I woke up at 5 am, powered up with a banana and some chocolate muffins, put my game face on, and headed out. Today, I was conquering the Cable Car and the famed Huangshan Mountain and I was prepared for a fight to the death.
I asked the front desk where I could get a cab. The man behind the desk pointed to himself and handed me a helmet before disappearing behind the hotel. He reappeared riding a motorcycle that had “Harvey Daversdon” written on the side. Sure, why not?
As is usual in Chinese bureaucracy, he could only take me to the gate of the mountain park, where I had to get on a shuttle bus that would take me to the cable car station. Since I was a party of one, they shoved me (there will be a lot of shoving in this story) onto a bus full of 60 Chinese men who were all part of the same tour group. How could I tell, you ask? The matching yellow cowboy hats gave them away.
Once we reached the cable car station, I had to wait in line to get my mountain ticket. After I got that one, I had to get my cable car ticket. Then I had to get in the outer cable car line, which led us to the inner cable car line, followed by the pre-boarding waiting room, the actual cable car boarding zone, and the starting line for the mad dash that people were preparing to making to get on the actual cable car.
As the cable car approached I could feel the mountain of people building up behind me, pinning me up against the thin glass door that separated us from the approaching cable car and about a forty-foot plunge into the valley below. As the car got nearer, the people pushed harder. Mind you, we were sectioned off, which meant we were GUARANTEED a place. But, that wasn’t good enough you had to be the first person on as well, even if it meant potentially falling to the depths below.
Cable car docks in station…current passengers exit…my compadres push harder…attendant nears doors…elbows begin to fly…attendant opens doors…Chinese tourists take off, pushing people over, yelling and screaming, bags flying, children crying, old people swinging their canes…It is complete and utter mayhem. I, meanwhile, push my way to the side so I can wait for the madness to subside. As I watch, a young girl of about sixteen or seventeen is shoved by a middle-aged man. I watch her reach for the railing and step forward, only to have her leg slide right into the space between the platform and the car. Nobody seems to notice, or even care. The girl is crying. She pulls her leg out and presses on.
In China there is no room for sympathy, you are one of 1.3 billion people, you must fight on!
Once the cable car reached the top I popped in my headphones and headed in the direction away from the tour groups, alive, but just barely. Travelling in China is all about getting away from the crowds. Unfortunately, It took me one hour and 15 quick breaks to find complete and utter silence, absolutely no people, and the most beautiful view I have ever seen when travelling in China - Mountain upon mountain swimming in a sea of cloudy mist, the sun billowing in brilliant reds, oranges and yellows. It was surreal. There was only one thing I could do. I turned on Michael Jackson and moonwalked my way down the path as I mouthed the words to “Black or White.”
Sadly, my isolation was short-lived.
Since I had taken the “road less traveled” from the cable car station and still wanted to see the three famed peaks of Huangshan Mountain, I had to now conquer the sea of Chinese tourists. Still on a high from my exceptional dancing, I headed for Brightness Peak.As I approached, I could see the enormous sea of tourists laid out before me. Each group was sporting their own unique hat and fanny pack, all provided by the respective tour company. Some were red with oversized bills, others yellow with full brims. There were even some rainbow-colored hats, though I don’t think that they were gay travel groups. For every group, there is one guide, usually a young, small-framed, unassuming, sweet-looking girl. She carries a flag that matches the hats. When it is raised, the group is supposed to follow. Few do. I do not envy this poor girl. Strapped around her waist is a small speaker about the size of a cassette tape. It is attached to a microphone that is affixed firmly to the tour guide’s hat (also matching, but with a little pin that indicates their exclusive tour guide status). One would think that these very small women would have equally small voices.
One would be wrong. Every single tour guide is squawking into his or her little microphone all at the same time, and not a single person is listening to him or her. Even if they were trying to listen, it would be impossible to understand, what with all the confusion and commotion that comes with 65 (yes, I counted) guides talking to roughly 2,500 tourists who are standing in an area roughly the size of a three-car garage perched on top of a mountain 10,000 feet in the air with no guard rails (it’s China, after all).