AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Jiuzhaigou Tour: Day 1

When we were in Nepal at Annapurna Base Camp we’d met a guy from Alaska and his Chinese wife. We’d been talking to him about the trip and that our next destination was China. He’d said we should visit this national park. He said it was beautiful and amazing and a must see. In Chengdu the hostel we were staying at had tours to the national park so we decided to visit it. The tour was a 3 day tour, although that was a day driving there and a day driving back. The tour was a Chinese tour, meaning no English was spoken, there’d be no English people and it was all Chinese basic meals. Still we were undaunted.

We were picked up from the hostel at 4am by a crazy minivan driver. Ignoring all traffic lights and generally driving as if he was the only vehicle on the road (4am in China and there’s still plenty of cars on the road). We picked up two girls who were dressed for a party in the park! Summer hats with flowers and frilly bits, long flowing skirts, platform shoes or high heels and thin tops. We had walking shoes, walking trousers and proper wicking t-shirts. We looked rather over prepared next to them. With 4 of us in the van and a total of 7 seats we then picked up another 5 people. Luckily it wasn’t far to the bus. We sat on the roadside and waited until 5:15am for the bus to arrive.

On the bus we were the only foreigners. The guide went round and checked everyone was there, he spoke to us saying his English was poor. That was the last time he spoke to us (except once when we asked him what time breakfast would be). He then used the microphone to speak to everyone at 5.30am. Unfortunately, it seems that Chinese people are deaf as the volume was on full and he was talking loud. The volume was ear burstingly loud! My ears hurt from it. Plus it was horrible. The volume was so loud we could hear him smacking his lips together, licking his teeth and swishing his tongue around his mouth. He spoke for over 20 minutes!

We stopped for a toilet break around 8am. Chinese toilets are quite simply the worst I’ve experienced. They absolutely stink and usually have piss soaked floors and troughs filled with shit. Upon entering the toilets the urinal section was quite full so I headed for the troughs. The walls are waist high and looked empty. At the first one I found a guy crouched down taking a dump. I continued, the next stall was the same, and again and again. Awww. I don’t want to see men taking a dump! The funny thing is, almost everyone needed a shit! They didn’t seem to piss, just shit!

At 10am the bus pulled in and a student who spoke some English was able to tell us this was the lunch stop. Oh well, I suppose we’d been up early. The food was basic, rice and a variety of vegetables. It was fine but so plain with no sauce and all the vegetables were overcooked. Everyone on our table tucked in. Most Chinese have the eating habits of children. Mouth wide open, lip smacking, using the tongue to chew. It sounded horrible! I remember when I was growing up that we’d be shouted at if we ate with our mouth’s open. Chopsticks aren’t exactly the best tool for eating rice so the table is covered with bits of food and to make it easier many just put the bowl near their mouth and shovel the food in. A very plain and unpleasant sounding meal, which thankfully was over in 10 minutes. They really eat their food fast.

The journey continued and at 1pm we pulled into a car park. We were lead into a massive shop. It sold the usual snacks, yak meat, drinks, herbs and herbal medicine, etc. The girl told us we were nearly at the first destination, only another 30 minutes. Unsurprisingly we bought nothing in the shop.

A bit further up the road we pulled over again and a woman dressed like a nurse in the ‘Carry On’ films, with a pink dress and a pink hat like the nurses of the 60s and 70s in Britain. She was selling tiny bottles of a drink. Well, actually we were told later that it was medicine for altitude because we’d be walking in a park at 3,500m above sea level. Having spent two months in Nepal at altitude we’d never seen anything like this. There are some tablets which can aid acclimatisation but they need to be started the day before. So here we had a fake nurse selling what is probably a load of rubbish. But people bought it anyway.

The bus made its way over a pass. We estimate the pass reached 4,000m. Not bad considering we’d started the day at 500m! The bus struggled up but coming down the driver just put it in a high gear and rode the brakes all the way down. Every hairpin was taken as fast as the bus could handle and the driver would ram the brakes on just before each bend. An uncomfortable ride! At this point the guide went around everybody collecting money from them. According to our itinerary we were visiting another park first and the cable car price wasn’t included in the tour. This was obviously the money for that. But he didn’t take money from us, he just ignored us.

By 2pm we were at Huanglong. The girl told us what the money was for (she was surprised that we somehow knew about the cable car). We then gave the guide our money. We would get the cable car up and walk back down. She told us that everyone was to meet back at the bus for 5:30pm.

At the top of the cable car it was another 20 minute walk through really nice forest and magnolia trees to reach the top of the park. The view was incredible. Down the hillside was a long line of pools of the deepest blue and turquoise. We had never seen anything like this before! Even in New Zealand at Orakei Korako and Hell’s Gate it didn’t look like this.

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We wandered down taking many photos of the pools. The whole hillside was covered with them. As well as the pools were the waterfalls. Not many of them as May is the end of the dry season and the water level is quite low.

The park is very easy to walk around and designed for people who aren’t used to being out of the city. The walkways were all wide wooden paths, usually elevated off the hillside to keep the path flat and smooth. The steps were shallow. This makes the park accessible to almost any age, from the very young to the very old. It also allows people to dress for a dinner party and still walk the 3km at 3,500m above sea level through thick forest. I like this idea as it makes the park accessible to all, something the UK should make more effort to achieve. But, a more difficult route would be nice too! The route had loads of toilet blocks and many litter pickers. This is because no matter how beautiful the location is the Chinese just can’t help by throw their rubbish on the ground!  Even with hundreds of bins the Chinese will still drop their plastic on the ground.

We must have spent a long time taking photos because as we approached the last of the pools it was turned 5pm. We would have to walk fast to get back to the bus on time. Walking fast was easier said than done as the park was incredibly busy! We rushed and made it back to the bus for 5:40pm. Incredibly we were the first back! It was another half an hour before everyone was back on the bus.

From here we just drove. On and on! The sun set around 8pm and on into the dark we continued. To sleep would have been nice but that was impossible with a bus driver hell bent on maintaining the highest possible speed no matter how many corners and speed humps were in his way! We could doze, but every so often a hole in the road or a very steep corner throwing us out of our seat would wake us up. On top of that his lights weren’t working, only the side lights. He drove 80km down tight hairpins barely being able to see.

The guide got up and gave another impressive 15 minute speech which left our ears in agony. I wish our guide’s spoke with that much detail, but no, it’s just our luck that the only guide who’s ever given plenty of information isn’t speaking our language! We reached a hotel but our translator told us only some were staying here. We were going to another hotel and had to stay on the bus. As we sat and watched half the group leave I saw one of the students sit down with her head in her hands. When her friends came to get her she wouldn’t get up. They had to help her, one on each side, as her head drooped and shoulders slumped. Either an illness or severe exaggeration of tiredness. A strange sight anyway.

At just turned 9pm we reached our hotel. The food was laid out for us quickly. It was the same as lunch. Very bland plain food with very little flavour. But healthy I suppose.

We went straight to bed after eating. It had been a long day. The bed was rock hard, like sleeping on planks of wood. We were so tired it didn’t bother us.

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