From Xiamen to Wuyishan's wild adventure by a Malaysian
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A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
This quote by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu perfectly sums up a recent trip of mine to Mt Wuyi or Wuyishan in Fujian province.
Wild ride to Wuyishan by CHRISTINE JALLEH - - Travelling by train, van and boat together with my husband's Chinese colleagues, we had such an unforgettable adventure.
Departing from Xiamen, we took the late evening train and arrived in Wuyishan on the south-eastern coast of China the next morning. At the train station, I was struck by the sheer number of travellers (multiply the crowd at KL Central by five) and how comfortable the Chinese were eating, drinking, sleeping, squatting or breastfeeding there.
Our motley crew of a grandmother, two men, four women, two young children and a toddler were unprepared for the crowds and the jostling. About two hundred of us were caught in a small corridor when incoming passengers pushed their way (or us) through.
Packed like sardines for 15 minutes, with sweat streaming down our faces and people shouting all around, we felt like singing Born free when we burst into the open space of the waiting area!
Ticket to ride
The train's arrival had us scurrying along the platform and onto the train, which, although cramped, was clean.
Two triple-decker bunks, each one measuring about 2.5ft (.7m) wide and 6ft (1.8m) long, flanked each other. Each bunk had a pillow and a quilt. A flask of hot water was to be shared among the six passengers, especially as almost every local person carried a glass or plastic tumbler of Chinese tea.
The conductor came around to collect our ticket stubs, which we surrendered for safe-keeping.
Settling down, our travel companions feasted on popular snacks like preserved chicken feet or duck's tongue, which I declined. Instead, I ate a steaming hot dumpling or man tou, barbecued pork, chicken floss and various nuts.
Soon, shrieks filled the air as card games went into full force. Vendors touted pickled foods or toys loudly, and one selling mini torches convinced a few of us to part with 15 yuan (RM8) each.
Strategically arranging my toddler and myself on the lowest bunk, we slept way before lights were out at 10pm.
Waking up at 7am, I was urged by grandma to quickly wash before the rest of the passengers woke up. I was fascinated by the people's lack of self-consciousness as they went about their cleansing rituals in full view of others.
Armed with a toothbrush, toothpaste, a cup and a hand towel each, they meticulously brushed, gargled, hocked, spat, washed and wiped their faces, necks and armpits.
Nobody batted an eyelash either when a granny washed her samfoo suit in the sink as if she was in a little stream back in the countryside.
After this peek into the long-distance travel habits of the average Chinese, I'd think twice about travelling on a train again especially after visiting the common squat toilet.
Climb every mountain
We arrived at the Wuyishan Zhan station at 8.30am and disembarked quickly after getting back our train tickets.
Our tour guide (dao yu) hustled us into hiking gear at the hotel as we had to ascend and descend Wuyishan before sunset.
Wuyi mountain covers an area of 70sq km. Its 36 peaks, most under 600m high, are skirted by a meandering river, Nine Bend Stream. With its landscape of water and hills, Wuyishan is known as south-east China’s most scenic wonder.
Cute and colourful "trains" brought us to the foothill, where rows of litters (bamboo chairs hoisted on men's shoulders) stood. It costs 250 yuan (RM133) for a lift up the mountain, while a ride downhill costs only 20 yuan (RM11).
The trek up was pleasant in the cool mountain air, past thick, green foliage. Passing by a bridge, we caught a glimpse of the bamboo rafts that would take us downstream later. The simple, handcrafted bamboo rafts had 80s-styled rattan armchairs mounted on them.
We broke our trek at the scholar Zhu Xi's Memorial Hall, where tourists took snapshots of stone figurines depicting classical Chinese classes in session.
Gasping for breath halfway up the steep stone steps, we stopped in a cavern to enjoy the coolness under the rocks.
By 10.30am, we had reached the plateau and disbanded with half of us staying back to babysit while the other half (with grandma in the lead!) continuing the long and narrow climb up Tianyou Peak.
The rest of us, who paled at the idea of scaling the mountain, trooped gladly to the teahouse, where fresh pots of Chinese tea, green olives, tea eggs and baked sweet potatoes soothed our hunger pangs before lunch.
The kids ran wild and free on the giant expanse of green grass and breathed in sweet mountain air.
An hour later, the climbers returned to regale us with awesome descriptions of the view from the top. I truly admired the 60-year-old Sichuan grandmother’s endurance — her cheeks were flushed but she looked none the worse for the wear, unlike the younger members of the group!
Rough ride on the raft
Bracing ourselves for the raft ride, we walked to the edge of the stream where we were told to firmly hold on to the children’s hands — a young child had once drowned while playing in the crystal clear stream water with koi swimming in it.
Bamboo rafts drifting down Nine Bend Stream
This was the starting point of our two-hour raft ride along Nine Bend Stream, 9kms long. Six adults to a raft, we were given flimsy life-jackets, which didn’t fit the children, not to mention our toddler!
Sensing my worry, one of the muscular pole-men assured that the raft excursion was a gentle and enjoyable ride and that both of them were able swimmers.
Taking the biggest risk I'd ever taken in my life, I stepped onto the raft, strapped the life-jacket onto my toddler and ordered him to sit quietly between my legs.
I've been on canoes, speed boats, military ships and river cruises down the Seine and gondola rides in Venice, but I swear this raft ride down the peaceful waters of Nine Bend Stream was the most relaxing.
The rattan chairs make you feel as if you're in your grandmother's house in the kampung (village). You sit back and play with the stream water as a gentle breeze caresses your face, and you breathe in pure oxygen from the lush green trees you pass by. What bliss.
Of course, our toddler didn't sit still and soon wanted to play with the bamboo water gun (5 yuan/RM3). It entertained him for a while until it malfunctioned. His favourite snacks occupied him next, but soon he started to get restless again.
In the end, the pole-men suggested that he paddle in the pool of water collected in between the bamboo poles. Peace reigned again and everyone sat back to relax, snapped photos or took turns being the pole-men. Although the pole-men's strokes seemed effortless, nobody in our group could mimic their graceful efforts!
Land was soon in sight, and I was relieved to be on solid ground again.
The next day, we missed the visit to the Dahongpao tea plantation as our toddler had a slight fever. We spent the day at a jade factory and a red mushroom retailer where we bought red mushrooms (at 180 yuan/RM95 per kg) known for its aromatic and health properties when boiled.
This wild ride to Wuyishan was certainly a memorable sampling of the scenic sights in southern China.
Apple Travel organises trips to Wuyishan from Xiamen or Quanzhou/Jinjiang. Regardless where you are outside China or inside China, Apple Travel in Fujian can arrange your flights, hotels and guides. Visit Apple Travel at www.appletravel.cn and speak to one of its travel consultants.
Apple Travel Xiamen Office (Main Office)
Address Shop 18-20,Guanren Rd (behind the Marco Polo Hotel)
Fujian Province, China