part was done, until we realized that it was another good twenty foot drop off before the road. We wondered back and forth pathless for a bit, but found our way eventually by searching around an abandoned building that looked as if it had been half constructed and then left to rot. There was a market at the bottom. We bought a fresh pineapple before searching for out bus home.

We were craving hot pot when we got home, so we went to a restaurant across the road. Instead of the traditional charcoal way of cooking this place had fancy modern hot plates and individual pots that you could divide into two flavours. Nate’s broth was so spicy he had to have some of the stuff scooped off the top! The dip was in a big fancy display in the middle of the building with a selection of spaces to flavour it. We ordered meet, tofu, bok choy, spinach, and mushrooms, and were plenty full by the end of it.

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