Chengdu to Emei Shan
Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
74Trip End Jun 27, 2008
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The Teddy Bear Hostel
The Bus Journey:
We're getting a bit good at finding our way around now. Walking confidently into the bus station without a clue as to how to get to the next destination, we head towards what looks like a ticket desk. Armed with the flyer that has a very basic map of the bus station we wish to get to, we hold up two fingers and point to the afore mentioned map. The ticket lady looks confused and questions us....in Chinese of course. We point to the leaflet again in the hope that somehow it would all become clearer than the first time we pointed at it. Ah alas not. Another person becomes involved, and after what seems like an eternity of exchanges between the two women in Chinese the ticket woman smiles and asks for 70yuan. She says "seven, seven" and gestures to the left. So with tickets in hand off we trot. Pat visits THE worst toilets in the world .... his words "That was vomit inducing!" Nice then? We show our tickets at number 7 and are promptly ushered on to the bus. Amidst stares and giggles (due to being the only westerners on the bus) the bus departed early, bonus. We hadn't even got our earphones in when a sudden movement came on the back of our chairs. Turning to see the commotion we were greeted with three inquisitive smile drenched faces eager to find out what we were. On finding out we were English the bus filled with a chorus of gasps, oohhs and aarrrs in awe of the fact we were all the way from En-ger-land!
The rest of the journey was filled with the exchange of music (none other than Hank Williams, which was very well received), emails, food and flicking through the Mandarin phrase book on both camps to try and make ourselves understood. Luckily for us this family were bound for the same destination and it wasn't the final stop on the bus. After stopping in what resembled nothing like a bus station the family said we were there, we had reached our destination, (lucky stroke number 1). We jumped off the bus and was rescued rather promptly by a taxi in shining bodywork from the baying touts eager to part us from our money at the bus station.
We check in to the Teddy Bear and settle in for the night. Dinner is in the form of the Teddy Bear Burger hhmmmmmm. After a restful night on our king size bed in our room complete with en-suite bathroom, air-con and flat screen TV, for £8 per night, (its tough in this developing country) we decide to venture out. The map we have has what looks like a short route so we decide to test the water. Steps upon steps. It takes us 5 hours of hard uphill stepping struggle to get to the bus station to catch the bus back. This we thought would have been a doddle.......not so.
Back to the hostel, and whilst discussing our route for the next day, a young lonely gent is wandering about trying to find a seat to enjoy his tea. There is one seat at our table which we have hijacked from another couple who are sitting uncomfortably across from us... do we smell? Nic waves the unfortunate man over. This is to be lucky stroke number 2. He is called Jimmy and from America and more importantly he has a plan! Which is more than we have.......we decide to form an alliance and leave the next morning at 7am prompt. A bit of a shock to the system as we haven't been rising till at least 11am!
To the mountain
The first view from the bus window of the mountain is breathtaking, it's a clear day, which is rare, and we can see the top of the mountain we are about to climb and more importantly the Golden Temple twinkling in the very faint distance.
There are many stalls along the way all selling drinks, noodles and fried birds with their heads still on...hmmmm pass me five I'm starving!!! Our journey is filled with greetings and well wishes from people that we pass. One couple that we encounter are on their way down and show us the video they captured of the sunrise that very morning. This spurns us on and they tell us it is only 3-4 hours to the top (yeh if you have a flying elephant). We have only been walking around 2-3 hours by this point. Jimmy says we are on track as he has calculated it should take 6 hours to reach the top. (I don't think he had calculated lugging two dawdlers, who want to take pictures of every bug, squashed or alive and every view of every corner we turn, but he is tolerant and the conversation helps pass the time). Jimmy has a GPRS which he is using to calculate the trip in miles and height. Very useful.
