Sunday, April 17, 2011

Huangguoshu and Guiyang

This weekend Meredith and I set out on our own to see Huangguoshu, a park or area that has amazing waterfalls, gorges and beautiful rock formations.  Its main attraction is the huge waterfall that is something like 70m across and 80m high. 

Day 1: To get to the waterfall we had to take a bus first to the city of Anshun, about 3 hours from Duyun.  Debbie helped us with the bus tickets in Duyun so that part of the journey was pretty easy.  We got into Anshun at about 3 pm and decided not to continue on another hour to Huangguoshu because we wanted to have more time to see the place.  We found a guest house not far from the bus station.  This is the first time that I have had to use my very limited Chinese language skills.  After this weekend I understand that limited doesn't begin to describe how inept I am.   We argued at the front desk of the hostel because I felt I was being overcharged $14, a considerable amount when the room is less than $20.  When I say arguing by that I mean I kept repeating "1 night, 120 kuai" in Chinese after which the staff would say something.  After about 5 min we figured out that the extra some was a key deposit.  Problem solved, now on to finding dinner.  We headed towards the river because there was good street food around there and after having some (sub-par) milk tea we decided that we would stop at one of the many noodle shops to have a bowl (typically about$1).  We walk in to one that is full but not crowded (a good sign we thought) and (because I don't know how to say any food in Chinese) we pointed to the bowl of what everyone else was having.  Now when our bowl of noodles came out we noticed the bowl was garnished with certain herbs and greens—most noticeably mint.  We had only heard of mint being served with one type of meat---dog.  When I looked more closely at the chalk board menu I realized that I did indeed know 1 or 2 of the characters.  At first I thought our bill would jump to $25 but then realized that that amount was by the pound, however, my first suspicion of the mint was confirmed.  We were eating dog.  This was most definitely a first for us, but I wouldn't say a last.  It was a very tasty meal, especially considering that it was still only about $2 for the two of us. 

Day 2:

It was an early morning so that we could get to the falls before the crowds of Chinese tourists show up.  The falls and rock formations are pretty spectacular and Meredith and I first chuckled when there were signs proclaiming that it is the only great waterfall that you can see from 6 different points.  We thought that if you've seen it from one angle then you've seen it from every angle but that is not the case.  We really enjoyed being right next to the falls and especially enjoyed going "behind the curtain" in the cave that runs through the rock behind it.  We were  thankful for the rain jackets we bought for the trek because we were able to keep our bags dry when we went behind the falls no matter how goofy we looked with the hood on and the sleeves tied around our wastes.   After the falls we wanted to go to another area of the park, a few minutes walk from the falls.  We start down the road and are frequently passed by buses and taxis, all accompanied by unabashed stares but that's normal for here—we are always quiet the spectacle wherever we are.  Now a taxi (the first empty one we have seen) pulls over next to us and offers a ride.  He said for about $15 he would take us to all of the different areas then back to the bus station.  (I gather this info mainly through finger pointing and maps, not too much from my Chinese skills).  We didn't have time to do the entire park so we told him but he wouldn't drop the price.  I finally told him (in broken Chinese) we don't have a lot of money and we can just walk.  At this he chuckles and drops his price by half and we're off.  Now the only thing of our taxi small talk that I understand is "this walk is really really far", 8km later I realize he must think we are crazy.  This couple (everyone always assumes Meredith and I are dating…) tells him that they have no time but would spend and hour or more walking to the park instead of a $7 cab ride; we didn't realize it was so far.  He waits for us at the park and takes us back to the bus station so we can make it to Guiyang in time to find a hotel. 

At the bus station (parking lot) I ask how much and once again the driver quotes me a ludicrous price.  I tell him this is entirely too expensive but he doesn't budge.  We tell him we will find another bus but he says its all the same price so I say to him then we will go through a different town (Anshun, where we started from that morning) but he looks at me like we are crazy.  As we are walking away he drops the price by 75% so Meredith and happily hop on the bus and we are off.  (Author's note: this is what I believed happened at the time, this is not factual) When I go to pay I only had pretty big bills so I hand over more than enough.  He gives me that look, like what is wrong with this guy?  He hands me one of the big bills back and some change.  That's when it hits me, with the regional accents (making my rough Chinese even rougher) I couldn't really understand his numbers and thus we had spent 10 minutes arguing over what amounted to less than $2 for both tickets and he didn't drop the price by 75% but by maybe 5% and then after all that I hand him almost triple what he asked for! 

We arrived in Guiyang at about 5:00pm at a huge bus park (this one is much more than just a parking lot) and are unable to get our bearings.   Meredith and I are standing at the street corner looking pretty helpless when 3 Chinese girls approach and ask if we need help (I guess we looked that hopeless) and then explain we can take either a $5 taxi or a 15 cent bus to the city center.  We choose the bus and the girls escort us all the way to the local bus area and show us which one to get on and where to get off.  These girls were such a help, without them we might never have made it from the bus park.   We first try to find a guest house but the only one we could find doesn't have any rooms.  We didn't look very far after that because we had business to take care of: finding Dairy Queen.  We knew it was somewhere in the city center but finding it was difficult.  We say a small group with DQ cups and charged at the from across the sidewalk, not wanting to miss this opportunity.  The girl gives us these directions "go left" but then realizes the rest would be too difficult.  She then tries a map, but decides against it and writes us a card.  I am pretty sure the card says "help these crazy people find DQ" whatever it said it worked because we could stop someone and try to ask where DQ was, if it didn't work we would give them the paper.  We found DQ hidden in some coffee square underneath a business building  but were almost fooled by its impersonator—DU is the first thing you see when you walk it, the colors are the same, logo similar and it sells something similar to a Blizzard. After DQ we headed to the bus station to try to catch a late bus.  We couldn't find the bus station and must have been looking especially lost because yet another young Chinese girl stops us and offers to help.   She tells us we have to go well out of the city to the bus station but she can tell the cabby where to take us.   We end up at the bus station at 9pm missing the last bus by quite a while.  Without an idea as to where to sleep we allow a girl working for a guest house at the bus station to walk us to a nearby guest house.  I thought it was crazy that she had to walk us there but then again I didn't expect the guest house to be in a back building in a 5-6 building apartment complex on the 4th floor that is made up of other family apartments (save this unnamed guest house).  We were shocked when we walked in and the beds were huge and looked clean and there was a computer in the room!  We thanked her for her help and collapsed in to bed.  It was a long day but well worth it and made much more memorable by all the misunderstandings.  (a note about the bus station: this enormous bus station on the outskirts of the city opened 4 months ago and combined the 3 inner city long distance bus stations that were mentioned in our book.  Of course we only found this out upon our safe return to Duyun.)

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