Descend, Descend!

photo-1-3Heading back to Chengdu in dubious style: a car with the driver and me in front, three adults and one baby in the back seat. A sign for Huanglong – I wonder if I will ever make it there.

Random glimpses: Prayer cloths, prayer flags, snow, Moslems, Tibetans, yurts and sad, roadside makeshift tents. Massive elevated road or train track construction, the engineering feats in China are astounding. Goats clinging to hillsides, sad yaks waiting to give tourists rides, and happy yaks grazing in fields. Horses with riders, pulling carts, grazing. Islamic places of worship with the classical ball spires topped with crescent moon, (in China that is what they all seem to have regardless what the actual buildings look like) one pagoda, mountainside dwellings.

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Racks and racks of dried yak meat in Songpan outside nearly every shop, and in the hole in the wall place we stopped at to eat, rampant tourism gimmickry, Chinese flags prevalent again, ancient lookout towers -or so I assume. We were halted to. Bare crawl in a 4000+ metre tunnel, sirens blaring and flashing, along with impatient drivers who seem to think honking horns will make things go faster – it does not. I never did figure out why we were down to one lane.

The whole trip back was relatively quiet, I was not feeling too friendly due to the headache and having to make the decision to leave early.

Final assault on my nerves was being informed the the driver could not take me to my hostel because his license did not allow him to enter city limits. A bit of an argument ensued, a taxi was flagged down, my original driver thrust 100RMB to the taxi driver out of what I had paid to take me to the hostel. I my sweater behind in one of the vehicles. Good thing I was heading south. My headache was gone. Amazing.

Jiuzhaigou

Let me begin by saying I tried very hard to work on a positive spin for this leg of my trip. However, altitude sickness, a not so great hostel, crowds, park buses and rain did rather quash much of the ardour for me. Therefore, first things first, I am fine, it was not fun to start getting a headache at barely 1000m and I had taken the medication to help prevent the effects of higher elevations.

One of the first signs is a headache, no mention of it being like a sinus headache, and the first suggestion is to descend. Not exactly possible when the only foreigner on a bus with a load of holidaying Chinese! I popped an Advil and drank water, the latter is strongly recommended. I still had high hopes. Fortunately I took notes on the way as much of my time there was lost in a fog of headache and eventually nausea.

China has many, many tunnels, I took to putting on my sunglasses, closing my eyes and snoozing every time we entered one. I had my two seats after all and could stretch out to my heart’s content. Our first stop was an instant reminder we were no longer in the city, squat toilets were all we would find until reaching Jiuzhaigou. The level of cleanliness depended on just what kind was available.

Mostly we had open cubicles, just a wall between each person, a trench running below, space for squatting over that and your tissue in hand – always, I mean always, travel with your own tissue. Most of the toilet facilities had keepers to collect 1yuan. At least I can say I can still squat. With so many buses stopping at the same place I had to quickly memorize the plate number. We appeared to be in a convoy with drivers having preselected stops along the way.

Climbing the mountains I saw lovely, low lying pink and purple flowers and scrabble dirt raised pumpkins. How anything grows in that harsh soil is a wonder. There were roadside stands precariously set up where pumpkins, apples (another surprise) and other various produce could be bought. I worried about some of the vendors, they were so close to the windy road, not much space behind them to set anything up. I assume they earn some money during the National Holiday, why else take the risk.

 

My notes mention the first sign of a headache was only 3 1/2 hours into our drive, I wondered if maybe I was hungry but also noted I would have to keep aware things. I ate something. I believe that helped somewhat although it was not until I eventually took the second dose, several hours later, of the medication, that I had any real relief and the headache never completely left the whole time I was in Jiuzhaigou.

More lovely vistas, hard to take photos when moving, rushing, foam green rivers, bare hills, huge wood piles -ergo the bare hills? Some of these piles of wood were works of art in how they were piled. Intricate log cabin style, haystacks piles, also just dumped piles. All for burning when winter sets in. None of the cords of wood we find in Canada, all neatly cut and stacked, these were knobbly logs, branches of all sorts of lengths and thicknesses.

As we entered the valley, some headache relief, we also started the extremely windy road. When you are told to put on your seatbelt in China you listen. People do not make it a practice here. All I could think was were going for a ride! And we did. Twelve hours after leaving Chengdu we arrived, were unceremoniously dumped off and all a little dazed. Most of the passengers disappeared into the most of the night, it was also lightly raining, we did not appear to be at an actual bus station where I could arrange for my return ticket but I set of with purpose in steps and only a slight headache.

Quickly thwarted by a lack of anything open and too many drivers wanting to swoop me off to whichever place I desired. What I desired was a means to figure out how to get there. I returned to the bus, the bus driver was just leaving, discovered I could not do my ticket until the next day and he called the hostel for me, ascertained they were expecting me and waved me off to one of the waiting drivers. I was not pleased with the gouging but at last ensconced in a vehicle, the driver having received instructions and we were on our way – for 100CNY.

 

Checked in, talked to someone on the phone about altitude sickness, ascertained I could go to the hospital if things got worse but by morning things usually clear up. The main issue would be if my breathing became difficult. I was fine. Another half a pill, headache still there but manageable until a few hours later. I just learned the pattern, took something then my evening pill. I was up for a 6:30 taxi, except I thought it was for 6:00. That gave me time to meet one friendly young man, found out later he is 23, who offered to do the park with me because he too was travelling solo.

Jiuzhaigou: ‘Nine Village Valley’, in the Min Mountain Range in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province. 72,000 hectares. “The superb landscapes of Jiuzhai Valley are particularly interesting for their narrow conic karst land forms and spectacular waterfalls and lakes. There are over 220 bird species found in Jiuzhai Valley as well as a number of endangered plant and animal species, including the giant panda, Sichuan golden monkey and the Sichuan takin.” (From the Park site)

The highest elevation I went to, at the Ancient Forest, was just shy of 3000m. Quite high enough for me! A lot of the park is not accessible, there are buses to take people to specific areas for walking along to picked up at a spot further along. It is impossible to walk the whole park and no one is allowed to remain overnight. I believe it is possible to visit some of the villages but this was not offered when I was there, possibly due to the sheer number of visitors in only a week.

A maximum 50,000 people per day are allowed in the park. That is more than three times the population of where I recently lived! I calculated the income from one week, approximately $22,000,000, that is Canadian dollars. A massive boost to the economy of the area if that is any indication.

 

 

My new, young friend, did indeed remain with me the whole morning and into the early afternoon when I finally had to say I was tired. He went on to Long Beach, I must admit I was intrigued. However, rain all morning, so many people and the headache told me to not push my limits. Besides, I was also saturated with visions of trees, waterfalls and lakes. All of which I could just as easily see at home! I can now cross this off my list, never to return.

Back to my hostel I went in search of sustenance. Found some excellent food to warm me up and make me feel nearly normal again. The young woman there was so happy to use her English too. One place I would have loved to visit was a small place of worship, strung with prayer flags up the mountain. It was not to be as I had made the decision to leave the next morning – my health being of utmost importance. A car was booked.

Tips:

  • take the medicine for altitude sickness
  • Be ready to pay far too much money for everything – the park is what draws the tourists and I doubt there is much else for the economy
  • Avoid holiday periods

Money:

I overspent about 200CAD, definitely displeased. However, these things happen