Monday September 22 2014

“How do we get to Lao Shan?” Nate asked the woman at The Observatory Hostel’s front desk.

“There are some different ways,” She told us, “What you want, the cheapest?”

“Well cheapest that’s easy.”

“You can take the city it bus, I think it is very easy. It is very cheap, maybe only one or two quai.”

“Hold on, can you write the bus number,” I slid my journal across the table.

It was still only 7:30 am, but this was to be our last trip to Qingdao, our favourite vacation getaway from our home base in Jinan. We couldn’t afford to waist time. We had planned to climb Lao Shan, a popular mountain hike near the city, but every time we came the hike always got pushed out in favour of something else. It was a bit of a “we can do that anytime” situation, but now “anytime” was running out!

The only down side of taking the city bus was that we had a little guess work as to where to get off. “It should be pretty obvious,” Nate said, “We just get off when we see a mountain.

A little ways down the road a large rocky hill rose in front of us. In Chinese hills and mountains are called the same word, so we really had no clue what kind of size the mountain we were looking for was, “Do you think that’s it?” I asked Nate.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

I turned to the man sitting next to me, “Lao Shan?” I asked pointing out the window. He smiled and shook his head.

A little ways later we came upon a bigger hill, “Do you think that’s it?” I asked Nate.

Nate shrugged, then turned to the guy next to me again, “Lao Shan?” He asked, the man shook his head again.

A little ways further down the road we came upon a hill big enough to be considered a small mountain. “This must be it,” I nudged Nate. “Lao Shan?” I asked the fellow passenger again, hoping we weren’t getting too annoying. Once again he shook his head, and spoke a string of Chinese phrases to us. I just answered “Hao,” (good) even though I had no idea what he said.

I was watching intently out the window for signs of the mountain we were looking for, and along the side of the road I saw a strange sight. There was an old man waving a stick, and at the end of a stick swung a snapping turtle!

When we did get to Lao Shan it was obvious. It was clear that Lao Shan was a proper mountain. The bus dropped us off at the ticket office. We assumed this was the base of Lao Shan. When we asked about the hike we were directed to a bus, which we assumed would drive us around to a trail opening.

Up, up, up we went. We had a beautiful view of the lines of houses with their red roofs curling into the cracks and crevices of the mountain, but we were starting to worry that we had accidentally paid for a bus to take us all the way to the top!

Fortunately the bus was right and we were wrong. The park entrance was just much higher up in the mountains then we’d anticipated. “Look, mountain cats!” Nate pointed out.

There were a lot of cats. They seemed to be all around the parking and entrance area.

The rocks had been formed by salt water wind carried from the sea, and ancient glaciers. Many stones stood out, out of place, and many caves and alcoves existed. Often caves and alcoves such as these are turned into Buddhist shrines, with little Buddhist statues, and incense sticks left behind, but there were no Buddhas in these caves.

Taoist religion was the strongest factor on Lao Shan, though it seemed like Buddhism and Confucianism were the prominent forces in the rest of the province. There were yin-yangs everywhere! 

There were cucumbers sold along the path for hungry travellers. This wasn’t the first time we’d bought cucumbers on a hike. We’d gotten some while travelling in Zhangjaijie, but here there were no monkeys to compete with us for the food. We stopped for a cucumber break, though it turned out that the peak was not too much farther on.

We followed signs to the “stone terrace” which was a massive flat expanse of weathered stone with the occasional out of place boulder dumped on top. We walked out along the old stone, and I admired the interesting cracks and crevices that had been created by the constant sea breeze.

I climbed onto one of the big boulders, and after convincing Nate to join me, we sat together and took in the view. The sea spread out before us like an endless plateau covered in shifting mist. I watched an island off in the distance that appeared and disapeared in the low cloud layer, “It looks like a lion turtle,” I said.

Returning from the peak, we stopped for some tea and consulted our travel guide to figure out where we were to go next.

We were sucked in to an epic photo taking session with a Chinese family who were also drinking tea. It is not uncommon for people to ask to take our picture, or get pictures with us, and sometimes it can get really annoying. This family was very friendly and even had a look at our map for us, so we didn’t mind so much. We knew we had missed part of the hike as we had not come across any of the waterfalls or pagodas mentioned, and they showed us that the trail continued in a loop, but warned that we wouldn’t have time to complete it.

We headed the family’s advice. We had to be at the park entrance before the last bus left to go back to the ticket office, and we did not want to chance being left behind. We’d passed a path on our way up, and were curious as to where it went so we checked it out on our way down. It looked like a brand new path with a fresh layer of pavement, yet it was covered in leaves and tangled with weeds. New but not maintained. We were the only people on this path, which brought us past the best views of the cliff faces that were so beautifully decorated in crawling red vines.

After checking my watch I began to worry it was announcing the last car down. We picked up the pace. Fortunately it was a lot quicker going down the up, and we had no problem catching the bus.

I managed to snag a seat on the city bus back to Qingdao, but it came with a price. I had a Chinese man’s butt pressing into me! There was plenty of space, and at first I though he must not realize what he was doing. I leaned my shoulder into his rear end hoping he’d get the hint, but after Nate muttered “Maybe he likes it,” I stopped.

Larry had recommended some good sea food restaurants, telling us we had to try Qingdao sea food before leaving China. We had no problem finding the restaurant, but quickly came to realize we were out of our element. Instead of a menu the restaurant had big tanks full of all sorts of creepy crawlies from the sea. We were supposed to pick out the creatures we wanted cooked! Instead we called Lawrence, explained the dilemma, and asked him if he could order some things for us.

It was an experience to say the least. We ended up with cold shrimp, clams, oyster with gooky pustules, cucumbers with hundreds of tiny clams, and some veggies. Food was very fresh and tasted good. Can’t do sea food like that too often though!

Larry met us just as we were finishing dinner, took us out to BBQ, and then to the bar for some drinks.

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