Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hua Shan, Xian, and Immense Exhaustion

*Written 11 and 12 July 2011*

Our train from Zhengzhou to Hua Shan was the start of one of the worst segments of our trip, thus far. The beds to which we were assigned had used sheets - mine had egg shells, Michael's had a dead fly, and Karen's had a fat and sweaty half naked man. The floor and table were lined with Buddha-knows-what, and our fan was broken. The disgustingness of the train wasn't enough to shake us, as we're used to stuff like that, but it added to the misery of Hua Shan village.
Upon our early arrival in Hua Shan, we were heckled by a cab-pimp, who tried to get us in one of his taxi-stitues for 20 kuai, despite all having a meter. We tried to get in other cabs, but they all feared the wrath of the cab-pimp, who yelled at one guy for originally agreeing to take us... which then resulted in the rescinding of his offer. With no other option, we paid 20 kuai to go to an overpriced hotel. We then walked quite sometime to find a hotel, since the next cab we got into tried to charge us 20 kuai. We told him to piss off and got out. The rundown piece of crap hotel room that we decided on was the same cost for all three of us as a cab ride, which is better than the 400+ Yuan rooms we kept finding. Since this town sucks so damn much, we decided to scrap our three day plan and climb the mountain today, so we could leave that evening.

At 11:30 AM we began our ascent up Hua Shan. We took a closed off stairwell that was literally vertical. The mountain was intense - visually and physically. We made it to the North Peak after a difficult two hour climb, and were greeted by a sea of cable car riding tourists. At around 2:15 PM, I lost track of Michael and Karen, and headed to the South Peak via the Central Peak. The South Peak, rising 2100+ meters into the heavens, is the summit of this sacred Taoist mountain. I took no breaks, in an effort to find Michael and Karen, until around 4:15 PM, when I found a group of obnoxious American high school pals who said they saw them not too long ago. I popped a squat in a nice shady area... at this point, my body shaking and drenched in sweat, and my shirt caked in salts (Gandhi didn't have to march 240 miles to make his own salt, he could have just climbed this mountain). They speculated that  my travel companions would be there in 30-40 minutes. I sat around until about 5:15, relocated, and waited until 6:00. By this time, I assumed they had somehow passed me, and I made my way for the cable car line (or should I say cluster f*ck). While in line, I looked back and found them arriving into the hoard at 6:25... lucky for them, as I was the only one with enough cash for the cable car tickets. By 7:30, we pushed our way through the "line" and got on a cable car.

 I can't help but think of Led Zepplin's 'Stairway to Heaven'

 The top of the world, as seen from Hua Shan.
From the South Peak, the summit of Hua Shan.

When we returned to our piece of shit hotel room, we ate, packed, and headed to the train station. They luckily had three tickets for Xian two hours after our arrival at the station. We had standing tickets to an overcrowded train, which was thankfully only 1.5 hours. Once in Xian, we took a cab to a hostel recommended by Lonely Planet. The hostel was already booked, so they told us to try a place to the left, left, and on the left. That place was full too, and suggested taking a right, right, and going to the same hostel we had just been to. Not knowing what to do, we sat in their lobby, played with kittens, and tried to find another place online. Everything was booked. While waiting, a group of Brits came in with the same dilemma. They asked to sleep on the sofas in the lobby, and the hostel opened them up for 10 Yuan a person .

We woke up at 6:30 AM to go to Han Tang Hostel, which we booked for the next night. The original location in Lonely Planet was boarded up, so we found some help in a nearby hotel. On the phone, we were told that they had moved near the Bell Tower.

We walked to the Bell Tower, completely exhausted from the previous day, and found a giant structure with at least five streets stemming from it. "Near the Bell Tower," my ass! That's like telling someone their place is "near Dupont Circle," or "near the National Mall"... you could spend hours searching for a place "near" those locations! We finally stumbled upon the hostel in an alley a few blocks from the landmark.

The hostel, rated #1 in Asia and #10 worldwide by Hostelbookers, is really quite a find. Good location (once you know where it is), friendly staff, tons of cool patrons, activities galore (tonight is free dupling night, game night, and they're offering free ping pong lessons), they have a rooftop garden and sauna, a bar, DVDs, and comfy rooms with a private (CLEAN) bathroom. Best $9 a night ever. Normally we wouldn't be so keen on staying inside the hostel, but after a week of constant travel, sleep deprivation, no internet, and physical exhaustion - a day inside this place feels like Heaven. Our only trip outside was for street food - this city offering unique, Musilim-influenced fare.

We haven't been in Xian long, but the city feels like a scaled back Beijing, with an interesting, Muslim twist.

Oh, and the red Xian Expo 2011 character that lines the streets and shops is both adorable, yet oddly unnerving.

PS - I'm ready. I think.

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