Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough!"

In our USA homeowner- forever-married state, nine out of ten weekends were spent on household projects.  A 50-year old house nestled in a suburban wood requires basic upkeep and maintenance and we are "project people."The pattern was to rise early, jump in a FORD car or truck and head to Home Depot.   On many long weekends, instead of heading to a northern cabin in the woods, we became woodchucks chucking wood and would accomplish all sorts of things, from landscape projects to home repair.
Living in China and renting this villa (condominium) has left us without the necessity of those long “productive weekends.” 
Instead we get to Travel!
As luxurious as that sounds, being a non-native speaker in a foreign country takes planning and lots of it.  All of our ex-pat friends willingly share their knowledge of places to go, things to do and all the mechanics necessary to have a successful adventure.  Everyone wants the expenditure of time and Yuan to be worth it.  With the language barrier, each trip requires a translator/guide, driver and one or two air flights.  We search the internet like well-seasoned travel agents. Long 12-16 hour travel days are not unusual at the beginning and end of a trip.   As you know, the Asia Pacific region of the world is expansive. 
Our latest long weekend adventure was to the Juizhaigou Valley in the Sechuan Province of China.  Juizhaigou, (Nine Stockade Gully) is North and West of the Sechuan Province capitol Chengdu.  Chengdu is widely known as the “land of pandas.”  With only a long weekend we decided to forego the Chengdu stop. We wouldn’t be cleaning animal cages or cuddling baby pandas this time. [This was secretly a GREAT relief to me since I have an innate fear of wild mammals with sharp incisors that sense my angst and never fail to pee on me, or ‘nip’ at me.   [“Awwwwww, he’s just showing some affection.”  Yeah, right!]

Juizhaigou is a UNESCO (United Nation Heritage Preserve) encompassing 280 sq. miles of alpine mountains and valleys.  We were really in for a treat amidst the 2 – 2.5 mile [3000 – 3500 meter] altitude range of jaw-dropping beauty. 

Day #1
With our Mandarin instructor and friend, Stefanie, taking the lead, we spent the first day in the park.  The rain on Day #1 did not dampen our spirits. 

Where's the Big Guy?
We were on a mission to experience as much as we could in Juizhaigou in spite of its high altitude and our huffing and puffing. The park admission was steep but included torrents of tour buses that took us to the top of the mountains and on to the next site.   
At our own pace we walked up and down green forested trails leading to one natural discovery after another.  Turquoise lakes, powerful waterfalls, brooks that babbled were along the miles of hiking trail.  Never known for my ‘poker face’, I gasped and gaped at the remarkable beauty. I found myself “shooting a prayer” of gratitude and shaking my head at the wonderment and complexity of Creation.  

Planked steps and ramps directed me through scented pine groves that wafted wonderfully.  With eyes closed I imagined myself back in our home state of Michigan with its own wonderment of pine forests, streams and thousands of lakes.  Then shot another prayer for my good fortune to experience two sides of the world.
For the first time in my life I witnessed the Alpine scenery of snow-capped mountain ranges.  The beauty was surreal at times.
With Sharpened Elbows
The park was packed with Chinese tourists equipped with cameras, containers for green tea strapped to their back packs and very sharp elbows.  Our first “China Bus Experience” is worth chatting about.  This may sound like a generalization, but the Chinese people while in a crowd are in the habit of pushing and shoving themselves through doors of passenger trains and buses to assure they’ll be seated.  When a vehicle stops the pushing commences. They want on THAT vehicle.   The first time I saw this was on a city street in Nanjing with day laborers.  The lack of civility amused me but I justified that they had worked all day outdoors and wanted the best seat possible so they could snooze a bit on their trek home.   Perhaps that’s true.  But it is bewildering to me why this happens with city buses, subway trains and yes, this tour bus.   After all, ANOTHER one is about to arrive in just 2-3 minutes, people!
At the park we would pop out on to a clearing, reach the street and began climbing aboard a tour bus.
We joined thundering throngs that came out of nowhere and funneled down to board the bus at each stop.
At one very crowded stop there was pressure and shoving that I can barely describe to you without seething and clenching my jaw at its recollection.   My hand was pinned to a waist high post and my left side was being squashed and challenged.  I pushed back with all my might to avoid a pending rupture and aimed to the right and forward to reach the double-door entry.  Finally, still being pushed, I was up and in.  The seat scrambling commenced.  Like a bad scene from the last moments of the children’s birthday party game of musical chairs,  all three of us landed a seat, this time. The Big Guy’s long legs get squashed in small spaces. More times than not during this trip, he sought the ‘back of the bus’ seat or would hold a bus rail or descending hand grip and swing and sway until the next stop. 
Whoever designed the roads up and down the Juizhaigou mountains had a weird sense of humor.  To say the road was curvy would be an understatement.  We swayed and lost our balance.  With wide eyes and audible groaning Stefanie and I found the most relief by keeping our heads down.  Perhaps the civil engineer got paid extra for each curve and cliff hanger.  Perhaps his family owned the air-sickness bag factory nearby in Chongqing.   I hate him.
Day #2
Day #2 was a glorious sun-shiny day in deep contrast to the day before.  We traveled up the other side of the park and walked down seeing more spectacular sights.  Stopping for lunch on a park bench in the preserved forest was quite the experience.  High altitudes make one thirsty and hungry. (This we discovered at Pike’s Peak in Colorado where the snack bar was getting WAY more action then the gift shop.)  Therefore on Day #2 we came prepared with a unique boxed lunch that we bought at a convenience store the night before.   
This Asian meal came with its own heating system.  A box with a packet of who knows what mystery compound was placed in the bottom of a recyclable box.  Adding the provided packet of water resulted in a chemical reaction that instantly produced steam. It spouted out of the closed lid and within 15 minutes we wolfed down steamed rice, mushrooms and meat pieces.   This attracted the attention of those who passed us on the trail as we watched and awaited our repast.  Trail mates were no doubt hungry too, but their lunch wasn’t destined to be hot (or as superior) as these Westerners and their Chinese friend. 
She was asked several times what we were eating and did it come from the USA? Who are these foreigners and what was she doing with us? We told her she could tell them any wild tale she could come up with.  Instead, Stefanie politely answered each query in a flat tone, but nonetheless answered them.  We rewarded ourselves with a Snickers bar for dessert – the one with protein packed peanuts…
After our hot lunch we were back on the trail headed toward more beauty and bus trips!  It was a remarkable Day # 2 and we were exhausted.
Huanglong (Yellow Dragon) is an additional glorious spot in the Sechuan province.  Another UNESCO site, it is a 5-mile long mountain range with twelve terraced pools and yellow calcified cascading rocks.  It has higher altitudes than Jiuzhaigou.  A Huanglong trip requires an additional Day #3 and oxygen masks.
We pulled out our “I think we’re too old for that, Stefanie,” card.  She had done enough research and had spent two days with Cricket and the Big Guy so she quickly agreed with our assessment.
Both Day #1 and Day #2 included some very colorful evening activities which I will soon blog about.
Stefanie would love to return with friends and visit the gorgeous mountain ranges of both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong.
Upon seeing these photographs I expect we will eventually kick ourselves for not being a decade younger or adding one more day to our long weekend trip to experience Sichuan Province’ other UNESCO site, Huanglong.  There is even more beauty to behold in the expansive land of the Middle Kingdom.
Our China adventure continues…  Thanks for Reading,
Next Post:  Yakkity Yak