Adventure Archives

House Goals!

It’s strange, but the more we travel the more we actually aspire to own our own home! Maybe we are sick of packing everything we own up into boxes in my poor Dad’s spare room, or maybe we’ve just been to so many amazing properties. We are constantly collecting cool ideas for our future.

Dover Castle Inner

If only we could live in a castle forever… :)

And lets be honest, Dover castle is the pinnacle of permanent safe home ownership! The castle has stood for 800 years and counting! And the medieval earthworks began as an iron age hill fort before 1000 ad! We spent 6 hours exploring Dover castle and we’ve decided September is the perfect time of year because the weather is still warm and cloudy/sunny yet the crowds won’t bowl you over the turrets.

On the site of the castle on top of the tallest mound is an ancient Medieval Saxon church from 1000 AD which has been rebuilt in the 17th century, and believe it or not an actual Roman Lighthouse! It was built in AD 43 when the Romans invaded England and is one of the best surviving Roman Lighthouses in Europe.

The Saxon Church and Roman Lighthouse

The Saxon Church(100AD) and Roman Lighthouse(45AD)

We did the Dynamo tunnel tour, and as the film Dunkirk came out recently it was great timing to hear the real story of how the British forces managed to evacuate so many soldiers. Dover Castle is the largest castle in England and was totally unbombed by the German forces because Hitler put an embargo on damage as he wanted to own it for himself!  The castle had to prove itself in a war situation in 1216 when a few hundred men defended it from Prince Louis of France after King John reneged on Magna Carta.

In the late 18th century, during the Napoleonic Wars, Dover Castle’s defenses were upgraded again. More gun positions and platforms were added, and the roof of the keep was replaced with bricks so that heavy artillery could be used from the top of the keep. If you go into the Gallery inside the Great Tower (the Keep), you can stand above the King’s throne, but you can see how the roof was rebuilt in a curved brick design which does cover the top part of the gallery windows.

A series of tunnels were constructed as a garrison for troops during the Napoleonic Wars. About 2000 used the underground barracks, you can explore some in the Hospital and Dynamo tunnel tours, but most of them are closed off.

During World War II, the tunnels were used as air-raid shelters and then as a secret command center and military hospital. There are over three miles of tunnels, and many parts of the underground system have not yet been fully explored. WE would totally have offered to do some exploring on English Heritages behalf… don’t think they trusted Tony not to go into any dangerous areas! 🙂

Tony doing the Superman at a deserted Dover Castle

Tony doing the Superman at a deserted Dover Castle, September is not too crowded we highly recomend it!

To read more about the history of Dover castle please follow this link to the English Heritage page http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle/history-and-stories/history/

We definitely needed more than 4 hours to explore the castle complex fully, we took 6 hours because we stopped to explore lots of the gate houses and walked along the walls a lot. While wandering around the The Constables Gate area we discovered that you can rent rooms from English Heritage and stay in the castle walls overnight… wish we had known this earlier because although our self catering apartment in Dover was a great location for walking to town we would FAR rather have slept in a castle!

The Constables Gate

Looking inwards towards the Constables Gate, Check out the vines/trees growing up the walls!

As the entry fee for Dover Castle is around £20, we decided to join English Heritage for £40 each a year in the hope that this will make us visit more castles and historical buildings in our time in the UK. We really enjoyed ourselves and have had a great time in Dover, and we have aspirations to build our future home around a courtyard design.

This blog will feel quite different to Tony’s style of blogging, however I had to take over because he is down to the final edit of book 6 (Which will be called “Don’t you know who I am?”) We just have to finish the front cover and format it, so fingers crossed you can all be reading his prequel in a fortnights time!

Next week we will be living aboard a canal boat in Wales so check back on the blog to see what happens there (Hopefully we don’t sink into the depths of a welsh aqueduct!)

 

The Great Tower

This is the Great Tower as they call the Central Keep here in Dover, it was built by Henry the Second in the 1180s.

 

Roo walking towards castle

Lead me to safety!

Tony on the walls

Not a bad defensive wall to protect against zombie appocolypse…

The stained glass

The stained glass in the chapel inside the Great Tower.

Tony and Roo in front of castle

Can we please live here? 🙂

The Great Tower

The Great Tower (The Central Keep)

Yummm

Having a sneaky drink from a wine barrel… 🙂

Standing on the battlements

Standing on the battlements , that’s the ancient Roman Lighthouse and Saxon Church behind us! (And France even further in the distance.)

Royal Bedchamber

Inside the Royal bedchamber….Dont wake the King!!

