The Trek

Trip Start Aug 02, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Thursday, August 17, 2006

After an exhausting week of Teaching Practicum's the group is rewarded with a day long trip to the country. The idea of spending an afternoon playing mahjong, ping-pong, fishing and sipping tea by the lake was absolutely wonderful.
The resort was about a forty-five minute drive outside of Changsha by bus. Being outside of the city made a huge difference. Blue skies, puffy white clouds, the sun. I always took these elements for granted in the states, but they can go absent in the cities here for a disturbingly long time. Needless to say the trip was an excellent change of pace from our hectic schedules in the bustling city and stuffy classrooms.
We arrived at the resort and were given a small tour followed by a simplified lesson on how to play the game of mahjong. Mahjong is an incredibly popular game in China (and most of Asia I believe). Most streets you walk down in China are bound to have at least one game going on in front of a store or apartment. The game involves four players and many thick plastic or ceramic tiles. The object of the game is a lot like the card game rummy. One must collect pairs or runs of tiles in order to win.

After Mahjong 101, Mary-Claire, Hali and I set out in search of a field in which to play a little game of volleyball. After about ten minutes of walking and no field in sight, we decide to walk around the lake. Not long after our decision we came upon a small one-story house off a well-beaten path. Nobody is around, but we heard strange noises coming from an open room so we decided to investigate. Inside the stone walls we found three small divided areas which housed several pigs. One of the pigs was enormous, we assumed it to be the mother, because to it's right were a group of piglets loudly squealing and jumping at the sight of the intruders. We took some pictures and went back onto the trail around the lake.

So we begin our journey by crossing a narrow ledge of earth that divides the lake from a small manmade swamp. I have never seen so many dragonflies; literally thousands are buzzing overhead. After a short walk in the company of seemingly wild chickens we reach another house behind a small embankment of trees. This house was not empty. Several small children are playing outside and I begin to take some pictures. Their mother, who sees me, promptly brings out a few chairs and stools for us to sit on. However we are not really interested in staying long so the kids ended up sitting in the chairs and posing for several awkward family portraits. So after saying goodbye and thanking them (not really sure for what though) we moved on.

Wading through even more wild chickens we arrive at what appears to be the opposite side of the lake. Our fellow volunteers who were still fishing next to the resort have been reduced to nothing more than short sticks of color.

As we pass along the rim of the lake we pass some orchards and a tall, unmarked monolith that strongly resembles a tombstone. In the dirt along the edge of the path is piece of some mammal's lower jaw.

Quite abruptly the trail we were following seemingly dissolves into a thick underbrush. We weigh our options and figure we are already about halfway around the lake so we may as well go for it. We circle around the vegetation in hopes of finding the bank of the lake and another trail. This was our first mistake.
After another ten minutes of walking the paths of least resistance, we reach an arm of the lake that had remained invisible from our previous positions. Now it seemed our only path was to cross the body of water on a narrow strip of raised earth. We had gone too far to turn back now so we pushed ahead. The malleable earth melted under our weight and we only barely made it across without taking a fall into the lake's muddy waters.

Once we had forged the stream we were immediately faced with another problem. There was only a sharp embankment in which to climb, no paths or friendly terrain in sight. So we scaled the embankment and nearly fell into the miniature chasm hidden beneath its slope. With only the vaguest of idea which direction to head in, our trio continued up the small mountain, brushing aside trees and pulling on roots to help our ascent. After finally reaching the 'summit' of our Everest, we were not greeted with what we had hoped. Only a dense, waist-deep carpet of shrubbery and trees stood in our path, or should I say: lack of a path.

Still it was no longer even an option to turn back, we felt the need to press forward. This was our second mistake.
The semi navigable plateau of the mountain quickly erupted with pockets of thorny leaves and pricker-bushes. Our bare legs dragged across them as we blazed a trail towards an unknown destination

A lone house in the distance teased us as we continued wincing with each calculated step. No matter how far we seemed to walk, the house never appeared to get any closer.

Finally we arrive face to face with a dense wall of crowded trees that we soon proved are incapable of penetrating. So we follow the tree line and find several more paths that seem to start and end in a most unpredictable and arbitrary fashion.

Faced with a fork in the path we are down to two options, continuing through the brush, or a descent down an uninviting incline. We split up and agree to meet at the fork with our findings. I quickly find what looks to be a promising path and head back to the meeting spot. Mary-Claire also reported a possible exit. We choose Mary-Claire's path because I'd done a lousy job of leading the group thus far.

After a treacherous yet quick descent we discover yet another arm of the lake and another earthen bridge in which to cross. No discussion needed. We moved on. Across the water we meet what appears to be a genuine trail! It's well used and maintained. Our legs were crying, but our hearts leapt. As we follow the path it slowly grew wider and firmer, until finally it became a full-fledged road.

Taihaole!!! Success at last, the road led directly to the resort where the others were just being summoned to an early dinner. We took our seats among the others and dined like secret explorers.
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