My friend sent me a link a few weeks back. “Let’s go here!” the email read. It was just over 100 dollars to make the trip. It left on a Saturday morning and came back on a Sunday evening. Accommodation, tour guide, food, buses – it was all paid for. We just had to show up, walk, and eat. Didn’t sound too bad of a deal. So we signed up.
There were 15 of us in the tour group, and after the awkward first few minutes of standing around in the circle, totally pretending like we were all going to remember each others’ names and continually introducing myself, we all hopped on the bus. Four hours later, we showed up at this tiny town for day one of hiking. It began with a boat ride where I sat down next to the driver. After a conversation where he tried to convince me that the shallow waters contained fish that were taller than me (sure, dude), he then asked for my hand in marriage. Lovely. Thanks but no thanks. I bid farewell to my ex as I got off the boat and the group began to wander through stone canyons and up mountains with farms growing on the sides of the hilltops. We reached one peak and stumbled on a tiny town. Bells rang and the people were all huddled in a room, honoring one of the recently deceased members of their community. We walked quickly past, nodding politely. Then, after fumbling my way down the side of the mountain, we headed up another peak to be greeted by a toothless man and his feisty dogs (WEREWOLVES, I TELL YOU!) He was the owner of a run down Buddhist monastery. There was almost no one there and the statues had cobwebs on them and were gathering dust. We soon made our way back, across the bridge, and back to the bus.
At our hotel – a place made intentionally for foreigners in tour groups – we were shuffled to our rooms. My friend and I decided to head into the town center. We found a woman selling potato chips for 75 cents (best potato chips ever), a car mechanic working away underneath a car that precariously hung from the ceiling, and a woman diligently working away in the factory making sweaters. The radio blasted on the speakers hanging from wooden poles that tipped into the street and as the light dimmed, we made our way back to the hotel for a family style dinner that had so much delicious food. Very glad for my stretchy elastic pants at that moment.
The next day, we ventured to another hiking spot. It’s name was the “Grandmother Pit.” While most of the other areas in Xinchang had beautiful names like “Oriental Grace” and “Majestic Mansions”, this place had decided to go for something a bit different in flavor. But while its name might sound a bit disgusting, “Grandmother Pit” turned out to be quite lovely. With huge rocks soaring into the sky and beautiful rivers with the clearest of water, this place was so peaceful and a much needed retreat after several weeks of city life in Shanghai. There, I made friends with the Chinese tour guide who made me speak to her in Chinese for about two hours. After a physically and mentally draining morning of walking, we headed back into Xinchang for another delicious family style meal.
And then it was back to Shanghai. It was a lovely weekend and the perfect escape from the bustle of a metropolis. But as I made my way out of the subway tunnel at Zhongshan Park, it felt so wonderful to be home.