So, if someone says to you “fancy a weekend away without kids and husband in a mountainous area with some walking” what do you say?
I originally said no, as a good friend was coming out to China for work and I was going to meet her on the Saturday.
I was then asked again by a colleague on the Thursday before the trip on the Friday to go as she was unable to go and didn’t want to leave Angela to go on her own. Again I said I couldn’t because of Lucy coming. At that stage I was aware that Lucy was having a slight issue with her visa being issued on time but I couldnt risk saying yes I would go without a definitive plan from Lucy.
On Friday morning I woke up to a message that Lucy would go straight to Ningbo. So I immediately confirmed with Angela that I would go and what would I need.
Friday afternoon saw me in Decathlon buying a new pair of fleecy on the inside walking trousers and some cereal bars for breakfast if needed. Friday evening about 5.30pm I said goodbye to Eleanor and Martin and headed off with sleeping bag (4 seasons), camera, tea bags, cereal bars, a waterproof, a couple of t-shirts whilst wearing my new fleecy trousers (splash proof, but probably not waterproof). I hadn’t brought with us a large rucksack so instead had snacks and camera in a second bag, as I had been told we would be based in a kind of farmhouse.
Angela and I headed to “University Town” and met up with the organisers…Chinese…we got on the bus….all Chinese and mostly in their 20s.
Now what I had been told was very little, on showing an exert of webpage to my colleague she told me I was still going to be in Jiangsu province. Further probing of Angela told me we were going to Anhui province (2 provinces away). We were told that we would be in the bus, which would drop us off at our “place of rest”. We left Suzhou at 7.30pm. I crawled into my bed at midnight. At midnight we were told that actually this is only an overnight stop, we have two more hours on the bus in the morning…what time do we have to leave at? 7am. Up at 6am. Joyful I thought. Thankfully I had slept on the bus..in between the game of “let’s get up, walk down the aisle to the front of the bus and introduce ourselves and then say everyone else’s name”. Having introduced myself, not so successfully in Chinese, I went back to sleep. I was going to be the foreigner who didn’t speak any Chinese. And surprisingly only a few (one) tried to speak English to me. So I was happy with that. I don’t mean to sound completely ungrateful or mean or grumpy, but actually it is nice to not have to make conversation. By the end of the 50th person saying my name they all knew who I was. I didn’t know anyone else’s name apart from Angela!
So at midnight on a Friday evening, we arrive into a village that would not have been out of place in the French Alps. The girls are split from the boys, and are further split into twos or threes. Angela and I head off and are shown to a hotel/hostel type place, and shown to our room. Basic. And everything is just slightly damp and cold. Never have I been more grateful to a cosy thick four seasons sleeping bag.
6am. Up. Awake. Quick toothbrush and putting on of deodorant and a 6am it was cold, so I put on my thermals….
Out of the “place of rest” and up to the bus and a place where we are to have breakfast. Congee. Like rice pudding/porridge with no flavouring. Yuk. I had two boiled eggs and a couple of mandarin oranges. Enough to walk on? Probably not.
The scenery around us is hilly. I saw people start of on treks and thought why can’t we go with them.
Back on the bus we go. But not for two hours as told the previous night, this time three hours. But the countryside got increasingly mountainous and autumnal. Then we started our ascent. Hair pin bend after hair pin bend, and meeting buses on those hair pin bends when you are on the outside looking down a cliff face is not fun.
Eventually we arrive at a village. We were told to get off the bus and bring what you want for overnight because we won’t see the bus until the next day. Clarifying that information I leave my cosy sleeping bag behind. It is heavy and I don’t have a rucksack big enough to carry it.
Arriving at 11.30 (bus left at 7am), we are left to our own devices to go exploring and have lunch. Angela and I wandered through a very old village with the villagers living off the land. Pigs kept in sheds, vegetables grown in small plots, the women washing their clothes in the sinks outside their houses and sweet potatoes and corn being baked in an ingenuous oven to be sold to the tourists (and the huge satellite dishes in their gardens). I was of course gawped at. There was not a single westerner to be seen. Corn, water, sweet potato and a spiced pumpkin patty deep fried was my lunch…was that going to be enough to walk 3 hours to where we would sleep? Probably not.
