Sunday July 18
This morning we got up even earlier for our trip to Emei Shan. We put all our stuff together and shoved it in the van. Turned out to be the same driver we had for the pandas the day before. The drive was about 2.5 hours. On the way there we decided that we would hike around the lower part of the mountain during the day, and try to find a monastery to stay in overnight. The driver didn’t understand our plan and he was trying to be helpful by getting us a room at a hotel at the base. We tried to tell him no, but there was a serious language barrier. We called Chris and tried having him explain. I guess the driver didn’t like that and kept insisting that a room on the mountain would cost 1000RMB. He called the girls at Sam’s and we got it all sorted out with their help. We decided to meet him back at the hotel at 12pm the next day.
We ventured forth and bought bus tickets to about halfway up the mountain. I was getting frustrated again because everything was taking so long and I just wanted to get going. Finally, we got our tickets and found our bus and were on our way. We got off at Wunnain, about halfway up, and had lunch there. The Ma Po Tofu we ordered had a meaty sauce, and I forgot that Dan had a slip of paper that the girls at Sam’s had written “One of us doesn’t eat meat” on. So basically I ate cucumbers for lunch, after which I bought and ate a bunch of cookies.
Then we bought tickets for the cable car and for our entrance to the park. We rode the cable car up, which was really a gondola, and cut out a good deal of stair- climbing. At the top a bunch of kids were selling fans that I guess they make out of ferns and leaves from the forest. The whole mountain was very jungly, lots of fauna. I waited while Dan went to the bathroom. While I was waiting, one of the girls tried selling me her fans, but then just started trying out her English. She was cute. I tried asking if she made the fans she was selling, and her answer was “suureee…” which leads me to believe that she did not. Finally everyone was ready to go, so we put our packs on and started hiking.
We came to a monastery, but it cost money to go inside, so we kept going. All along the way there were vendors selling such items as : bamboo walking sticks, fern fans, some kind of mystery fruit, random jewelry, corn on the cob, dried fungus looking things, tea, stuffed monkeys, food for feeding the monkeys, etc… None of which was purchased by foreigners such as ourselves, who I think are considered easy targets. Many Chinese tourists however, were making such purchases. The sticks were especially hot items, which we later found out the importance of. Also notable, all over there were porters with chairs which you could sit in and 2 porters would carry on their shoulders. This service was not widely used, but when it was it was primarily young, overweight men. Typical. They are known as “Little Emperors” because of the one-child law. Young men grow up spoiled too often.
The pathways were overwhelmingly crowded. There were so many people, narrow sidewalks, and many tourists walking slowly. It got very frustrating, especially since we were carrying our big packs all day. It was a beautiful place with clear streams and green lush trees and rocky cliffs, but so much was taken away from it because of the overcrowding and trash and cheesy vendors. It was pretty but I think I focused more on the annoying factors than on the nice ones. We did a lot of stairs. We got to another temple that we could go inside of, but similar story, it was overcrowded and there wasn’t much to see. We kept going, our one goal was to see the monkeys and we had decided to turn around at 3:30 to catch the last bus to the summit.
Finally, we came around a corner and saw a monkey! He was just hanging out on a fence post, completely unphased by all of the people staring at him. Actually, I think he was scoping out the situation, looking for unsuspecting prey. His first victim was a little girl with a bottle of juice in her hand. He swung down off the rail and jumped up on her, stealing the juice and tearing her shirt. Pretty vicious. I would have been terrified if I had been that little girl. Next a woman walked by with 2 plastic bags. He swiped them. She squealed and ran off, leaving the bags to the monkeys. Those have to be the most well-fed monkeys in the world! There were signs everywhere saying that the monkeys were aggressive and to get rid of or secure all of you food, so I don’t understand why these people were walking around with open containers and plastic bags. We walked past the monkey unscathed, all of our valuables safely stowed away.
Next we came upon a bridge that you walk across in the middle of monkey country. The guy ahead of us stopped to pose for a photo with a monkey, and the monkey went straight for his pockets. He pulled out what appeared to be a digital camera, declared it inedible, and dropped it off the bridge. In an effort to protect the belongings in his pockets, Dan stuck his hands down there, which the monkeys seemed to think meant that he had goodies he was about to pull out for them. He attracted a lot of attention, and one jumped up onto the top of his pack. There were monkeys all over the place! We crossed back across on another bridge and the other side seemed a bit safer. All over, women were enticing monkeys onto people’s shoulders with food, to pose for photos, and then charge a monkey-photo fee. There was all kinds of sidewalk that we wanted to get to, but seemed closed off. Then we realized maybe it was because there were some moms with baby monkeys over there. We watched the babies play for a while, then a few adult monkeys started coming across the bridge toward us, lured by the woman with a peach, trying to charge some people for photos. 2 monkeys came across, and one started humping the other. Ah the joys of monkey love. One of the people with a big stick scared them apart. Now we know the importance of all those bamboo sticks for sale! We kept going up a fairly untraveled trail that ended up at of all places… a bathroom. We took advantage, took a little break, and decided it was time to head back to the bus. We went back on the opposite side of the stream from where we had been before, avoiding the monkey bridge, and a handful of tourists.
