The bus from Shanghai to Huangshan was one of the most uncomfortable road trips I have ever experienced. Because there was no bathroom in the bus, I restrained from drinking anything. I wondered aloud whether we would have bathroom breaks, but nobody seemed to know. I soon found out, however, that we would be taking regular smoke breaks. Thankfully, those stops were often near public bathrooms and were always long enough to get back on time to leave. The breaks were lengthier than normal due to the group of men who also enjoyed eating apples very slowly. Although there was no reason not to eat the apples inside the bus, I did not complain. The time we actually spent on the road was the worst, as I found it impossible to do anything. The movie I had bought on iTunes the night before had never finished downloading, claiming it needed at least a day to complete the process. I could not concentrate on reading or writing or even sleeping because the driver was speaking very loudly to himself. All that was left was listening to music, but even that could not stop the racketing from abusing my brain. We had a long trip ahead of us.
We got to Huangshan about two hours late. Throughout the entire trip I had been pretty sure that the driver was lost and just would not admit it, but our new tour guide, Libby, told us we had been late because the bad weather had prevented us from taking the highway. Still, I insist the driver had no idea where we were going, especially because I recall taking the highway at some point.
黄山 (Huangshan), also known by its literal translation “Yellow Mountain,” is a small village southwest to Shanghai; its most prominent feature is the mountain it was named after. Due to the time of our visit, the mountain was not yellow but brown with peaks coated with white snow. We spent the first night in a hotel in the village. There were no restaurants open at the time we got there so we ate some snacks before taking a shower and heading to bed. We woke up early the next morning and ate a breakfast which we subconciously used to make up for the night before. In addition, we were aware that food would be really expensive where we were going that day, so we figured eating a big breakfast would leave us fuller throughout the day.
We left our suitcases at the hotel and brought only as much as we could fit in our backpacks. Libby told us we wanted it to be as light as possible, but I did not realize just how much I had brought with me until too late. We were driven to the bottom of the mountain where we bought spikes for our shoes (to keep us from slipping) and some snacks. We then took a bus about halfway up the mountain before getting on a cable car that took us all the way to the top. The weather got harsher and colder as we moved up; it got so cold I felt I was freezing. I tried not to look out the windows because I am not good with heights, but, knowing I needed to snap some pictures, I soon got over it. Thankfully, we started hiking soon after we got to the top, and I eventually stopped feeling like a block of ice and began to enjoy the trail.
Everything atop the mountains was covered in white. The views were incredible, making me stop several times along the way to try to capture it. I could see the clouds hovering around the mountains, below where I was standing, and I wondered when I would get to be in such an incredible place again. Although the hike warmed me right up, I was still glad to arrive at the hotel. We checked in then showed ourselves to our room. Once again our room was separate from the rest of the group in order to fit three people. We went up to the fourth floor then walked through a corridor that led us to another building, then went up a flight of stairs in order to reach our room. By the time we left, I was sure we had exercised more by walking back and forth from our room to the lobby than we had hiking.
We did not do much that day, and it was dinner time before we knew it. We had dinner as a group at the hotel restaurant. It was definitely more expensive than other places we had been to, but still within the realm of reason. We eventually headed back to our rooms, but went back to the lobby several times to use the wi-fi. Knowing we had a busy morning the next day, we packed while watching the second Bourne movie and a dating show which we had become slightly addicted to.
Shirley woke me up at 5:30 am because we had decided that was the time we had to get up by if we wanted to watch the sunrise. Obviously, I did not feel like getting up at 5:30, so I told her I was not going and went right back to sleep. However, at 5:55, five minutes before we were supposed to be at the lobby, Shirley mentioned softly that she was leaving. This time, maybe due to the urgency of having only five minutes, I jumped out of bed and got ready to leave. We were running a little late so we hurried out the door and ran downstairs, only to realize we had forgotten to wear the big coats the hotel leaves in the closet to wear when hiking. We were about to head back to the room when we realized that we had not only forgotten the coats, but our room key as well. Our teachers, who were only using one of two coats from each of their rooms, offered us their extra ones, but we were still missing one. Shirley knew I am a bit more susceptible to the cold, so she said her jacket was enough. Though I thought she was crazy at the time, she did not complain even once, so I am inclined to believe her.
The hike was hard, even though it was not really a hike since it was mainly steps. I wish I had counted the number of steps so I could explain exactly how painful it was, but I did not, so you will just have to trust me. If I had to guess, I would say it was about four times as many as the four flights of stairs back at my high school in the US. After the 'hike' I managed to get the best spot there was for pictures, but then had to stand there for about twenty minutes until sunrise. Finally, the sun came up and was greeted by the ooohs and aaahs of every one watching. It was beyond beautiful, beyond spectacular, so incredible that my memory does not do it justice.
When I moved away from my spot to start walking back to the hotel, I realized that my legs were halfway frozen. There were sharp pains striking out as I moved them, which only went away after 30 minutes of walking and heating myself back up. We did not go back to sleep when we got to the hotel, but instead went right to the restaurant where there was a buffet awaiting us. It tasted like glory.
The day warmed up quickly to the point that it was comfortable to hang outside. I wanted to stay there for longer and hike a bit more, but we had to take the cable car down and head to our next destination. I chose the shorter way back because it was the one I had taken to the hotel and because it seemed easier and more manageable; I was totally off. The way to the hotel had been downhill, so I had not noticed just how long it had been. In addition, my muscles were tired from the morning hike. I went up the stops slowly but surely, sometimes stopping because I just could not move my legs anymore. I suspect it was even more steps that in the morning. Eventually, after taking off as many items of clothing as I could and about 30 minutes of continual, upward steps, I finally made it.
Our next stop was the well-know Hongcun Village. It happened to be our tour guide's hometown, so she spoke very passionately about it. We walked around, and I took turns listening to what she said and taking pictures. A little before leaving, Andrew, a fellow bounder, decided to stop and buy a snack. When he ordered, the woman selling the snacks handed me her baby. She looked about 10 days old, and was wrapped in pounds of cloth to keep her warm. When the woman gave Andrew his cookie, I tried to give the baby back, but the woman refused, shaking her head left and right. Eventually, she took him back, but not before I had a mini heart attack. I mean, nobody has ever told me hot to handle a situation like that.
I am inclined to say Huangshan was my favorite stop on the trip. The views were incredible, and I had a lot of fun. I would love to go back once it gets a little warmer. I can only imagine it will be even more fun and beautiful in spring time.