Jiuzhaigou, Part One

26 Oct

This past weekend, I had an exciting adventure off to the distant edge of Sichuan province. Jiuzhaigou (lit. “nine village valley”) is a famous nature preserve here in China, on the par with Yellowstone. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and really quite pretty in the fall. In fact, everyone I’ve talked to has said that the month of October is the best time to visit. And when a few friends said they were going this past weekend, I was spurred into action. Katia and I talked it over and decided we were going to go, ten-hour bus ride or not.

Jiuzhaigou is only 200 miles away from Chengdu, but the road runs through a very mountainous region and is winding and narrow. In most places, it’s just a single lane each way, which is more than a little terrifying when the bus driver attempts to pass the slowpokes and there is oncoming traffic. (Katia says I’m a worrywart and that they won’t crash, honest, it’s their job and they drive this way every day. I am not reassured.) The bus left Chengdu at 7:30. Unfortunately, our other friends were on another bus, so it was just us and thirty-odd Chinese tourists.

The ride took about nine hours, which meant we made extremely good time. Except for the bathroom break every two hours, Katia and I spent most of the trip sleeping, which is really the best way to deal with nine hours stuck in a small area, your bag wedged in on your lap or at your feet. The breaks were also interesting. Locals attempted to get money from you somehow, either from using the restrooms, buying touristy crap, food, or, on one memorable occasion, riding a white yak or bored looking camel. This break was also notable because I saw a clear blue sky in what seems like has been forever.

Upon reaching our destination, Katia and I found out that the hostel only had one bed, not two, reserved for the weekend. Not exactly worth it. Instead, we found lodging with a Tibetan family run hostel which was located a bit off the main drag of Jiuzhaigou. The room was well-appointed and dinner was only 20 kuai extra. Plus, the husband would take us to the park in the morning.

After a scrumptious dinner, we went to bed. It gets dark at night in the mountains. (Plus, no streetlights.) And, you know, we had to get up at 6 so we could make it to the gates of the park by 7 am, when it had opened. So at ungodly o’clock, we shivered a lot and debated on how much to wear. The night before, one of our neighbors had advised us on what to do once in the park. It’s a big place. Tommy suggested to not bring big coats, since it would warm up later on in the day. While this may have been true for Tommy, we had slightly less pleasant weather on our day in the park – misty rain in the morning, cloud cover for most of the morning, one brief warm moment in the afternoon, and a slow decline towards cold as the day ended. I didn’t bring my leather coat, but I probably should have. Thankfully, I had layered on enough in the morning that I wasn’t too cold.

The first thing we did upon entering the park was to head to the very end. This is the recommended way of dealing with the park trail – bus to the top and walk your way back down to the bottom of the valley. The first stop was the Primeval Forest at the end of the line. This is the best possible place to see wild pandas, if they feel like wandering anywhere near loud tourists. Given that the park’s panda population stands at a little under 20, it was pretty much a given that they were a no-show. I don’t blame ’em. I wouldn’t particularly want to be out in the wet, cold morning with a bunch of Chinese tourists either.

We had a quick breakfast of squished croissants that had made the trip from Chengdu with us, dried dates, and a mug of instant hot chocolate.

There was a lot of walking, interspersed with random picture-taking, and a couple of snack breaks. Look, some pictures!

In fact, there was even a bunch of “Picture Taking Opportunities”, wherein you could pay 20 kuai and dress up like the indigenous Qiang or Tibetan people and then take photos in front of an absolutely stunning landscape. Clearly, Katia and I were above such petty amusements.

Who am I kidding, of course we did it. The lovely Tibetan lady gave us walnuts, it was hard to resist. I maintain that as foreigners, we have no dignity here in China and people stare at us anyways, so why the hell not?

After that, we had a thoroughly unsatisfying lunch of ramen noodles and continued down to the central fork. By this time, it was past three, which was rather alarming since the park closed at six. (Jiuzhaigou has a delicate ecosystem. No need to declare it a World Heritage Site and then watch as overnighting tourists trash the place.) A quick bus ride to the other end of the park left us at Long Lake. This was something we could have skipped. It was colder on this end, with a lot less tourists. There was even snow on some of the distant mountains. I have less photos from this end of the park, mainly because around two in the afternoon, my camera beeped and said “Memory Card Full”. I then promptly cursed quite a bit and fiddled around with the settings, getting less quality shots in exchange for quantity. My work is based around the Law of Averages – the more photos I take, the odds are at least one of them is actually decent.

We engaged in a healthy amount of capitalism at the little Tibetan tourist trap – Katia bought two silver bangles and I indulged in two new scarves. (Yes, yes, I know I can knit my own damn scarves. I like them, okay?) By this point, the park had closed and we were rushed out along with other errant parkgoers. It was well and truly dark out as we trudged past the gates… into a downpour. Our rides were set at 5 and 6 – we got on the public bus, showed the attendant our hostel’s card, and sat. The bus was probably 95% Tibetan, the exceptions being us and a Chinese guy who got off almost immediately. The ladies seated around us chattered amongst themselves, a couple of huge woven baskets resting empty on the floor. They were nice enough to make sure we got off at the right place. It was still raining as we set up the hill, only to be met halfway by the husband* with a set of umbrellas.

Dinner was just being cooked as we got in – Katia went down to see how things were made and I followed. I am pleased to report that my own personal recipe of spicy potatoes is damn near the same as the wife’s*. Ignore the poor picture quality and look closer at the stove. It’s wood-burning. Katia had a breakthrough as to why the dishes were metal – they could sit on the stove top and stay warm while she continued to cook, dish by dish. We had another delicious meal and went to bed, having confabbed with Kyle and the others about our plan of attack the next day.  Our original plan of a guided hike in the other valley was scrapped, due to an over-abundance of Hong Kong tourists having booked the last slots.  It was decided we would attempt to get tickets to Huanglong, a park (somewhat) nearby.  And if not, well, we could always head back to Chengdu.

Stay tuned for the exciting sequel – Huanglong!

*I am a bad person. I have no idea of how to even pronounce their names, let alone spell them. (It’s written in Tibetan on the card, okay? I’m not that far along in my studies.)

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7 Responses to “Jiuzhaigou, Part One”

  1. Steph October 27, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    I would have paid to ride the yak! How many times does that opportunity present itself?! Anyway, the photos are gorgeous – especially the waterfalls. Can’t wait to read about the hiking.

    And an off-topic question: is Katia a fellow UW alum?

    • Jane October 31, 2011 at 10:51 am #

      Given that I’m in Western China, the odds are good that I’ll see another yak.

      (And yes, Katia is a Husky!)

  2. Trish October 31, 2011 at 5:42 am #

    Can i borrow your headdress?

    • Jane October 31, 2011 at 10:48 am #

      No. After the last picture with the Tibetan lady was taken, a Chinese woman wearing a similar costume came up to me, said “young lady can I?”, and yoinked it off my head before I could even process what she wanted.

  3. cathi November 19, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    Jane, just catching up after forgetting to read for awhile. I notice the bus is the same color as your make up in the beauty school final. Random:)

    • Jane November 19, 2011 at 6:03 am #

      Hey Cathi! Yeah, my make up was a little florescent, but then, lots of things here in China are. Like, say, taxis. Or random buildings. It’s all cool.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, Part Two « In the Country of Heaven - October 28, 2011

    […] Part one can be found here. […]

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