Saturday, 4 June 2011

Fenghuang and in to Denhang (11th of September)

Being in the middle of a ‘we can’t get going phase’ we half packed our bags before deciding to stay another night in the hostel. Unfortunately, or as we came to realise later –fortunately, there was no space. There was no running water when we woke up and it was starting to smell rather vile. The lady in the hostel told us that the bus station was just along the road near the bridge and the Lonely Planet map seemed to have the bus station in the wrong place. Neither was particularly useful, but luckily we thought we’d seen the bus station when we were dropped off. We headed upstream and along a road, which rose up to the height of the large bridge. This part of town was not frequented by the tour groups; not a street cleaner in sight and rubble and rubbish piling up by the roadsides. One exciting shop sold the large solar panels you see on lots of the houses and I couldn’t resist having my photo taken next to it.

The bus to Jishou was at full capacity plus a few children on laps. It was a bit of a squeeze and the boy next to me could not stop searching his two pockets. I could have told him after the first five minutes that he had definitely lost whatever it was. We needed to go to the railway station to buy tickets and thought the station would be just along the road from bus station, as we’d seen it from the Zhangjiajie-Fenghuang bus, so we walked down the road to where we thought the station was. We were however at a different bus station. The street cleaner couldn’t read as we pointed at ‘train station’ in our guidebook, but another lady could and indicated it was left then right and we’d need to get a taxi. Pretending to be interested in the fruit stall after drinking some water we let her disappear before contemplating our next move.

We have now come to realise that if you wander around looking lost in a Chinese city for long enough a student majoring in English will come to your rescue. This time it was not one but two female students, who had plucked up the courage to talk to us. These two were handing out fliers for a shop opening the following day and were usually too scared to talk to the foreigners, but today had each other for support. Sophie and her friend were pleased to practice their English. They told us the station was quite far away and after asking some fruit sellers which bus to catch took us (and carried our small rucksacks) to the bus stop, told us how much it cost and asked the bus driver to tell us when to get off. What a service!

At the station we got train tickets to Zhangjiajie for the same train we had already booked from Zhangjiajie to Shanghai. Very pleased with our purchase of these two train tickets for 40RMB we later came to realise she’d given us standing seats, which means we’ll very likely be standing in a cattle wagon for 2 hours being smoked at and spat on (as the Lonely Planet puts it). The bus for Dehang left from outside Jishou station with five people on board, but by the time it had left the city it was packed with standing room only. Two small boys were returning to their village with half empty baskets of pomegranates and were given a hand hoisting the baskets onto their backs when they got off. Up above us we could see further signs of the massive road building project we’d seen on our bus trip a few days before. Wires went right across the top of the beautiful valley where soon the sight of a concrete bridge, noise of beeping horns and vehicle traffic will blight this lovely spot. By the time we had completed the journey to Dehang there was just us and a Chinese tourist left on the bus. He had been trying to communicate with us aided by his mobile phone, which could translate Chinese into English, but not the other way round. At the village entrance we had to pay the entry fee of 60RMB per person. We weren’t sure if we had to pay more to stay longer than a day, but since there was nothing in English we went for the cheapest option.

The bus had difficulties getting into the village square, because it was covered in woven mats with rice lying on them to dry. A lady was spreading the rice out with a pole, which in English terms might be called a rake. There was rice, as well as some maize, out to dry on the rooftops, on top of the bridge, in another square and outside people’s houses. A man was sitting on the bridge making a basket out of bamboo. Maize was also hanging up to dry outside houses alongside chilli garlands. We weren’t sure where we would be able to stay, it being a Saturday and probably quite busy. The sign to a hostel didn’t yield anything, but a lady outside a shop mimed sleeping and pointed up the river. In the Jielong Inn we found ourselves a single room with large bed, fan and television that buzzed like it might soon explode for £2.50 each. We wandered across the river and upstream marvelling at the rice harvesting process and spotting some frogs lurking in the muddy rice paddies, egrets and a bittern. For the first time in two weeks, be it previously due to smog or humidity, we saw patches of blue sky and we let ourselves believe that there still might be a sun up there. By 7.00 p.m. it was beautifully dark and the locals were wrapping up their day.

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