5 hours in, we reach a temple (still no sign of the monkeys) and Pat starts to have doubts about his ability to go all the way. (silly boy) Its at this point that we meet our saviours, Marcy and Johnny. We instantly hit it off and the alliance of three now becomes five. Marcy and Johnny were at the same mental point we were at and we needed each other. A beautiful thing happened, we became a team and the journey turned a new emotional corner which now had a bounce in its step. Pat forgot his momentary doubt.
The next temple is in the form of The Elephant Bathing Pool. We didn't see any elephants but here was our first sighting of the monkeys. Wow. These are seriously misunderstood animals. They are so gentle and caring and yet are forced to perform and react to the people around who have no understanding or respect. Firstly we are visiting their home, so act as you would in anyones home as a guest; respect their privacy and don't outstay your welcome. Secondly these animals are naturally inquisitive, so they are going to see who this strange person is that has come into their home so don't give them cause to be afraid. Thirdly if you act with aggression you will receive it back (more about this later)
Onwards and upwards, we toil away at endless steps not daring to look up for fear of how steep the next set of steps are and how their very being will try and crush our spirits with their oppressive height bearing down on us. It became a battle between us and the mountain. We began to encounter men with uncomfortable wooden racks strapped to their backs carrying all manner of very heavy looking loads or just with bags of sand on their shoulders used to rest metal reinforcing rods.
The surprising thing was that many of them only had flip flops on and were racing up and down the mountain (god they are fit). The funny thing was when we saw the odd one taking a break they would promptly take out a small rag and from it a brown leaf, which they split in two, broke one half into small pieces and then wrap it in the second half, place it to their lips and light it. As we passed we could smell the distinct aroma of cigar.
After what seems like forever and daylight fading we reach a retreat of hotels, restaurants and the bus station. We have however missed the last bus down so we don't have the option to wuss out. We ask a local who is keen to get us to stay in his hotel / eat in his restaurant, who tells us we are 2 hours away from the summit, there are no hotels up there and we have missed the last cable car at 6pm. The time is 5:55pm. We make a group decision that he is lying and we all want to attempt to reach the top. After 20 minutes we reach the bottom of the cable car steps...Johnny can go no further and slumps to the floor, Nic feels the same and the group begins to discuss the prospect of finding the nice man with the hotels and making the 2 hour journey in the morning. To our left are two Chinese women who look like they are in the same situation as us and have a look of desperation on their faces. Here comes lucky stroke number 3. From a window aloft a Chinese man shouts to the two women at the bottom and they promptly start running up the stairs. Suddenly it seems we are all fluent in Chinese and believe there is another cable car. We draw up every last ounce of energy that is left in our weak and wobbling bodies and sprint up the stairs, unbelievably we manage to reach the top, Nic is nearly sick and every one else feels the serious burn in the thighs. We were right to not believe the man trying to sell us his hotel.....the last cable car was at 6:30pm and we are frantically buying tickets in a flurry of money at 6:27pm!!!!! The cable car was not an experience that Nic relished but it meant that we were moving and it didn't involve energy or steps.
Off the cable car and we all feel a new found euphoria, turning a corner our sore bodies and eyes are met with a holy sight in the form of a 3 star hotel.
Ahhh the sanctuary
We promptly haggle the price down to 800 Yuan from 1000 Yuan. between five of us. Jimmy the maths wizard instantly tells us that that equates to 160 Yuan each.... we are all just struggling to remember our names! It had taken us 10 hours to get to this point.
In to the showers which are hot and there are clean towels, toothpaste and a hairdryer!!!!, Nic is almost in a frenzie at the prospect of being able to use something she has been without for what seems like years. She resists, as the need for food is more urgent than the need for dry and beautifully shaped hair. (my god what has happened to her?)
