January 24, 2007

Wandering through Wuyishan...

:: Tip-toe through the tea plants.... ::

Dropping down into the remote west of Fujian province we stopped in the mountain resort area of Wuyishan. We got here after two horrendous bus rides, it was getting dark and we were dreading doing the accommodation search especially on a Friday night in a popular Chinese tourist spot. Anyhow, we caught a taxi to the hotel area and the taxi driver pulled up at the local 4* hotel. Taxi drivers and touts usually get a kick back from hotels for bringing customers in so naturally the taxi driver was heading for the biggest kickback opportunity. After going in and fleecing them for a hotel brochure with a handy map of the area on the back, we explained that their hotel was lovely but we were bargain basement clientele and looking to spend less than 100y on a room. They were appalled!

We started walking around the town - with the taxi driver hanging precariously out the window of the car trying to lure us back into his cab so he could take us to another hotel. He was very persistent and highly annoying .. he even tried to drive in front of us to cut off our path. We ignored him and kept walking .. next thing we are accosted by a woman on her bike who tells us she'll show us to a hotel that's just "around the corner". (This is all done in charades). Anyhow, eventually we give up carrying our load and drop the bags and I totter off with her to inspect. We go up a lane full of construction, round a dusty corner... bamboo scaffolding everywhere and then into a small hotel entrance. I go up to see the room (feeling like I should have turned back 10 minutes previously). It was unbelievable ... full on huge hotel 5* quality room, brand new carpet, classy curtains, kettle, green tea in container, towels, two huge beds, wide screen TV .... and all for 60 Y. I couldn't believe it. Trying my best to contain my delight I shrugged and said that I'd pay her 50 Y (5 euros, 8 aud) ....they said no... I pretended to walk and they said OK. Marcus reckoned it was a bit mean to squeeze the extra 10Y out of them but I got caught up in the moment. When we all came back to the lobby the annoying taxi driver was still hovering trying to convince us that the place was terrible.

:: Just to prove our standards haven't dropped... ::

Wuiyshan is an area 60 square kilometers in size, the small resort area lies alongside the River of Nine Bends. Chinese tourists come in their droves to bamboo raft around the nine bends and clamber up thousands of steps to the top of a pinnacle called "Clouds Nest". Our small map from the 4*hotel illustrated some interesting trails around the national park so we decided to avoid the tourists and signposted walkways and trek through the park using that.

:: The famous plants in the flesh ::

Wuyi Mountain is home to Dohongpao black tea. In 2002 a mere twenty grams of this tea was sold at auction for the record price of 21,700 US dollars. "True" rare Dohongpao tea comes from four tea plants over 1000 years old that grow in a cliff in Wuyi mountain. Each year the trees yield only 1kg of tea. Cheaper Donongpao tea made from tea plants cloned from the original plants in the cliff is available to the Great Unwashed. If you want the real deal you'll pay dearly for it! You can get pretty close to where the cave is and I think we saw the tea plants. There didn't seem to be much security around so maybe it was a decoy picture opportunity spot.

:: 9 Bend river from above ::

Pretty much following our noses we hiked through beautiful hidden valleys with hundreds of tea plantations and little houses. The tea plants were flowering so the vista was made all the more spectacular. The map proved inadequate so we had to look for some local advice on the path out. After hiking for a few hours we began to get worried about how we were going to get home and hoped to hit the road or the river that we could follow back into town. We eventually emerged back onto the tourist trail before dark - for once we were glad to see the Chinese tour groups. Walking 200 meters we turned a corner and fortuitously found ourselves at the very top of "Cloud's Nest" looking out on an amazing view. We stood for a while admiring the view and watching tourists struggle up the thousands of steps that we'd saved ourselves the trouble of. On the way home we became the main attraction for all the bamboo boats . Without fail each boat shrieked "Lao Wai" (foreigner) with delight as they spotted us and frantically waved and shouted "hello". Obviously it was a novelty/highlight to see two foreigners in the wild.

:: "More of the eggplant & greens & less of the bugs please " ::

Each province we've been to has had very different kinds of restaurants and street food. In Wuyishan all the food is laid out on a stall in front of a restaurant for people to inspect. This makes ordering dinner easier because you can see what looks good or spot something new that inspires you to give it a go. The dead meat like wild boar, pork, beef, chicken is put on one side, vegetables, wild mushrooms and big cocoons of grubs (didn't inspire us) are on the other and alongside there are cages of pheasants, geese, ducks, chickens and cute fat bunnies. Each night when we went back to our favourite restaurant we were secretly pleased to see that no one had fancied rabbit that day.


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