By : Emma.H | OKDealTravel
Spring finally came. There’s nothing better than taking a deep breath and getting some refreshment in a tranquil place.
This beautiful place, Xinchang, is located in eastern China in the center of Zhejiang province, just at the outer reaches of Shaoxing city's administrative district, where it gets close enough for convenience but still remote enough for original countryside lifestyles to remain.
During Qingming Holiday, I went for a three-day hiking and hot spring retreat in Xinchang County with people that I’ve never met before. We were all from different countries, different backgrounds, and were also at different life stages… but I knew what made us gather together for this trip was the same: our passion in fitness, outdoor activities, socialization, and the desire to embrace nature and enjoy our lives.
Nineteen Peaks Hiking
At around 7.30am on April 2nd, 2016, I arrived at Hilton Hotel in Jing’an Temple to meet up with other travelers from OK, Deal! Club. To be honest I was quite shocked to see nobody being late for the tour. Generally speaking, when in China, people’s sense of punctuality is quite flexible – waiting for 1 hour in this situation is quite normal. Thanks to everyone’s effort in making it a good start, we headed off in a timely manner for our new adventure.
The Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English, is a traditional Chinese festival on the first day of the fifth Solar Term on the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. Starting from Qingming, temperature in China begins to rise and rainfall increases, indicating that it is the crucial time for plowing and sowing in the spring. However, it is not only a seasonal symbol; it is also a day for paying respect to the dead, a day for a spring outing, and a holiday in which most Chinese like to get closer to nature and enjoy the nice weather.
Wearing a glaring fluorescent green jacket and a big smile, our bilingual tour leader Emily stood in the front of the bus and started to introduce the trip itinerary to us. Xinchang County was 5 hours drive away from Shanghai. But from the first moment when Emily held up her microphone and spoke to the group, I forgot the ride and could only anticipate the thrill of what was to come once we hit the trail.
I noticed that all three of our tour leaders were loading stuff on the bus, taking care of guests, and didn’t even have enough time to finish their breakfast before departure. Actually I had the idea of applying as a tour leader with OK, Deal! for a while. But after a few days observation of our tour leaders’ hard work, I realized it was by no means easy to be a good tour leader. You need to have a strong sense of responsibility, a good team-work spirit and excellent leadership ability. I guess I still have a long way to go…
By the time we got off and arrived in the first scenic spot Xinchang Nineteen Peaks, everyone seemed a bit tired after a long time sitting in the bus and a rugged final half-hour countryside drive. In this remote area where a lot of places were still under construction, sitting in a bus felt more like riding a horse. No joke.
However, none of us was scared away by a little difficulty. And the good weather was helping. Just like a well-known Chinese Qingming poem said, “The rain falls thick and fast on all souls’ day; the men and women sadly move along the way (by poet Dumu)”, mostly this time in China, 9 out of 10 places were raining. We did have some luck on our first day.
At the entrance of Xinchang Nineteen Peaks, there was an old wooden bridge crossing a peaceful river named Hanfei. In the Sui Dynasty of ancient China, Hanfei was the wife of a prince who was forced to go into exile when the crown was in jeopardy. It was said that when the exhausted lady realized it was almost impossible for her to climb through so many precipitous mountains around this river, she decided to give up on herself and rested in the river forever. Later on, people felt sad for this gorgeous young lady and decided to rename the bridge and built a temple in name of hers to commemorate the history.
The highest of the Nineteen Peaks was the Sea Contemplating Peak, which was 378 meters tall and quite easy to climb. Surrounded by lower peaks, it had the best full view of this less touristy and more refreshing area. Everything in front of our eyes was green – green mountains, green trees and a green rope bridge.
There were a few limited spots in the Nineteen Peaks that were a little more challenging. One of them was a very steep set of stairs. For someone like me, who never had hiking experience, carrying a big backpack and a big camera made it hard to go up and down all the time.
Luckily, I made some new friends who encouraged me, inspired me and helped me take pictures on the first day. I had a blast capturing such a fun crowd. Chasing people up and down the mountain for the perfect hiking shot kept me motivated over such steep terrain.
Thankfully, everyone was so cooperative when I asked for some interesting postures. And a total stranger even gave us a funny photo bomb
With time passing by, we finally did our hotel check-in at around 6:30 pm. It was quite surprising that there would be such a nice three-star hotel with good facilities in this remote county. The only inconvenience was the lack of grocery shops and pharmacies nearby.
After dinner, OK, Deal! team organized a bonfire party with free alcohol and snacks for everyone in this trip. After a long day of hiking, nothing beats a big warm bonfire with barbeque, marshmallows, and laughter.
Day 2- Waterfall Rescue
In the early morning on April 3rd, I was awaken by some pitter-patter noise outside. “Damn, we might have to cancel our hiking today” – that’s the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the pouring rain. As was known to us all, when it’s raining heavily on the mountain, there’s a higher chance to see mud-rock flow, mountain torrents, landslide etc. Yet when I finally got up and finished breakfast in the dining hall, the rain had already stopped. Another lucky day! I was very optimistic and naïve per usual.
The weather seemed quite clear and the air on the wild mountain in Xinchang was incredibly fresh. We were all fully recharged after a good night sleep. So when our tour leader William – a physically fit, sexily mustachioed, hot soldier looking type – told us the total distance of today’s hiking was 12 kilometers, someone in our team teased, “That’s not a big deal”. I thought the same.
However, right after we took a group picture and started hiking in the muddy trail, we heard a clap of thunder in the sky. Before the rain fell, all of us put on our raincoats in a muddle. At first it was just a drizzle kissing people’s face, but soon it decided to become an evil and violent downpour.