The Royal Potty

The Royal Potty…

Down the Medieval Tunnels

Down the Medieval Tunnels, these were built in the 1200s!

Roo sitting on the wall

Roo sitting on the wall.

Modern weapons

The big guns from the 1939 defences!

Abandoned Mess Hall

This entire huge building was the Officers Mess Hall but is abandoned and sitting derelict because it would cost so much money for the English Heritage Trust to renovate it to safe use standards.

Looking back towards the castle

Looking back towards the castle from the carparking area.

Medieval Saxon Church

Medieval Saxon Church built in the 1200s. You can clearly see the Roman Lighthouse on the left, this was built in 45AD!

Graffiti on the walls of the Great Tower.

Graffiti on the walls of the Great Tower.

Gorgeous Day

We had such a gorgeous day to explore Dover Castle!

The Port of Dover

Looking from the Signal Bunker towards to Port of Dover, you can see the white cliffs at the left side.

The Throne Room

Its good to be King… 🙂 Tony sitting on the throne in the Great Tower!

the view from the roof

The view from the roof of the Great Tower looking towards the Church and Roman Lighthouse, and beyond towards the shores of France!

Roo Takes Over! WARNING: Expect Rainbows…

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to do justice to this blog, when a) I’m incredibly busy writing the next book, and b) I’m incredibly lazy. Then an idea struck me – actually, it was Roo that struck me (though I still maintain that it didn’t hurt. It was the surprise that made me scream).

“Let ME do something!” she said. Which didn’t sound like a bad idea. And so, quicker than I could drop my trousers upload a photo, here we have it – our new, combined, shared blog! I know, I know. It looks exactly like the other one. But the point is, nothing has changed – Roo has been supplying me with the best photos for this blog for years, so now I’m making it official: Roo is my co-contributor, co-conspirator, and partner in (occasional) crime. She will now fill the gaps in my busy schedule by posting some of the best pictures from our travels around the world. I’ll continue to post overly-long, pointless rants about the random things that happen to us – and somewhere in the middle we’ll have… well. You. You poor sod! Here – have a biscuit.

So! She’s fabulous, she’s multi-talented – hell, she’s multi-coloured! A genius behind the lens, and not ‘arf bad in front of one; she’s the love of my life, and the only person I’ve ever known who can sing an entire song and not get a single lyric right. Without further ado, I give you my wife! (But you can’t keep her. So stop asking.)

Roo on snowy log

ROO: Well, we all know Tony is busy on his fifth book so I thought I’d sneak over here and have some input on the blog! Some of you may know me from my husband’s books ‘Kamikaze Kangaroos!’ and ‘Can I Kiss Her Yet?’. For the rest of you, I’ll introduce myself – and throw in a couple of my favourite traveling photos along the way 🙂

My real name is Krista but everyone knows me by my nickname of Roo, it makes sense since I am from Australia…

I started out as a shy 19 year-old travelling from my home in Western Australia allllllllll the way to Connecticut USA to be a riding instructor at an American Summer Camp. I was too scared to go actually, but my Mum pushed me to get out there and do something different. I will be eternally grateful to her for starting my love of travelling. I had a pretty tough time at camp… wild horses, sleeping in a tent for 3 months, coping with American teens… and the odd case of E-Coli poisoning! Luckily, I met my best friend Gillian there, as well as some other lifelong friends from all over the world. Gill and I travelled around the USA, Europe and Australia, and eventually we convinced her older brother to join us in Australia. And that, as they say, was the beginning of the end (just kidding!).

But yes, I may have fallen in love with my best friend’s older brother, sorry Gill! 🙂

Tony on Xian city walls at night

Here’s Tony – on Xi’an City Walls, in one of my first attempts at night-time photography! Kind of pleased with how it turned out 🙂

I can’t believe Tony and I have been travelling now for so long, these past 8 years of adventures have certainly tested us in so many ways. Luckily, we are scarily alike in some ways, and despite the stresses of travelling, getting lost and sick in strange countries and living in each other’s pockets, we are still happily married.

I’m not going to lie, travelling with someone as accident prone as Tony can be pretty nerve wracking! He seems oblivious to the fact that he is clumsy and instead believes himself to be a stealthy ninja – and that climbing up that pillar would be so very easy… I like to think that I am now the voice of reason and can (hopefully) rein in his most dangerous impulses!

Borneo Orangutan

Tony actually tried to hand-feed this guy with a mashed up banana he found on the floor! Does that count as dangerous?

