Ten days to Hong Kong: part five
Huaihua Shi, China
Huaihua Shi, China
“What are you doing?”
This is the fifth request for my picture in the few minutes since we arrived and I am becoming increasingly exasperated.
“I am not the scenery!” I blurt out, not that there is an English speaker among them. “THIS is the scenery!”
I gesture off the viewing platform known as Tianbo Mansion, out over the spectacular, spiky karst formations smeared in dense forest. Low-lying clouds amble through the peaks.
Yet, the opportunity to have your picture taken with a foreigner apparently cannot be ignored.
Despite feeling like a Madame Taussauds waxwork, I am considerably more at ease up here than back at Zhangjiajie, the scenery said to have inspired Avatar.
I was curious to find out what could possibly have inspired a motion picture that, well, long.
But my visit to this section goes by in blur of shuttle bus, elevator and cable car queues, selfie sticks and the irritating static-backed tour guides. Screaming at the hordes through their microphones, they do at least have the knowledge to guide me to a quieter section of the park.
It is here that I meet Becky and her cohorts from Guangzhou. They are friendly, interested in my itinerary and, to my immense relief, led by a guide I can neither see nor hear.
Actually I almost don’t gain entry to Zhangjiajie National Park at all, as ticket reselling is policed by, you guessed it, a fingerprint scan. China agrees with Russia: my fingerprints aren’t valid.
Back at my hostel at the East Gate of the park, I calculate a route to avoid the tour groups for the following day, aided by my extremely helpful Chinese hostel mates. They also enthusiastically recommend other destinations I simply don’t have time to visit. I am travelling too fast.
My route on day two runs along the Golden Whip Stream, and – path sweepers aside – I have it to myself for the first hour or so. The calm, the water and the karst looming over me repair the damage done by the chaos the previous morning.
I head up from the end of the path to Stone Village. On the way I once again encounter my friends from Guangzhou.
There is an uneasy coexistence between tourist and animal here. I am horrified to round a corner to find a woman donating a precious instant noodle pot. The monkey efficiently punches a hole in the packaging and munches on the synthetic snack.
At the top I find a quiet spot to unwrap a chocolate bar and gawp at the incredible…
“Excuse me, can I have a picture with you please?”
On a stranger’s camera somewhere in China there is a photo of us and a jaw-slackening backdrop…mostly obscured by the Snickers bar still attached to my mouth.