“The world is big, and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”
~ John Muir
When it comes to the holiday times being an expat, it is time to travel, rather than go home because home is thousands of miles and dollars away. It is easier to travel around or near the country you're residing in at the time.
On one of my holidays, I ventured out to Air Vitamin Mountain Area with a few friends from work. The trip was offered by Wanna Travel at a great rate, well planned, and organized. I want to shout out the tour guides Lynn, Victor, and Jingru who were nothing but helpful and kind the entire time. It was a great trip with unforgettable experiences. Unfortunately, I did get sick in the middle of the trip, but it started and ended on good notes.
When I signed up for this trip, I did not realize how physically intensive it would be. This trip would have been ideal for intermediate hikers, climbers, and everyone else more physically astute than I. I just saw the pictures, read the itinerary, and was intrigued by the sights and areas we would be exploring. But, oh, to get to the sights!
Day one. We rode a bus from Shanghai to Wuyi, which is about a 5 to 6-hour commute. Before checking into our guesthouses, we stopped to tour a temple and observed commissioners lighting candles and incense. They sent up prayers for the new year. Even in the rain, fires were going, and knees bent. The wet wind shuffled lanterns and chimes and yet did not inhibit camera clicks.
That evening, we checked into the guesthouses which gave a truly authentic country Chinese living experience, with the exception of a western toilet—thank goodness! Stones lined the entryway which had a couple of koi fish ponds off to the side. Our accommodations were simple. The bathroom held the shower and toilet without a curtain. The living space, a raised tea area. The bedroom, nice hard mattresses with duvet sets.
Following check-in, we walked less than five minutes to the restaurant that would serve all our meals for the duration of the trip. From the outside, the building appeared to be another guesthouse, but on the inside opened into a quaint restaurant. Here, we made pork and vegetable dumplings; so, interestingly shaped dumplings landed on plates that evening. Luckily, the dumplings were served with plenty of side dishes, family style.
After filling our stomachs, we tried our hands at calligraphy, which is harder than it looks. We also tried on traditional Chinese garments. To my surprise right next to the guesthouse was a gallery where we took pictures on the inside. You really can’t guess what the inside contains based on the outside!
Day two. This is when the reality of the trip set in. Our guides sent the day’s schedule, which was one of hiking to the top of a mountain for a picnic lunch and traveling back down. We would be outside for 6 hours—but for a “10 km walk.” This last piece caused me to seriously underestimate the activity. After all, I thought I had signed up for leisure nature walks, not the extreme hiking that was in store; so, unassuming me decided that I could do it. I will be the first to admit that I am not an athletic person. I embrace my lack of fitness and “wimpiness,” but this hike really put me to shame. If I learned anything from this entire experience, it would be that I need to hit the gym or something and get in shape—real shape.
As soon as the incline started getting steep and rocky, I knew I did not know what I had gotten myself into. Stubbornly, I trudged forward, slowly getting left in the back with the rear-end hiking guide. Still, I was determined to not stop. I had started and needed to finish the day’s activity, but eventually, my breath was running short, thighs burned, and I was being outdone by the elderly hiking to the temple at the top of the mountain. To catch up with our group, the rear-end hiking guide took us stragglers through a shortcut that did me in. It involved narrow paths, steeper walkways with slippery stones, jumping over irrigation openings, and required using bare hands to climb. There were points I stopped looking and prayed, “Lord, don’t let me fall because You know I’m not getting back up if I do.”
When we reached the rest of the group waiting at a leveled area, I thought we were close and reassured myself that I could do this. However, they then pointed to our next path and revealed we weren’t even halfway after hiking for 2 and half hours. When my friend tapped out, I tapped out. Nope, I knew my limits. The group carried on and the two of us stayed behind. As we sat down at the little gazebo, we looked at each other and laughed. We knew each other too well. This was not it. We would just have to imagine what the top of the mountain looked like.
At the gazebo, we relaxed and caught our breaths. We agreed that it was the pace that got us. Our group was moving with no breaks and not being used to hiking, our bodies were questioning what our minds were trying to do. I leave no regrets in attempting or stopping the hike though. It was the perfect location because while we were not halfway up, that point was high enough to take photographs of the town and farmland below.
During the time we waited, we also met many of the locals heading to the temple. Although we did not speak Mandarin, it did not stop them from trying to talk to us, them using a little of the English they knew and us our little bit of Mandarin. We had full-blown conversations with families, took pictures, and ate snacks. An ayi was even kind enough to bring back oranges for us. Sitting there and meeting locals, the difference between life in the city and area dialects was clearly noticeable. This was much more preferable than killing myself to reach the top.
That evening we recovered after dinner. The night bonfire was pure fun, with favorite drinks, fireworks, and dancing. Some of the locals even joined us, bringing that good ole homemade Chinese wine. But tomorrow was another early hike, so the evening couldn’t run too late. The morning did not look so hot and I had to miss out on day three which included the hot spring, glass bridge, and jungle excursion. No worries, the rest allowed me to recover for the next day—and I avoided a steeper hike.
Day four ended our tour with a trek up to the blue and green reservoir—and this time I did not tap out, even though I was in the back the entire time. However, being in the back allowed for better pictures and conversation. This adventurous-walking-near-intermediate-hike took us to peaceful waters that were calm under the overcast weather. Some took pictures right on the overhanging areas, explored caves, and ran the steps along the wall. The bridge was good enough for me and a perfect area to overlook the reservoir.
One of the great things about this trip, was that while we all did not know each other, everyone walked away knowing everyone at the end. There was not a point where you did not walk next to, share a meal with, or chat with a new person. Everyone came from different backgrounds. There would be stories shared and various languages from Russian to Spanish heard daily. All of us found ourselves in Shanghai for different reasons and now we were all connected through this trip.
Would I do a trip like this again? Well, I have one more mountain trip to Zhangjiajie. I have to make it to the top, even if it kills me! It is paid for and I must see the Heavenly Pillar. So, I will be climbing stairs until then.