There was a spot where a stick lady was keeping a close eye on a few monkeys, one of them walked up and tried to climb my leg. I just shook him off and kept going. Then he saw Dan with his hands in his pockets and went for it. He leapt at his leg, trying to bite. Dan shook him off. The second time he wasn’t so lucky, and the monkey bit and broke the skin on his calf. Whoa. The lady with the stick was getting upset, I think she thought we were provoking the monkeys, but we weren’t. Dan finally got past the angry monkey, but then he was all agitated and Brady and Kara didn’t want to pass. They had to though, and made it past without getting a bite. We had to stop and clean Dan’s wound, which drew a lot of attention. Then we pretty much booked it out of there.
It started raining harder and all the tourists had their umbrellas up, making it even harder to get through. Passing people sort of ended up being like a game. We came out at the bus station, got our tickets, and had a few minutes to spare, the bus wouldn’t come until 5:20. Well 5:20 came and went and we started freaking out that we had missed the bus because we couldn’t tell which one it was. Turns out we were the only ones from that station who wanted to go to the top. A nice change of pace, to be the only ones. Guess the bus was just running late, because the driver came and collected us and then sped up the curvy mountain streets at breakneck speeds, giving all of us pretty severe car sickness. Dan was worried he’d gotten rabies or something from his monkey bite. It was definitely a relief to get off the bus and breathe the cold air.
It was raining, so we stepped inside a hotel to get our jackets and warmer clothes out. As soon as we did a little Chinese woman started trying to get us to stay at their crazy expensive hotel, saying that the monastery was full, there were no more rooms anywhere else, and if we left the rooms they still had would be gone. We decided she was probably lying to us to get us to stay there, so we would risk it and try our luck further up. We got to the monastery pretty quickly (she had said it would take us an hour). We walked around not really seeing any place to get a room. We started doing some sleeping pantomime and someone got us to a sign that said “accommodations”. But the woman there shook her head at us implying they were full. What a conundrum. We could either take our chances going back to the town and seeing if the expensive hotel still had rooms, or we could keep going up and see where we end up. Out of pride, or want to be farther up the mountain for sunrise, we kept going.
On the map it didn’t look too far to where the next monastery might be. We started up. There were so many stairs, endless stairs. Kara was getting tired because the leg she had surgery on was still weak. Dan and I got a bit ahead and came across a snack stand that was still open. There were a bunch of people there so we asked if anyone spoke English. One girl did a little, so we asked her about a place to stay. She said if we kept going about half an hour we would get to Tai Zi Ping where there still might be rooms. This was actually fairly encouraging. But half an hour of endless stairs when it’s starting to get dark is quite grueling. No one complained or said anything but we found out later we were all having visions of us sleeping in a vendor stand. That would have been cold, wet and miserable. Brady and Kara stopped to transfer gear and Dan and I decided to go ahead and get rooms squared away.
Not too far up ahead we came to a monastery that had to be Tai Zi Ping. A man started pantomiming sleep to us, but we wanted to see if there were rooms in the monastery itself. As we walked up the path to the temple, a rainbow appeared, it was quite beautiful and lasted only a minute. I think it was a sign. It was dusk and just getting dark, and we peeked in the temple, which smelled like incense and had hundreds of candles lit. It was gorgeous. One of the prettiest things I’ve seen in China, and made even more special by the lack of tourists and recent rainbow. It just seemed more legitimate, actually everyday and real. There didn’t seem to be any rooms to rent in the monastery, so we went back to the first place and got a room for 4 for 200RMB. Much better than at the town, but very very basic. The room had one window with no curtain, and 4 beds. That was all. There was one bathroom and one sink, no shower, to be shared by all of the guests, which was probably not more than 20 including the people who I think lived there.
Brady and Kara showed up pretty soon after that, followed by the family we had met at the snack hut, they were staying there too. Everyone was relieved to be safe inside. We put on our dry clothes and jackets and ate warm bowls of noodles. Then we felt much better. We filled a tub with hot water and washed our feet, which also felt nice. Our Chacos are getting a bit grungy! Ah, so much more relaxed knowing we would not be sleeping in a snack shack for the night! We decided to go to sleep early so we could get up early to see the sun rise from the top of the mountain. I guess it was probably about 11 though by the time we were settled. We decided we would get up at 5, leave our packs in the room and hike up for the sunrise at the summit.