Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Entrance to Wulingyuan National Park; karsts beyond

Giant karsts; some of the trails are in the valleys, others follow the ridges

Us; pretty much the only non-Chinese there

We made our fourth trip by plane in China Sunday. I don't think I've mentioned that every plane was full, took off early, and on each flight we had a complete meal. Free beer, too. A lot different from the States right now. We arrived in Zhangjiajie on a plane where we were the only Euro-Americans. Monday in Wulingyuan National Park we spent about 8 hours and saw thousands of people—4 “English.” This is really off the beaten track for non-Chinese tourists. We hired a guide for two days since no one speaks English, and there are hardly any signs in English—at least outside the park. Though expensive at about $70 a day, “Josh” speaks pretty good English and was immensely helpful in getting our money changed. We had no problems until today—just put the card in the ATM, punch in the pin, out comes the Chinese money. After 3 banks this morning and a manager's help (via Josh) we learned that only certain ATMs take foreigners cash cards and their 4 number pins—those are all in big cities only. The rest of the country uses 6 digit pins. So we tried to exchange our $100 bills—not crisp enough to be read by the counterfeit machine! With humidity at over 90%, crisp is not really an option. Two banks wouldn't take the American Express traveler's checks, but the third finally did. It was a little shaky there wondering what we were going to do for money other than to fly back to Shanghai. Rural areas like these—a city of 1.6 million—don't take credit cards not issued by Chinese banks! Mark will fill you in on our lovely, though beastly hot, day in the park. Whole grilled fish on a stick for snacks anyone? Vicki.

Wulingyuan NP is China's first national park, established in 1982, and is noted for its mountainous terrain, forests, streams, etc., and, in particular, its somewhat different version of the Chinese karsts. Here they are more layered, metamorphic rock, rising perhaps a couple thousand feet above the gorges. They are similar yet very different from the Li River karsts, which are softer, rounder, higher. Wulingyuan still is fairly awesome. In the Park itself today we did two major things: a cable-car ride to one of the high karsts with splendid 360 panorama. The morning mist burned off and visibility was good. There was a beautiful small garden of tea bushes along one of the high paths. After an interesting Hunan lunch (some like it mild), we walked Jinbian Stream—three gorgeous hours in the gorge. The clear stream itself and the luxuriant vegetation were so pleasant (not to mention the labels on every tree, rocks, etc., and the continual reminders to live in harmony with nature), I had to remind myself to look up at the ever-changing karst ceiling. The path through the gorge was even more crowded than the Great Wall, but people were good-natured, all suffering the same atrocious heat and humidity. These end-of summer hot days are known as the “autumn tiger,” and the tiger has made us miserable at times ever since Xian. Fortunately, we have found air-conditioned hotels fairly readily, including tonight's Yu Bi Feng Hotel, which is brand-new and pretty nice. Unfortunately, we haven't a clue as to what town it is in. Josh and the driver will pick us up tomorrow morning at 8:30 for our next adventure. Mark

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