I woke at 0530 and was coming on for a cold. 50p taxi to the bus station. 0640 Tongren-Junko City, the nearest city to the 2.4km high Fanjing Mountain and surrounding nature reserve (with wild monkeys).
Junko City bus station had photos of bus crash victims and their bodies. Didn’t know why. I got on a bus identical to ones in the photos and which dropped me at what looked like Fanjing Mountain base camp. A quiet little market of marquees selling either food or gifts. At one food marque a woman seemed to give off a good vibe from a distance. Unlike so many middle aged women in China, she had kept her youthful smile and often laughed loudly and heartily in her hoarse voice. I ate too much and set off on the 10km uphill walk. I got through a head of raw garlic that day so my cold stayed away. I passed by a giant Buddha and visited the numerous temples.
The road followed the rocky river which was the cleanest I had seen in China.. I couldn’t resist and went for dunk. I wouldn’t call it a swim. I passed by a waterfall and
thought about another dunk but it was more open to view and I didn’t have swimming trunks so I played harmonica instead.
The air felt so fresh. Especially after living in Chinese cities for the past 5 months! For some reason, the stunning scenery made me think of dinosaurs. The sort of cliffs teradactors would nest in. The sort of steep valleys a brontosaurus would trot down. I cant explain why.. perhaps Jurassic Park was filmed in South West China.
The 10km was over. I finally arrived at the cable car house and here the steps began. It was 7000 steps to the top. At the first ten steps I counted out loud in Chinese to a smiling onlooker. At first, counting seemed silly. But I found it really was the best way to gauge how far you had been.. and had to go!
At 300 steps I was out of breath. My legs were aching. Oh dear. I took a break. Everyone coming down just said “hun yuan” (it’s very far). Ye, thanks for the encouragement - you’re coming DOWN and don’t have a RUCKSACK.
Occasionally a marque shack was constructed over the path from
wood and random tarpaulins. From sunny leafy glades into a cosy little dark restaurant. On one side would be a table, stools, wood stove for cooking and on the other side of the path perhaps a mini counter selling drinks, tofu and things. I loved passing through these dark little old restaurants. Also, the aroma of canvas and daily woodsmoke is not a smell but an emotion for me.
I stopped at one at about 1000 steps. A young couple and their toddler bid me a warm welcome. They gave me hot water and I cooked up some noodles with their fire. I played the toddler some harmonica and let him fascinate over my binoculars. Hot water for them was as easy as harmonica was for me in this happy exchange. Some passers by insisted on disrupting my dinner by having a photo with me. In China you get used to this. I finished dinner. One more tune and I headed onwards and upwards.
The ascent was quick and at about 1600 steps I got a headache and felt a bit dizzy. I was probably just tired but at an altitude of about 2km I became paranoid of
altitude sickness. It was getting dark and I would have to find a place to sleep. Sleep is when altitude sickness really gets you. I would have to descend a bit to be safe. The question of altitude sickness is a true test of character. Because in mustering so much determination in persevering against your aches and pains, to be able to then turn that around and head back on yourself.. well you really meet your stubborn side. But I reluctantly descended a couple of hundred metres and put up my hammock.
I had only seen that many stars in Wales. I fell asleep looking at the milky way and had loads of dreams that night.
Sleeping in a forest is like sleep with the one you love. If I open my eyes and see leaves, my day starts with a smile. I lay in for a while and hung out with the silk worms. Staring at distant mountains through the morning mist.
Thirst got me up. It was Monday morning and none of the vendors were at their shacks. No water! But the shacks had a piped water supply which if you filter the moss
out and boil it, it was good to drink. I made a fire in a rusty holey wok I found in a bush. After a big brunch, I restarted my ascent.
Whilst taking a crap, something was rustling past me in the bushes. It sounded almost big enough to be human. I was silent but realised it was downwind of me and then it began coming directly towards me! I pulled up my trousers and stood hoping to see a monkey any minute, but also ready to let out a massive roar at it should it be something I need to run away from. It must have seen me before I saw it and it suddenly bolted making a lot of noise.
