Summer is nearly over for me. School begins again in about a week. The summer was filled with some great times and great people. This blog posting is regarding my summer vacation. Every summer, I try to go someplace new and different. It is usually in China, visiting the many diverse locations that China offers. This year, I chose to visit the mountain region of Hunan Province, called Zhangjiajie. If you had seen the movie Avatar and are familiar with the Hallelujah Mountains in the movie, you will be familiar with this region, as those fictional mountains were inspired by these mountains.
What do they say about the “best laid plans”? This vacation was kind of a bust in some respect, while providing me with things I needed. I traveled all the way to the mountains regions, and never laid one step in the mountain park. This was due to a variety of reasons (and I hope purpose for the future). My traveling partner, Elly, was sick for a few days. Although this should not have deterred me from my quest of the mountains, it did to some degree. That would only be an excuse perhaps. Actually, we arrived on a weekend. Chinese people travel whenever they have an opportunity…all 1.4 billion of them. With it being a weekend and the summer with school being out, the mountains would be swarming with people. So, Elly and I decided to rest at the resort on the first day and take in some lesser sights the next day. That would leave us with two days of mountain viewing on the weekdays. The days were hot, humid and sunny all weekend. The late mornings and afternoons were hellish on the body. On Monday, we woke to find the region covered in fog and haze. A storm system threatened us on our weather apps on the phone. As did our last day. No need to go to the mountains if all you will see is clouds and maybe get rained on.
Regardless of the lack of mountain viewing, we still had a good visit with other endeavors. And, those mountains are not going anywhere fast, so I can always return during some cooler months.
Below are some descriptions and pictures of what we did see and experience.
Traveling around China this year was brutal. Although we were thwarted many times by weather, I wonder if there was more to it. As more and more Chinese move up into middle class and higher, they are beginning to have more free time and extra money to travel. What was once a great transportation system is now overwhelmed by the numbers, making it nearly inaccessible at times.
Elly was delayed in her flight from Wuxi to Changsha, while I missed my train from Zhuhai to Changsha. Elly was stuck due to apparent bad weather causing delays in her flight. I was detoured due to excessive lines at the train ticket window. In my case, I felt like I was standing in line at Wal-Mart. You know the issue. You see all these unused checkout lanes with long lines at the three that are opened. The same at the busy ticket window of the train station. Ten possible windows to be opened and only three being used. The lines were twenty to thirty people deep. I stood in line for over an hour and narrowly missed my train because tickets were sold out and people were trying to use the ticket agent as a travel agent. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper and had to take an hour taxi to the airport to wait on stand-by to get onto a plane to meet Elly.
That was only the beginning of our travel woes. On our return trip back to Zhangjiagang, our flight was delayed, in Changsha again, for five hours. Instead of getting home by 7 PM, we entered our apartments around 1 AM. Oh, the joys of traveling.
The photos above shows Elly new friend. The little girl stayed near Elly for most of the delay. It was cute at first, but the cuteness wore thin as time went on. The other picture is what awaited us at the airport. It was a welcomed and beautiful sight to see.
This was our hotel. It was a great hotel, one of the best in the area. For six nights, we called this place home. Of course the pool was a nice amenity. The restaurant food was not the best for a five star hotel. I do miss the beds though…soft with outstanding bedding. They actually took two queen beds and stuck them together. You got lost in those beds, as large as they were. You could comfortably sleep a family of four in them.
The mountain views and the local scenery is what draws people to this place. It is stunning just to walk around the town. Pictures definitely do not do the views justice. No matter the weather or the time of day for lighting, the views are awe-inspiring.
The local people and the plants/animals of the region were entertaining to see. People washing things in the rivers takes you back into a different era of time. Despite the amount of tourism dollars flooding the region, most people seemed to be stuck at the lower rung of the economic ladder still. As the area continues to grow, I am hopeful that the money begins to flow down to them eventually.
The one “adventure” Elly and I took was to a local scenic lake to take a boat ride and see some sights. It was a nice day, but a tourist trap. I would not recommend this to anyone visiting the region, as there are other great things to spend your money on.
The things we saw on the walk too and from the lake region were far more interesting to me than the lake. The various statues were fun to see around town. There is a nice display celebrating the Avatar movie, in which the area has a certain claim to fame. And, we discovered a great mural in an alley way that was beautifully done. It is hidden from most tourists who could easily miss this great piece of art work.
For me, the highlight of the trip was the theater show we saw. In the previous blog, you can see videos of the show. I love Chinese old culture and traditions.
As Elly was laying around the hotel, I decided to venture out to the Yellow Dragon Cave area. Although I have seen enough caves in my life to be uninterested in them any longer, I was pleasantly entertained by the various sights outside of the cave and the experiences I could have just walking around the area. The highlights were of traditional minority life and how they would use the water wheels to irrigate their crops. The cool, refreshing water that escaped to the surface from the cave was fun for kids to play in. And the “evolution” statue at the entrance was whimsical.
Although this vacation was a bit disappointing and filled with major frustrations of travel, it is a reminder that not every trip is going to have the “wow factor” of a Yunnan or Cambodia trip. Despite that, it did give me an opportunity to recharge my batteries through some seriously needed relaxation after a long summer camp. In the end, I am sitting here ready and capable of doing what I came to China to do….teach a new group of kids some valuable English skills so they can find success in their lives. Bring on a new year of teaching and further adventures.