The hike from Zhangjiajie’s park entrance to the hostel was three hours long and involved many many steps, and many monkeys! We picked up cucumbers for a snack and oh man did those juicy crunches draw attention to us! With every bite a new set of eyes fell upon us! Suddenly we were the most popular primates in the park, and we didn’t need to struggle to get good pictures of the babies anymore, the mamas were running up to us as if willing to sacrifice their infants for a bite.
My siblings, Karen and John, were excited to see blue sky today, the pollution grey can get rather depressing. We had a pleasant surprise that morning as the hostel we’d stayed in outside the park had let us store our the bulk of our baggage for free for the three days we would be away! The book told us to take bus three to get to the long distance bus that could take us to the park, but fortunately we trusted the locals who told us bus five. There was a moment of concern as we found ourselves at the train station instead of the bus station, but it turned out the buses were at the same place. After minimal confusion and a little aimless wandering, where we shoved our map in people’s faces and pointed to our final destination looking lost, we found our way to the mini bus we wanted.
We encountered the first group of “our small cousins” about 5 minutes into our hike. The monkeys were all hanging around a picnic area and munching on whatever people food they could get their greedy fingers on. We were so excited about the sighting that we lost all track of direction as we stopped to photograph them. One monkey was sitting on the ground eating sunflower seeds the same way chinese people eat them, cracking them with his teeth and pulling the seed out with his tongue. They were cute, but we made sure to avoid eye contact and keep our distance. I did see a monkey bluff charge at a Chinese man that had been feeding it.
We had to backtrack to check the map we had just looked at before our monkey craze. We paused again to photograph some lime green frogs basking in a murky pool. The “Golden River” as it was named was more silver then gold with pools of bright aqua blue.
We soon found that our hurry to see and photograph the monkeys had not been necessary, the little buggers were everywhere (as were the Chinese tourists) perched in the trees, and lining the sides of the paths eating chips or chocolates. A couple had babies clinging to their bellies.
We paused to photograph a bunch of them squatting along a log picking bugs out of each other’s hair as one baby kept trying to escape from his mama’s protective arms.
The monkeys were looking for handouts. One hopeful little fellow followed me for almost a full kilometre. Nate had to be extra defensive. He had picked up a hamburger to eat! He got a couple of bluff charges from one monkey and had to stand his ground.
We left the river for the stairs. It was hard going but we were soon rewarded with more and more spectacular views. Below us was a valley filled with towering stone pillars made of uneven piles of jagged rock. It was hard to imagine these creations that rose thousands of feet into the air were sculpted entirely by nature. Once we passed the chair lift the crowds of Chinese tourists lessened and the monkeys stayed with the messy tourists where they could get the best pickings, so we were left more or less to ourselves and the views of nature. There was none of the shifting mist that the park is so famous for, so instead of floating mountains we had a clear view of the depth and height of the karst formations. We did pass a photo booth that would add in the clouds for 10 RMB!
We came across some funny signs during our climb, one of which warned us “Don’t tease the monkeys!” to which Nate would reply “Your mother’s a baboon!” And we would scold “Nate it says don’t tease the monkeys!” the other sign that became a long standing joke was “Stay in vegetation, watch out for forest fires.” Anytime you found yourself slightly off the path and someone asked you what you were doing you would reply “I’m staying in vegetation and watching for forest fires!”
Many of the lookout points had rock formations that were supposed to look like one thing or another. It took a lot of imagination to see them. Perhaps if we’d indulged in a “gambei” (bottoms up) of baijiu (disgusting chinese liquor) or two we could have pointed them out.
Nearing the top, we turned off the main path to view “the world’s tallest natural bridge”. We came upon a metal bridge that crossed over a sizable drop, “Here it is!” John chimed just as Nate muttered “I think there was a translation error.” The metal bridge was pretty cool, the bottom was made out of an uncovered grate so you could see the ground below your feet. Fortunately though it was not the main attraction.
A thick chunk of rock and dirt connected the main ground to lover’s mountain where thousands of locks lay along the path to proclaim everlasting love.
We visited a turtle pond of longevity filled with large stone tortoise statues that served as basking grounds for hundreds of small living turtles. Unfortunately one turtle was floating dead, so much for longevity. We threw coins at the tortoises mouths, which seemed to be the thing to do, but we all missed.
Well we were back in the crowds and we soon reached the parking lot where we would catch the bust to our hostel. Unfortunately we didn’t realize we were supposed to tell the driver where to drop us off and shot well past our stop to Wulong Town. We had to walk back along the narrow windy road as buses rumbled past us, with no space to pass us safely.
Our room was in a loft where the beds were no more then mattresses on the floor. I liked it though K had the end with the sloped ceiling and kept bonking her head. Nate and John, who being tall in a country of little people, were the ones who usually found themselves in these situations, and thought this was quite funny as Karen groaned “Now I know how you feel.” Luckily Nate and I shared a bed, because the fourth was a barely existent mattress on top of a bunk bed made of sketchy looking metal.
Lunch at the hostel was ok, but nothing special. John is still not impressed with Chinese food. Apparently our long hike up wasn’t enough for K and J, so we went on an exploration hike and checked out the paths behind our hostel. Afterwards we ended up heading down a set of stairs Karen suggested would make a good run the next morning.
Down down down we went before we came to the conclusion that the stairs must lead all the way back down to the river. We ended up just turning around and coming back up. A mystery greeted us on our way back. We’d passed a sweeping lady on our way down, but when we got to where she’d been working the clean path ended at a rock marked with a green triangle, and the woman had vanished broom and all!
Hoping for a better meal we checked out the hostel down the road. 40 RMB for dinner and breakfast the next day! It was still early for dinner, so the “laoban” (boss) offered to take us on a personal tour along with two British guys and three Chinese girls that were staying there. One of the British guys spoke great Chinese and one of the Chinese girls spoke English, so we were able to get some decent communication going.
We were brought to three off the beaten path locations. One was a large boulder with a spectacular view and a stone island (for lack of a better way to describe the stone pillars unattached to the main mountain) almost in stepping distance. Only a few people could go up at a time, and the drop off was steep, so no shoving allowed! The second sight boasted a beautiful view of the natural bridge with flower taking photo ops included in the package. The third sight was one we had discovered on our own earlier that day.
We ate with the two British guys when we returned. The food was quite delicious though John still insisted that it was “just fuel”. Played some cards with our new friends at our hostel after dinner. The common room, which had been completely empty earlier that day was now packed with tourists, and we had trouble finding a table! K went to bed after a couple rounds, but the rest of us stayed up chatting, drinking, and laying down our cards.
When we went to bed Karen was fast asleep with her blindfold over her eyes. It was about 11:00 pm. “John I’m changing.” I warned and began to peal off my stinky sweat soaked clothes. Karen, unaware of the goings on around her, just happened to stir and woke up to the sight of “a full moon”! And that is how day three of our adventures concluded.