Rain is pouring down on me when I get off the bus that took me from Wuyishan East station (why does this town need three railway stations and why does this one lie a 40 minute drive away from it?). I base myself in a hostel on the other side of the river: quiet, and on the edge of the Wuyishan Park), and the owner explains I first have to take a ticket from the south entrance. It is still raining when I get on a shuttle bus with Chinese tourists all wrapped up in purple disposable raincoats. Instead of Dahongpao, it drops us at One line sky, so I decide to start exploring here. After walking to Screw Cave, I meet my purple Chinese friends again and they point me to the stairs inside a cave. Turns out, they lead up between two gigantic boulders, leaving precious little room to walk up. I end up with my backpack in hand, walking sideways and still scratching the rocks on all sides. A sliver of daylight comes in from above, but fortunately there are lights built into the cliffs because it would be very dark. When I’m back on the ground, it turns out there is another, similar stairs leading the other way. Unfortunately, the short trail on top a boulder is well sealed off, preventing me the views it could offer.
On a shuttle bus again, but instead of dropping me at Dahongpao, it stops at Water Curtain Cave. I walk a wide valley, then up through small terraces with tea plants, until I find myself under a huge arched overhanging cliff, offering shelter from the rain that still falls down from the monotonous grey clouds. Slightly to the left, a spray tumbles from the edge, ending in a small pool just ahead of me in a loud and continuous splash. Walking the stone stairs brings me to a wooden temple with three statues. A Chinese point to the one on the left and says, with a wide grin: He is the best! Down in the valley again, I start out on the trail to Dahongpao. It is getting late and it is a gamble, but I feel like risking it. What follows is a fantastic walk through a landscape of a running stream, with small fields with tea plants on either side, steep cliffs sometimes forming impossibly narrow passages, old stone bridges, a forgotten house. A fairy tale. The first person I see is the bus driver playing a game on his phone at the bus stop. I walk up to Yongle Temple, where I am greeted by a golden Maitreya Buddha, his four guardians, and the celestial singing of nuns and the mantras hummed by Buddhist monks, with rhythmic soft drumming. Later, on my way down to the bus stop, I see the last bus leave, adding another half hour hike before I can finally wolf down a meal.
When I wake up the next day, the sky seems clear, I quickly eat some of the stuff I bought and walk to the foot of the Great King Peak. Stone stairs take me up to the summit, which only offers limited views of the surrounding landscape. It is here that the sun finally greets me. Following a different trail on my way down, I am squeezing myself through the narrow space between two enormous rocks, carefully placing my feet on steps made slippery by water that trickles down from the ceiling. Back at ground level again, I pay a visit to Wuyi Temple, looking old and with some interesting sculptures. I continue on the south side of Jiuqu River, am disappointed by the fact that the lookout point for Jade Girl Peak is closed off, and hike straight to the trailhead of Tianyou Peak, the most important mountain of the entire park. Predictably, this means that I am walking up surrounded by hordes of Chinese tourists, forming what looks like a never ending line of ants. Even though I manage to overtake many, it makes me recalcitrant to the point that I climb over a sign saying forbidden to enter, which leads to a superb viewpoint from which I can see many peaks and several of the nine bends of the river below. I continue to Taoyuan Cave, passing a huge statue of Laozi, finding a temple surrounded by mountains but no cave to be seen. When asked, an old man laughs and points around: this is the cave! I walk down to the main artery of Wuyi, the Jiaqu River, and follow it upstream all the way to Xingcun, with great views of mountain peaks, the greenish-white water gurgling down the valley, more tea plantations. Even though it is early afternoon by the time I arrive at the ticket office, the girl tells me in surprisingly good English that all bamboo rafts are fully booked. No place for one person? No! I have looked forward to rest my feet on the raft and see the canyon from a different perspective, and have some snacks to absorb my irritation. When I come back to her office, she again explains that there are no tickets, until a guy from upstairs shouts. Turns out two people have cancelled their tour. A little later, I see a raft leave with two open seats, and find myself with two Chinese men on another raft normally holding six. Two men punter us through the beautiful valley, over rapids, past walls of rock rising from the cold water. I recognize many sights, manage to keep my feet dry by holding them high every time we go through white rapids. Gradually, I get cold, very cold: a strong wind blows through the canyon, I am sitting still, and the sun is hiding behind clouds. I finally get a good view of Jade Girl Peak and other spots. There is still a line of ants on the back of Tianyou Peak.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Wuyishan (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Wuyishan. Read more about this site.