From this village we started walking, 50 of us in a long line as the path was narrow. The path meandered alongside a river, the beautiful autumnal colours with the green grass and the burbling of the stream was quite idyllic really. Then you look infront of you and behind you and there are literally hundreds of people walking this path.
We had seen coach loads of people arriving at this remote settlement all for the purpose of walking this area. Most though seemed equipped, no stilettos, but a few skirts and canvas shoes…not what you would expect. We however, had three leaders all with walkie talkies and a Doctor, so I felt quite safe.
Walking through the countryside was magnificent,
save for the litter. It was unbelievable that somewhere as remote as this had water bottles, crisp etc packets strewn all over the place. It got me quite irrate, and even more irritated when on Sunday morning I saw a farmer just lob an empty water bottle out of his e-bike van.
As we walked I became increasingly warm…but where do you change on a mountain literally swarming with people…I eventually found a place behind some tall grasses and with a careful balancing act changed from thermals and walking trousers to just walking trousers. To be fair I could have just started out in my thermals – I am not sure anyone would have noticed or cared – but I have my dignity.
On we walked…3 hours came and went -it didn’t surprise me given that every other time estimate we had been given was more of a guesstimate than anything.
Finally, we got to the top of a mountain overlooking a little white town. High up was a 1000 year old tree,down in the valley a river and a town. And between me and it were steps. More steps. The Chinese are very fond of putting steps up/down mountains. Great workout but the steps are lethal when covered in wet leaves or mud or even dry leaves when you don’t know when the step ends/begins.
Finally everyone was down the mountain and off we went to the “hotel”. However, Angela and I didn’t end up there. We, and four other women, were taken down a few more back streets and into someone’s house. Angela and I got a bedroom on the ground floor with a Singer Sewing Machine table in it
and two beds with thick, but again slightly damp quilts. We broke open the bottle of wine Angela had carried with us, and then went back to the “hotel” for dinner. Rice came out in a barrel, “white wine” was served in containers that would not have looked out of place in a supermarket aisle of oil (and it was that colour too), and then multiple dishes of vegetables and pork and fish (assume it was from the river)arrived. I ate well, but was still questioned as to whether I had had enough. At 7.30pm I went to bed, by 7.35pm I was asleep.
The “facilities” that we stayed in, was indeed someone’s house. The husband told Angela they didn’t really like tourists coming into the village as no money is really spent. His wife opens up their home when the hotel is full.
With no ensuite I went to the bathroom – a squat toilet with a shower over the sink. I would not be venturing to the toilet in the middle of the night, that was certain. Nor would I be showering. What was the point? I would only get sweaty the next day…so there was a quick wash on Sunday morning, back to the hotel for breakfast and a few more photos as there was BLUE SKY.
I hadn’t taken up the invite to see sunrise, or the possible mist laying low in the valley. My bed and sleep were more important.
After breakfast we were counted and then off we started walking…we were told the walk was 2 hours…starting at 9am we arrived at the bus at 11.30…
The start of the walk however was steps, steps and more steps. The view however was tremendous. You may recall that the day before, no one had given me a second glance. Well the walkers on Sunday were a bit more observant and I was stopped at the top of some steps, looking rather red faced and sweaty for a photograph. Going on a bit further I heard the “Spice Girls”. A man rounded the corner wearing his personal stereo around his neck with the music at full blast, so that he and his companions could listen to it…GET SOME HEADPHONES!
At 11.30, we arrived at the designated pick up. Angela and I were dreading the journey back. It had taken 8 hours in total to get there, how many would it be back.
At midday the bus arrived, went 15 minutes down the road and stopped for lunch. We got back on the coach at 2pm. Lunch was an interesting affair. The toilet didn’t flush, there was no running water, but it did have a pump at the front of the building where the dishes were washed.
Lunch was fine, I wasn’t ill.
The bus journey was uneventful until the bus stopped at the side of the road. We appeared to stay there for about 30 minutes, then the engine was restarted and off we went again. I walked though the door at 9.30pm and straight to bed.
Did I have an amazing, enjoyable weekend? Absolutely.
Do I want to do it again? Yes.
With the same people? Yes
Was it mad? Yes, but fantastic.
Did I have any idea where I was? NO…