After sleeping in and eating a nice breakfast, Nate and I said goodbye to Emma, and I was forced into an awkward goodbye with the tea-shop man who waved at me from his balcony… and we continuted down the road to the bus station where we boarded the 1:30 bus to Jiuzhaigou. A few hours later we started to approach the windy road that leads up to Jiuzhaigou.
Jiuzhaigou the town is not what I was expecting. It is literally just one main road littered with hotels. There can’t possibly be even half the ammount of tourists needed to fill the hotels! Nate and I had absolutely no idea where to get off to find our hostel, but we were eventually kicked off the bus near the park entrance- well that works… we found a cab driver that was willing to take us to our hostel (apparently we were about 15 minutes away driving back the way we came. Whoops).
The cab driver didn’t really know where our hostel was, but after much trial and error we found a little area off the main road that was full of small Tibetan-style, painted hostels. We eventually found ours and were lead up to a balcony with our room. It was very basic- two beds and a nightstand, but the walls were painted with Tibetan designs and scenes of waterfalls and pandas. We had a double door wooden entrance that locked with a padlock, which was kind of entertaining. The only problem with our hostel was that the “bathroom” was down the stairs and across the parking lot. This “bathroom” was basically an outhouse with a male and female squatty potty- no toilet paper or soap of course… and no sink. The showers were in a separate outhouse. Let’s just say we opted not to take showers.
We had the afternoon to kill, as well as wifi in the room, so Nate watched Game of Thrones, and I checked my email, facebook etc. etc. and then eventually stole Nate’s kindle to read the second Hunger Games book. I’m addicted, it’s a problem. Our peace was short lived, however, because about an hour into our relaxation time, a Chinese girl barged into our room to “chat”. We had left the door open because there were no windows, and this girl decided she wanted to make some foreign friends. She was applying to work at a hostel over the summer to make money for school (she had just finished high school). The problem was that she A) only spoke Chinese, and B) was horrible at contributing to the conversation. This girl sat on my bed and literally just waited for me to ask her questions. She answered them happily, but when she finished her explanation, we sat there in awkward silence until I either offered something about myself or asked her another question. It was so awkward. Nate was absolutely no help. He messed around on facebook not contributing to the conversation at all. I plead to him for help in English, but he kept saying “I literally have nothing left to ask this girl”. I ended up pulling random questions out of nowhere for her because we couldn’t get a real conversation going. Eventually I told her I had to go to the bathroom, and she and Nate ended up exchanging QQ’s (a Chinese chat network), which I think is what she was waiting for. I made fun of Nate, telling him she was just here for him- which I’m sure was partially true.
She eventually left, and we were free to continue our relaxation undisturbed. That is… until my stomach started acting up. Squatty potties are literally the worst in combination with stomach issues, and I’m pretty sure the neighbors thought I was a little weird, constantly going up and down the stairs. I took the last of my hard-core American prescription medicine, and slept for a few hours. Neither of us were in the mood for dinner- still recovering, so I read and Nate watched people kill each other with swords. Eventually around 10 we were both starving… but there was nowhere to go for food so we sucked it up. We wanted to get to Jiuzhaigou right at opening anyway, because the group that went over spring break told us that they spent the entire day there and still didn’t get to see everything. We went to bed early, ready to wake up and see the gloriousness that is Jiuzhaigou.
That next morning we forced ourselves out of bed, basically wearing the same disgusting clothes that we had worn for the last week because it was too cold to wear anything else. We smelled great… and looked fabulous. We grabbed a cab to Jiuzhaigou, which was about 10-15 minutes away. At Jiuzhaigou, we bought little breads stuffed with onion for breakfast and bought our tickets. I got mine for almost half price because I had an international student card (thanks mom), but I’m pretty sure a valid American school ID would probably work too. We then boarded the bus and took it all the way to the top, passing by waterfalls and brilliant lakes. The bus takes you all the way to the top, a view of mountain peaks as well as Chinese girls paying to dress up in minority clothing- which I opted not to do, even though I was accosted about 20 times.
Now there were two options to get down: a bus or walking. Nate wanted to walk and I was terrified of another repeat of Emei Shan. The way it works is that a bus drives down from the top and stops at different scenic locations on the way down. After you’re finished looking around, you can wait for the next bus to take you down to the next stop. After much discussion and a little heated arguing, we decided that we would test out the trail and hope it lead to the next bus stop. A little trial and error never hurt anyone right? Actually wrong, but nothing could be worse than that 10 hour climb down Emei Shan right? The only thing that was worrying me was that Tiffany from the Beijing program had told me they spent the whole day at the park, took the bus to every stop and still didn’t get to see everything. But we decided to walk anyway because we knew that unlike Emei Shan, there were tons of bus stops on the way down Jiuzhaigou- plus Jiuzhaigou is not that steep at all. We walked along a little wooden path past crystal clear streams and little waterfalls amongst a forest that seemed to be growing out of the water. Finally, after roughly 2km (I really can’t remember but it was roughly flat and a nice walk) we came upon a giant, crystal-clear lake.