We fill our bellies with delicious food and head off for an early night.............or so we thought. Pat and Nic lay awake with our minds and hearts racing......unfortunately, we are reliably told by Marcy at 5am the next morning that this is an effect of altitude sickness....great!!! Striding out with an hour of climbing ahead we set off in the fog and rain filled darkness. We are OK though as Pat has brought his trusty head torch. Stumbling clumsily we trip up many stairs until six minutes later we reach a wall. The signs for the Golden summit seem to have disappeared and Pat asks the question "is there an elephant around here? can anyone see it?" Another sign tells us that we have reached the best viewing platform to see the sunrise and the group decides in the cold damp nose nipping darkness to take this option as a safe bet and to walk to the summit when it gets light. As the light begins to defuse through the clouds and mist, shapes in the distance begin to lend themselves to temple looking buildings.
After about an hour in the cold and being able to see only close things around us, we decided that we were not destined to see the sunrise as it was too cloudy and foggy. Just as we were debating another hour or two in bed we heard a spine tingling cheer rise up from the balcony of the golden temple to our left as we turned our view from the appreciative crowd almost in slow motion....."there, it's there" the very tip of the sun was now in view......then, silence as for the next two and a half minutes the sun gracefully rose from a bed of soft hazy clouds to appear at us for a fleeting moment before disappearing upwards into them.
The journey back
Turning to head back we notice quite abruptly round about where Pat asked the question "is there an elephant around here? can anyone see it?" was the biggest elephant statue you have ever seen!!!!
We can't believe it!! We were at the summit the whole time and it only took us 7 minutes to get there NOT an hour. Suddenly we are mobbed by hundreds of Chinese eager to have their photos taken with the token westerners. We've heard of famous for five minutes but this was ridiculous!!! God knows how many photo albums we are now in. After shaking off the admirers we look around and take in more of the limited views before heading back down to breakfast where the man tried to tell us lies the previous day. After a belly full of noodles topped with a fried egg we walk Jimmy to the bus stop as he is leaving today and needs to make his connection. Little did we know that he had calculated based on his insider information through the power of GPRS, how long it would take based on our (Pat, Nic, Marcy and Johnny) fitness and speed...hmmm
On the way back down we chose to take an alternative route to the one we came up!!! This was to be fatal mistake number 1! This was not only arduous but much much much longer. The endless pressure of our bodies compounding our knees with every step ended in Nic and Marcy's knees giving in. Men running past offering to carry us for money became all the more appealing but the urge to achieve the journey under our own steam became prevalent in our minds and we slogged on. We encountered some pilgrims, they were wearing sweat bands on their heads, knee pads, shorts and a vest and fingerless leather gloves. They took three steps and then knelt in a praying motion, stood up took three more steps and repeated. They did this to the summit!
After asking a few locals where we were on the map it became apparent that we were still a long way from home and we only had a few hours of daylight left and we had just passed the last hostel / monastery. The pace was geared up and the pain barrier was crashed through many times. On reaching the last stretch the heavens opened and we were now not just in pain but very wet. But onwards we must go. The very welcome sight of the bus station was found with 10 minutes of daylight to spare. It was 7:50pm and the last bus was at 6:00pm.........Lucky stroke number 4; a young man and a lady stood unassuming in the rain and offered to take us back to the hostel for the same price as the bus...we agreed instantly. In the distance there was one lowly bus, perhaps this man was a bus driver doing some moonlighting and hanging around for the last stragglers from the mountain. This was not to be the case. Instead he led us to a brand new 4 x 4 with full leather interior. Imagine our delight. We flung open the doors and were about to slump our soggy pain filled grotty bodies into his beautifully clean and well maintained car when......"no stop" the driver held up his hand to Pat, reached into his glove box pulled out a cloth and proceeded to wipe down his seat ready to receive Pat. Unbelievable.
The mountain, although we had briefly touched upon its many stories, had taught us a few things.
On reaching the hostel, hunched over like an elderly person in desperate need for the toilet we hobbled into the restaurant and became a sight of much amusement for the other guests who were all warm, dry, clean and had eaten. It was here we met a group of four New Zealanders, Victoria, Murriam, Claire and Justin, who we instantly struck up a rapport with and are hoping to catch up with in Vietnam in September as well as attend Claire and Justin's wedding in February in NZ.
Where I stayed