Today’s travel blog is written by Dad (John) with comments by Maria [in brackets]. Note: Maria is also writing a bonus blog, in honor of her 5-month anniversary!
Our tour guide (Maria) finally failed us today. First, she failed to ensure a timely departure – failing to set her phone alarm and failing to remind me to set my alarm – so we overslept till 0800 instead of getting up at 0630. Since our hotel room rate only included two free breakfasts, Cis (who is known by many as “St. Rita, the Martyr”) sent Maria and I down to breakfast while she stayed behind to shower and pack up. The breakfast was excellent, part Western and part Chinese: fried eggs, fried rice, meat dumplings (“boazi”), green beans with pork, orange juice, thick white toast with strawberry jam, and black coffee! I smuggled a hard boiled egg and the cream puff back to the room for Cissy, and then we checked out. Hope we can find as nice a hotel in Beijing for anywhere near this price ($25 for all three of us)!
We walked about a hundred meters to the bus station and booked seats on the tourist bus to Mount Emei, or “Emeishan” as it’s called on Chinese maps. It was just a 30-minute ride away, which gave me time to read Maria’s blog from yesterday on her computer.
Once there, we took a taxi into the nearby town of Baoguo, directly at the foot of the mountain, to the Teddy Bear Hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet guide book Maria carries everywhere (affectionately called “the Brick”). We checked in and got advice about going up on the mountain, then caught another tourist bus for the long ride up the mountain. This was a smaller 18-passenger bus in which we were the only Westerners, as usual. The driver was terribly aggressive, pounding on the horn anytime anyone got in front of him, and we flew around hairpin corners on all the way up – except for the time we came to a complete stop for what we later found out was a rockslide. At least one young lady was sick along the way,and she threw up out the window! It was also very misty/foggy, so the hour-long ride up was pretty exciting.
I had a comfortable center seat by the engine, so I was able to stretch out and sleep most of the way up, as usual.
The first thing we noticed when we got to the top was the monkeys running around the parking lot. Even though we expected them, they surprised us with their numbers, their size, and their quickness. We watched one come up to a group of three Chinese girls, quickly snatch a plastic pop bottle out of one of their purses, twist off the top, and drink it. It was amazing, just as if we were watching a Sprite commercial!
After buying a bamboo pole to fend off the monkeys, we walked around the parking lots awhile, trying to figure out what to do. We had originally planned to go up but the icy conditions really took us by surprise and we weren’t sure if we wanted to make the 1.5 km hike. We also were a bit put off by the haze, which was so thick we doubted the vendors who told us we could see the sun if we climbed and caught the cable car. We figured they just wanted to make money off renting us crampons for our boots, and we were starting to feel like we had finally encountered the classic “let’s take the tourists for all their worth” scam.
A little while later, we crossed the path of some people walking down the icy stairway and they gave us their crampons to use for free (these were just simple lace on climbing points; nothing fancy). Since they offered, we lashed them on and started up. It was a bit slippery in some places, but then we saw 2-man native porter teams practically running up the trail carrying bamboo litters with full-grown people on them. They even stayed in the center of the trail, where was the ice was thickest, while we used the more clear paths on the right by the handrail, so we stopped complaining and shouldered on. At one point we stopped for pictures, and some boys jumped into the picture, flashing the ubiquitous Chinese “V” symbol.
Once we got to the top of the trail, it was still very hazy, so we decided to let Maria ride up the cable car alone to the real summit, while we sat in the waiting room area and read/snacked. It was very cold, and of course the doors were open, so after about twenty minutes I went over and shut the doors. [Chinese people seem to have this completely irrational fear of non-circulating air, so every non-heated area is open to the outside. Buses whipping down icy mountain switchbacks, posh hotel corridors, and even the nicest restaurants confound us Westerners by opening windows and doors, as if cold air is one of the main food groups along with white rice and chicken feet. More on this later.] It was funny watching Chinese people come up to the door and look at it like they hadn’t seen a closed door before!
[Maria – I was in a bad mood when we got to the top, because the whole day had contradicted my plans and confounded my expectations. Emeishan is, in my mind, exorbitantly expensive, with every price even higher than those quoted in the sources we consulted. Entrance for all three of us was $50, the roundtrip bus ride up the mountain was another $30, and the cable car was almost $20 – per person! – with no student or elderly discount. After paying the ridiculous entrance fee, though, I did want to reach the summit and at least get pictures of the sun we vaguely remembered seeing long ago, so I went up the cable car alone with the camera.
The cable car is pretty nice and surprisingly large, with a capacity of 100 people. My fellow passengers excitedly shared rumors of sun at the peak and some actually shouted when we broke through the last layer of clouds into pure blue sky. I’ll admit, it was pretty epic.
At the top, there was a short hike to the Golden Summit Monastery at the actual peak, but I just walked far enough to get some good pictures. Since I was above the actual cloud line, I was lucky enough to witness the Sea of Clouds. Below me was pure puffy whiteness, punctuated by a few other mountain peaks in the distance, looking like islands in the white.
The way back down was a little exciting because the cable line disappeared in front of us as it re-entered the dense clouds.
Luckily, the invisible line held up and I made it back down to rejoin my parents.]
At 5:30, we caught the next-to-the-last bus off the mountain. Our driver going down was pretty calm compared to the driver going up, which was a good thing since the visibility out the front window was about twenty feet, and it was starting to get dark too. Then, about a third of the way down, we were told to switch to another bus, and that driver was the worst. He hacked and spit very loudly, rode the horn, and drove like a maniac. We were all thrilled when we pulled back into town safely, but we were a little disappointed in the day. But, as Maria has ingrained in us and as we’ve come to see first-hand, going anywhere and doing anything in China is usually a great adventure!
Like all towns and cities in China, Baoguo is busy preparing for the Chinese New Year, now only two weeks away. The town is nicely lit up with Christmas-style lights, and there are red lanterns and other pretty decorations everywhere.
We ended the day with a nice meal at the Teddy Bear Hotel, which included a hamburger and fries which I mostly ate, and several delicious Chinese dishes of fried rice, egg-and-tomato, and egg-and-potato, and a large bowl of beef & greens in the spicy Sichuan style. Then we retired to our room for the evening, which is remarkable mostly for the fact that it has three beds.
We’re looking forward to a good night’s sleep before we head back to Chengdu, retrieve our luggage, and head on to Xi’An.