China has a SERIOUS litter problem. Such beautiful places will be heavily adorned with litter. So I went about litter picking as I climbed, especially when I passed other people. I’d stop in front of them to pick some wrapper up. I occasionally got a thumbs up from a local worker but I became very tired.
Finally someone said it WASNT far! Counting steps became meditational in rhythm with my breath and it helped keep
my mind clear of thoughts. My body acclimatised to this rhythm and I had climbed 3500 steps today already. Then I turned a corner of the mountain and suddenly Hongyun (Red Cloud) Golden Summit was in sight. It was still a thousand or so steps but the sight of it changed something in me. As I reached the top cable car house my legs were not as achy. My tiredness was different. Just like when I ran the London marathon, I had broken through that threshold, re-membered how the body and mind is one and pain exists more in the mind than the body. I rested, did some stretches and continued the last climb to the temples.
At first I climbed Hongyun (Red Cloud) Golden Summit (2.34km altitude). It was cold and windy at the top. My body grew weary. I went into one of the two temples and asked the monk if I could sit in the corner and meditate a while. He handed me a cushion and his heavy Chinese coat.
I came down the rock and met a young Chinese guy who worked for a TV station and spoke English. He offered me a lift
back to Tongren in a police car with a military chief. At first I accepted but half an hour later when he said he was going now, it felt too soon. He was with his colleagues who followed around their “leader” saying “yes, stand there” as they all took photos of him as he posed. It was all a bit ironically weird after I had tried to explain principles of egalitarianism to the young Chinese guy earlier. I hadn’t climbed Yuejing Hill (2.5km altitude) yet so I said my farewells and walked on.
Cloud as thick as white smoke suddenly enveloped the top of Yuejing Hill. It became very cold. Then round a cliff corner the sun felt very warm despite the cloud - at such altitude the suns rays are stronger. I suddenly felt very alone. I ascended some steps in a crevice between two cliffs. Sheltered from the wind, here it was warm and eerily quiet. My footsteps even seemed muffled. I met a Singaporean as he descended and we spoke for a while. Then at the top it was cold, windy, cloudy and alone. I played harmonica.
I screamed with all my lungs and an echo
returned several seconds later. I felt accepting of death. I descended.
There was an alcove in a cliff where a female Buddhist name Juihuang Empress meditated once upon a time and was well known to cure patients through herbs. This was a peaceful little place. Female Buddhists seem historically disregarded but I felt MORE compelled to pay my respects before going on my ways.
I decided it was time to leave but I yearned not to. Be careful what you wish for, it might come true! The guy at the cable car house said something in Chinese about not being able to get a car down and can I stay at the top tonight.. But I decided I didn’t have enough warm weather gear to sleep at the top. I would have loved to have walked down but I didn’t have enough time or food. I managed to get a last cable car down with some other stragglers.
At the bottom, me and the stragglers were walking to catch the minibus to the park exit. I suddenly said:
“I will sleep here”, hastily said goodbye and headed into the night. I found a shack which was not
in use and had a room with a bed in. I considered it but then walked on.
Some men were coming from behind with torches so I decided not to risk it and I slid down the bank to hide underneath the stilts of another shack. They passed over my head, I waited and then went back to the shack with a free bed. Walking down steps is much trickier than walking up without any light: they are more difficult to see and more difficult to feel with your feet.
I lay down to sleep but strangely found I was too hot. I eventually fell asleep and had loads of dreams again.
05:22 still dark. No water so I made a fire and boiled some up from the shacks’ water supply. As I tended the fire the sun came up. Qi Gong on a big rock in the river. Then breakfast. Walked a few km and then caught a minibus to the massive Buddha. Said good bye and walked the last km to the nature reserve gate. Bus to Junko City.
In Junko City a man had a monkey on a chain. School kids followed
them. I gave the monkey a slice of orange and he gently picked it up out of my hand.
Next thing I was the town monkey and school kids were following me, pointing and staring. So I turned around suddenly and did my scary monster ROAR. They jumped and ran away quickly. I grinned and some locals found it funny.
Bus back to Tongren, had a shower and then taught a class of 2-3 years about fruit.
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