Our trip to Xi’an began one lonely Wednesday night with a spontaneous decision to do something crazy with our weekend. Someone brought up the idea of visting Xi’an, and the decision was made.
Thursday afternoon was occupied with the over-complicated task of buying plane tickets. We tried booking online, were then told to call the English number, who then told us we needed a Chinese speaker to book with a credit card, and, after recruiting our Chinese-speaking friend, were told we could only use our credit cards in a branch office. We quickly googled the nearest office and hopped onto the next bus to Zhongshan park, only to wait in line for 30 minutes to be told we could NOT use our credit cards and had to go find an ATM.
Welcome to China everyone. Nothing is simple here.
But, we eventually got our tickets and the trip was set!
We (a group of 10 students) left Shanghai around 1:30 Friday afternoon, arriving in Xi’an at around 4. The Hostel website had made it sound like it was 10 minutes from the airport, but, in reality, it was 1 hour. We split up into taxis and headed off–only to get hopelessly lost and drive around Xi’an for 2.5 hours before finally pulling up to a doorway with a “Hosteling International” sign above it. But, thankfully, we finally made it!
The next morning we got an early start to HuaShan, one of the 5 sacred Chinese Taoist mountains. Since we were such a large group, we were able to rent a private bus for the same price as train tickets would have been. During the two hour ride, we were stopped by some security guards at a check point, who suspiciously looked through the van before finding out we were American, to which they hastily said, “sorry, sorry” and went on to the next car.
Once we arrived at the Huashan ticket office (but it was more like a ticket complex), we were delighted to find out that students got a 50% discount into the park, and bought a entry pass to the park. When we went to the gates to board the bus, the workers looked at our tickets surprisingly as we skipped over the crowded cable-car bus and went straight for the one that took us to the path that would take us up the mountain by foot.
Most of the other passengers on our bus were wearing very non-hiking-like clothing, complete with UGGs, jewelry, tights, and skirts. Only one other Chinese man lookedlike he meant business.
At the base of the mountain we passed through a huge complex of Temples that were absolutely breathtaking. The smell of incense was everywhere, and I would haveloved to spend an hour or so there–but we had a long hike ahead of us so we could only afford to walk through it.
As we started our hike, it became clear that this was not going to be easy (at least for super-out-of-shape / never-been-in-shape me). Every 30 minutes felt like 5 hours, and my lungs were actively rejecting the polluted air that congregated around the base of the mountain.I thought I was going to die. Literally.The entire path was steep hills or endless flights of stairs. Around every corner was another 1000 steps or another steep hill to climb. I was left in the dust by 60-something grandparents who were making the journey and an old man carrying two packs of waterbottles over his shoulders.
The trail took us past tens of small temples, rocks legended to be from the beginning of the world, old historic homes and landmarks, and small little shops selling food andsnacks to wanderers. We also noticed that there were old metal locks hooked onto the metal chains lining the path, which we later learned had the names of couples inscribed on them that had taken the hike before. It is thought that if you leave your lock on the mountain, your relationship will last forever.
And….. after a 3.5 hour hike of hills and stairs and stair-ladders that I crawled up on with all fours, WE FINALLY MADE IT!!!!!
And it was gorgeous!!!!!!!!!!!!! So worth every second of short breath, burning lungs, and legs that felt like they would fall off.I’ve never seen anything more beautiful in my life!
After a what-seemed-like-30-second break at the North Peak, we headed off for antoehr hour-long hike to the higher South peak. About 3/4 of the way, the group split up which half going straight towards the cable car, and half headed off to do the infamous Plank Walk!
The Plank Walk was easily the craziest thing I have ever done! Talk about an adrenalyne rush! We had to climb down a tiny little ladder that was no more than than a few inches wide hanging over a 7,000 foot drop off and then scurry onto tiny planks that were about a foot wide. Then, we had to shimmy across these planks towards the look out point. I thought I was going to die on top of that mountain.
But the view was SO WORTH IT! All you could see for miles were mountain ranges streching on and on into the sunset. In the distance all I could see was peaks pking out from above clouds. I felt like I was in a painting.
After the Plank Walk, it was about 7pm so we opted to take the cable car back down. It was apparently International Women’s Day (yeah, I’ve never heard of that either), so all the girls got a discount on the cable car. Score!
The ride down was epic. Not only because of the view of the sunset and the mountains, but also because of the indescribable proudness I felt as I looked back at Huashan and thought, “Wow! I climbed that today!” Conquering that mountain was the most amazing thing I have ever done, and a memory I will always carry on with me. So, remember, next time you’re in Xi’an–don’t forget to take the journey up 7,000 feet!