Now the thing about Jiuzhaigou is that it is famous for its crystal-clear water. Not only is the water so clear that you can see all the way down to the bottom of the lake, everything is reflected in the water like a mirror: the clouds, mountains and trees. The trees are the most beautiful though, because the green trees reflected in the blue-ish clear water make a beautiful teal-turquoise color. The sky blue and the tree blue are all different shades and each lake is different! We spent the whole day hiking from lake to lake, taking the bus only when it was too far to walk. It was like our own little beautiful paradise… except when we ran into hordes of Chinese tourists. The nice thing though, is that the tour groups take the bus and only visit the main locations, so they’re easy enough to avoid except at the most popular locations. One of these locations was a few km of waterfalls everywhere! It was hard to get a good picture though because middle aged Chinese people would literally run to be in the next picture. Eventually, at one point we came upon a hill that was literally one giant waterfall. The water ran down a hill and under our wooden bridge that took us across. There were even full-sized plants and stones in the way, but this rocky hill was the start of a giant wall of waterfalls that cascaded down to a river below. It was just as impressive as all of the clear lakes! (Although I don’t think that anything can ever be as beautiful as those lakes).
There was only one point in the day where Nate and I should have taken the bus… we were walking and walking and walking… and rarely ever would we run into people. We also got attacked by weird flying beetle-like bugs that wouldn’t leave us alone (Nate’s swings at the bugs with his abnormally long arms were very comical), there was one point where one flew down my shirt, and I have to admit I freaked out a little about that one. But overall Jiuzhaigou was an amazing experience and we saw everything we needed to see and didn’t feel rushed at all… aka we did not need to wake up at the crack of dawn to get there right as the park opened. Whoops. We even got to wander around a small, Tibetan-style shopping village, which was cool.
Late afternoon, Nate and I took a cab back to our hostel where we rested for a bit, and then decided to try and find a restaurant nearby. We had seen a little Tibetan place as we drove back to our hostel so we set out to try and find it. The restaurant was fairly easy to find and very interesting. Nate and I ordered some dumplings and yak pizza. Yes, yak pizza. Basically yak and peppers on fluffy nan bread, shaped and cut like a pizza. It was awesome. There were also two other groups of waiguos there (If I haven’t explained this, waiguo ren means foreign people in Chinese, waiguos is my own special Chinglish). The owner of the restaurant was extremely entertaining. He didn’t speak any Mandarin and mainly pointed at things and made jokes about the two of us. There was about 12 people total working in the restaurant (basically an entire extended family helping out in a restaurant with roughly 6 tables). One of his sons (?) kept asking us if we liked the yak, which would be fine except there was definitely an underlying sexual innuendo in his question- and he asked us about the yak three or four times. I never quite figured out what the joke was, but it was apparently extremely funny to everyone else. Throughout the meal the boss would look to Nate, then motion to me and give him a thumbs up, while a 12 year old tried to practice her mandarin with us. Overall, it was a good meal and it was very entertaining… even if it was all at our expense.
The next morning Nate and I woke up at 5 to head to the airport. My fight wasn’t until later but Nate wanted to get to the airport almost two hours early. We were told it would take a little over an hour and a half to get to the airport but Nate wanted to give us two hours- aka we were leaving at 5:15 to get to the airport for Nate’s 9:20 flight. My flight wasn’t until almost 11. We had found a cab willing to take us the night before, so we met him in our parking lot around 5:15. It was freezing cold, and it took him a minute to start the car up- so much for summer. I slept for a decent part of the cab ride, the other half I was wishing I had some sort of coffee or tea or something. The road to the airport was mostly empty, except for a good five minutes in which we were stuck behind a Tibetan woman and her flock of sheep on the highway.
Eventually we got to the airport ridiculously early. We weren’t allowed to check in until an hour before the flight was scheduled to leave, so Nate and I made some friends with a few waiguos who not only wanted to come to the airport super early, but also thought their plane was two hours earlier than it actually was. It was freezing in the airport with no heat, and I was really looking forward to buying a coffee when the coffee stand opened BUT I soon learned that coffee was 80 kuai. That is roughly $12. WHAT?! Who would ever buy a cup of $12 coffee? I wasn’t that desperate so I grabbed my sweatshirt and curled myself into a ball, waiting for my opportunity to check in. When it was time for Nate to go, we gave each other a brief (somewhat awkward) hug goobye- nowhere near the tragic “I’ll miss you sooooo muuuch” goodbyes in Beijing. I think we were both a little excited to go to our cities, and a little glad to have a few other people to talk to.
FINALLY it was my turn to go through security. I bought an overpriced packaged instant milk tea and filled it up at the communal hot water dispenser. The milk tea kept my hands warm and I kept myself occupied by going though my photos from the day before and listening to my ipod. Overall, Jiuzhaigou was the perfect last stop to an amazing two week trip. Even though we had a few bumps along the way, Nate and I are two 21- year-olds with no money and no idea what we were doing. With the advice of Lonely Planet and a few friends, I think I did a pretty good job planning everything out! This trip was the first big trip that I actually planned. “Planned” as in: decided a rout, planned how to get from each city to the next, picked out hostels, made a list of activities: etc. etc. While Nate did help a lot with deciding how many days to stay in each place, I am very proud of the work I put into planning this trip and how it turned out. While there’s a few things I would’ve done differently (Emei Shan cough cough), I had an amazing experience overall. In retrospect, every hiccup is a funny story, and if I didn’t make mistakes, none of you would be entertained.
So now I’m off to Xi’an. A little nervous about the other three members of the “fantastic four” (yes, there are only four people on my program), but four people will seem like a lot compared to just Nate right? Besides, we all have Chinese roommates so unless they’re completely anti-social, I’ll have some Chinese friends too. Let’s just hope I can find everyone at the airport.