All of us seemed a bit inexperienced in real hiking. It is partially because we were all working or living in a big hectic city Shanghai and lack of outdoor training, partially because no one expected this hiking trip to be a serious one.
When a British girl Nicola told me she was so glad that she had worn her hiking shoes today, I looked at my dirty, crumbling runners which were completely soaked and cried a little bit inside.
Shortly after, everyone got completely wet even wearing raincoats. Our local guide and tour leaders decided to let people stop and wait until the rain got lighter. All 50 of us were hiding under the half-remaining rooftop of an abandoned house. Even though there were a few complaints about the weather, the majority of us wanted tocontinue hiking.
30 minutes later, we stepped on the trail again. It wasn't much to hike on, especially in that weather, but we made do -- crossing wet stones and miniature mudslides, we managed to slide our way down the trail ahead.
It was really dangerous in this shitty rain. Our team moved pretty slowly. All our brave tour leaders jumped into the waterfall and stood in a line to help people cross it. Some travelers in our group joined in the rescuing team voluntarily also
Things went pretty well until I heard screaming. It turned out a girl fell into the water and was pushed over the edge of a 4ft. waterfall. Without any hesitation, our tour leader William also jumped in and dragged the poor girl up.
Everyone had such a release when seeing William giving the girl a hug. I never thought this kind of thing would happen in real life until that day Willem became a true hero in my heart.
Luckily the girl didn’t get injured badly and could still continue hiking with our group. But it was noticeable that people all turned more careful and serious about this trip. That’s why later on when we were crossing an even higher and more dangerous waterfall. Everybody successfully made it.
Tea Garden Village
When we arrived at the tea garden, the rain had stopped. Finally we had some time to enjoy the amazing view in a big valley. Words can hardly describe the beauty of this place. There were only few tourists apart from us. And I’m sure there will be a lot of this kind of hidden wonderland in China waiting for us to discover.
I was left behind because I had to pee nearby a rock. Well, apparently we won’t be able to find any public toilets here but it’s sort of my responsibility to respond to nature’s call. The temperature also rose up when I decided to take a sexy picture in this beautiful place. (Yes, right next to where I peed) But when I looked at my camera, I found this…indeed…super sexy…picture… Excuse me?!
By the time we decided to make a lunch break, everybody’s shoes and socks were still all wet. I took out my feet and realized that they were a little bit puffy.
I couldn’t imagine how the natives walked on these trails every day. And we could see those who were working hard in tea garden were all old grannies. With their wrinkled hands busy picking tea-leaves, they must have fought for their lives quite roughly.
Big respect for them. It was because of these people, we had really good tea to drink. The local tour guide kindly invited all of us to her house in village to enjoy a cup of tea. I guess there was nothing better than this when your whole body was wet for a whole day.
As a not-so-professional photographer, finding a good angle was not always an easy thing. In order to get a good picture, some photographers even risked their lives. My experience of falling into a river won’t overshadow the girl that fell into the waterfall earlier, but it still ranked pretty high in my recent poor decisions (note to self, don't fall face first into water while holding a camera).
Yes, I couldn’t believe I fell into the water too – a really shallow rivulet that would never kill anyone – and hurt both my knees and butt. The fact was I didn’t pay attention to the slippery stones under my feet. My eyes were staring at the team in front of us and my mind was filled with the excitement of taking wonderful pictures. Thank god, people around me reacted really quickly. They pulled up my arms and got me out of the water in an instant. Thank you so much, my lovely people.
But I probably scared someone behind me and soon another girl fell into the same rivulet just as I did. And… the same girl that fell into the waterfall before! Twice in one day! I felt so bad for her. No one could know her feelings better than me. It was quite embarrassing. And you would be afraid that people would all laugh at you. Yet I was really appreciated that everyone in our team was just so awesome. They gave nothing but their hands to you when you were in an awkward situation. I was grateful.
Before reaching the top of that mountain, we came across a small team of three four people. They were hiking towards us from an opposite direction. And who knew that the first thing their leading girl said to us was, “Hey, you went the wrong direction.” Hello, pardon me? “Mmm…we were about to say the same.” that’s our response. But this overly-confident girl was so arrogant and couldn’t stop, “Come on, we have a guide.” “Oh sorry, we have a guide too.” Then I saw one of my teammates – a really fun American guy – pointing another direction to the girl and told her, “Bitch Mountain is that way.” It was just hilarious!
At that night we had another bonfire party and this time we added some snack barbeque. The hotel tender helped us set a bonfire and also brought a bigger speaker for us to play music. Such a sweet guy! Although he didn’t speak any English and couldn’t communicate with others, he entertained everyone with his dancing and barbecuing the whole night.
That night really brought us together. We had gone through so many difficulties in one day, but we made it! When realizing that even though these people didn’t know one another, they were still willing to help each other out, it felt like a heartening experience.
Hotspring and Goodbyes
Last but not least, we went to a natural hot spring spot to comfort our sore bodies from the day before. Before I went on this trip, I searched some pictures online about this hot spring. It was absolutely stunning in the pictures I found. So when I actually got here, my surprises were not too big. To be honest I was even a little bit disappointed that they put some fences around the hot springs. They were obviously not there before and more or less distracting.
But I was guessing maybe it’s kind of dangerous if they didn’t do that. Right besides our hot springs, there was a big lake down below with a typical southern region view. Surrounded by some beautiful islands, it felt like a paradise. My whole body was so relaxed in the green tea hot spring. I was alive again.
I've always believed that life is more than just getting to know one kind of people with like-minded views and habits; One must enjoy the serendipity of meeting all different kinds of people. In this trip, I learned so many hiking skills and met so many interesting souls. Thanks OK, Deal! Thanks tour leaders! Thanks everyone! You’ve given me an epic experience. Now on to the next one!
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