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Traveling to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park: Part I
Sometimes I fear people are too conservative about travel... many travelers these days assume that they have to stick with tours, guidebooks, and major cities. This is not the case! I've found that it can be great fun to travel alone, without guides, without language skills, and without any particular plan.
Why would you want to try doing this yourself? When you find yourself in such situations, it's just you and a completely foreign environment- nothing else. You really come to realize who you are. It's amazing!
To prove that such things can be done (and survived) by complete idiots (germ-phobic, neurotic ones at that), I'll share my original journal entries of the experience. Maybe I can inspire you to take a little adventure of your own!
Thursday, March 19th, 2009
What an adventure!!! GAAAAH!!! Overwhelmed with sense of awesomeness of it all! Gah! Gah!! AWESOME OVERLOAD!!! Well, I CANNOT remember this day. Got to get it all dow
Room 3525, Hotel Pipaxi, Zangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan, China..EARTH!
A Bumpy Start
Disclaimer: Much of what transpired this morning involved me overreacting to super inconsequential stuff, but bare wih me- it's not easy to go native with transport when you cannot speak, comprehend, read, or write. Hahaa...
I woke up this morning around 4:00am with pretty awful stomach pain. Total bummer! I didn't really go back to sleep, but the good news is that I was definitely up and ready to go at 5:45am. I got dressed, said goodbye to Steve, and went down to the lobby where I asked the concierge to help me call a taxi. The concierge kindly explained to the cab driver what I was doing, we negotiated a price, and off I was!
Riding in the taxicab through the pre-dawn morning was a trip. The Minnie Mouse tied to the cage separating the driver and I, the early commuters flowing past on scooters, and the Chairman Mao charm hanging from the driver's rearview mirror reminded me that I was not in America anymore.
I'll admit that I was kind of freaked out when the driver pulled over at the bus station. I had NO idea what to do. I think my driver realized that, though. He helped me out of the car, walked me into the station, helped me buy my ticket, and sat me down in front of the appropriate door. I then had about 90 minutes to wait for my bus, which seemed a pretty daunting task. The OCD in me was SO not ready for the puddles on the ground, the smoke, the cracked windows, the unusual smell, and the fact that all conscious persons present were staring straight at me. I decided to munch on almonds and an apple I had packed, and did my best to look nonchalant, despite the fact that from time to time, a group of five men would stand in a circle very close and loom over me. Yeah, you read that right- they would just LOOM!! Who DOES that?
Anyway, as time passed, the going got easier. The sun rose, for one thing, which made the station look infinitely less freaky, and more women and youngsters came into the station, which was also a great comfort, because once I had some ladies sitting back-to-back with me, the Loomers stopped coming around. Hurrah for that, eh?
I was still pretty nervous about my ticket, though, since up to that point, I had no idea if it was actually going to take me where I wanted to go, but my worries were dispelled when I met a woman who taught English at a Changsha middle school. She sat down next to me, introduced herself, and was kind enough to check my ticket for me. She was going to visit her uncle, who had been in a car accident, but apparently the doctors said his injury wasn't serious, which is good! We talked until her bus had to leave. She was so kind to me! At one point, a beggar came up to me and wouldn't leave, and she protected me and said "You are our guest! People should leave you alone!" which made me happy, just because I was kind of traumatized by all the attention that morning. I know it's trivial, but those loomers really whacked me out!
This is where I started! I was mooching off a hotel room where my father was staying on business and used it as my takeoff/landing pad.
Here's the city nearest to the park- it was... intense!
The Long Journey There
With confidence restored, I got onto my bus for Zangjiajie all set and ready to go. There was so much going on all around me! A woman was directing a fleet of deaf kids selling fluffy keychains, a man was smoking in the back of the bus, people were loading and unloading themselves from different vehicles... Oh man, and our bus!!! Talk about character. That thing was grooooooooody! There were puddles in the aisle! The upolstery was coming apart! The curtains smelled like... DEATH! OBJECTS WERE FALLING FROM THE CEILING!! I could handle all that... unfortunately, there was one thing from the start that I COULDN'T handle: the Michelin Man toy stuck to the dashboard. Ever since I read Pattern Recognition, I can't take that thing. He's the second most horrific icon after Betty Boop in my book, and seeing him REALLY sets me off! Oh god, I shudder just thinking about it.
Let's just say I did my best during that four hour bus ride to NOT pay attention to the aesthetic travesty on the dashboard. Not to worry though, there was PLENTY else to keep me busy. Take the man sitting next to me for example. The guy was really something- I knew it from the moment he started whisteling "Amazing Grace" five minutes into the bus ride. For one thing, he was OBSESSED with Christmas songs. He whisteled them continuously! Even his cell phone ring was of a childrens' chorus singing "O Holy Night!" WTF? When he wasn't whisteling, he was chewing this stuff that I'm sure most people think smells fine, but I found to smell vile. Oh man, every time he started chewing a new one, I'd start gagging, then trying like mad to make it seem as though I were NOT gagging... ah man... Yeah... it was a long bus ride.
When I arrived in Zangjiajie City, I had yet another moment of feeling totally lost. We pulled into the bus station, everyone loaded off, and as soon as I was out of the bus, I was again the subject of everyone's attention. Yikes! I tried to sneak in between the various parked busses on my way to the street to keep a low profile. (Oh, and speaking of busses, they've got some crazy cool ones in these parts! Some of them are set up like sleeper cars, with bunk beds instead of seats! If the beds weren't super grimy, I'd be SO STOKED to ride in one!) Eventually, though, I made it to the street, and there was no hiding there. I thought I might look less... er... NOT Asian if I wore my large sunglasses, but that made me look like a movie star in cognito. Aiyah! As I walked down the street, I worked my way through dozens of men on parked mopeds, all smoking cigarettes and staring STRAIGHT at me. Yikes! I couldn't flag down a taxi soon enough.
I shot into the first cab that pulled up like a bat out off hell. Hahaa! It was super nice to be in a puddle, loomer, staring-person, smelly chewy stuff, and Christmas song-free zone. The driver and I negotiated a price (which basically meant he waved the desired bills in front of me and I sayd "uh" and bobbed my head) we were off to the National Forest Park, and I was a happy camper!
Alas, things couldn't the THAT easy, now could they? My driver first dropped me off at the wrong hotel, and since I couldn't read the signs, I didn't realize it! There was this big to-do in the first hotel when I walked in, claiming to have a reservation, when obviously I didn't. Thank goodness for Steve's business associate, King! I called him on my cell and he helped me through it all, working as a cell-phone translator through the whole debacle. What a saint!
My hat's off to the cab driver too, actually. Even though I had already paid him and walked away, he waited at the hotel, and even drove me to the right hotel once everything was figured out. Once there, he waited with me during the entire check in process, and didn't leave until I was being shown off to my room. How nice is that??
To sum things up, ten hours after waking up, I was finally at my destination, and very glad to be done with all that travel!!