I am a pretty colourful person. I have a hoarding instinct for brightly coloured or sparkly things, which is why my wardrobe almost entirely consists of an Australian brand of clothing called Black Milk. The crazy colourful clothes may at times clash with my rainbow hair, but I love it! I always try to be myself, which is great fun but can sometimes result in strange looks…

Traveling Pants beach

These leggings are Black Milk’s infamous Travelling pants – they’ve been around the world, passed on from person to person. I have them now, in Nova Scotia, Canada – who knows where they’ll end up next!

I have always loved photography. I saved for years to buy my first film camera, (with a TEN TIMES zoom lens – pretty good for the ‘90s!) Before we set off on our six-month trip around Asia I did loads of research and invested in a Nikon D5100, with a second-hand Tamron 18 – 270mm lens off eBay. I would love to say it was a good choice… but the lens came with a few issues and was so stiff it took a lot of elbow grease just to zoom in and out. I didn’t mind because I knew we would be hiking in the Borneo rainforests, and backpacking is rough on camera gear. But it was a great starter lens!

Saigon Cart in Rain

This shot of a street vendor pushing her cart through the rain in Saigon, Vietnam, is my first action panning shot – and my favourite picture with this lens!

After a little accident on Cat Ba Island in Vietnam, where Tony dumped me off the back of a motorbike and squished my lens, I was forced to upgrade to a NEW Tamron 18-270. Or rather, he was forced to 🙂

Icy lagoon

This shot of the Icebergs in Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland proves the new lens was worth every penny!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos – they are some of my favourites from the last few years. I hope to sneak onto the blog every now and then to break up Tony’s written ramblings with some cool pictures. As I am still learning the art of photography, please feel free to discuss my pictures and give me any tips you may have; like traveling, this is a hobby I intend to carry on forever! You can get in touch with me via the comments below, or on the Contact Page. Thanks for having me 🙂 xxx

Girl with machete

Great photo to end on – possibly the craziest thing we saw in Asia. I never let Tony play with knives this big!

My Secret Plan™

Top SecretSo, by now one or two of you might have heard me mention my SECRET PLAN on Facebook. In fact, a few of you have already weaseled the details out of me! Let’s face it – I’m crap at keeping secrets, and I can’t keep this one any longer.

So here it is:

I’m coming to America!

In June.

This year.

To write a book.

But that’s not it. Not really. You see, from time to time, I get emails from my readers, saying nice things about my books. Well, some of them. I also get the occasional death-threat, but that’s been happening since way before I was an author, so I try not to take them too seriously.

The idea grew from my last visit to the US – which the hardened readers amongst you might remember from ‘Don’t need The Whole Dog!’ It was a pretty successful trip for me; I met the love of my life there (not that either of us knew it at the time), and I even managed to avoid falling into the Grand Canyon.

But I was flat broke back then, and this ten-day holiday was paid for by my Mum, as a reward for coming home from Ecuador with all my limbs still attached. I always felt that I’d missed out on seeing the real America; rumour has it that it’s quite a big place, and I’d been there – but only just.

Flash forward to the present day, and not a lot has changed. Well, I’m married now, and I write books for a living, and I found a frikkin’ GREY HAIR yesterday, for gawd’s sake – okay, so quite a few things have changed.

But I’m basically still broke.

However! As I said, I’ve been getting emails from readers. Loads of emails. I get like, one, maybe two, practically every other week! Well, what did you expect? I’m not exactly Stephen king, am I?

Now, amongst those emails, people often say things like, “If you’re ever in Ponca City, Oklahoma, you’re welcome to come and stay with me!” They say these things because they feel safe in the knowledge that I am never actually going to be in Ponca City, Oklahoma…

Until now. Because my Secret Plan is threefold;

1)   I AM coming to America;

2)   I AM going to write a book about it, and

3)   I AM coming to visit you all!

Blame Roo. It was her idea, after all. Honestly, I think she was just bored of sitting on the sofa, watching me type.

“We should do you a book tour, like the real authors do,” she said. “We could go to New York and LA.”

“I’d love to, but we can’t afford to travel in first-world countries. Not for long.”

“Why don’t we stay with some of your readers? They’re always asking… that’d make it cheaper. And that way we’d get to see the ‘real’ America.”

Hm… Not a bad idea, I thought. “The only problem is, I don’t think any of those people actually wanted me to come and stay with them. I think they were just being nice.”

“Well,” she said, “hard luck.”

And that was that!

So, anyone who has a place for us to stay – be it outhouse, tree-house, dog-house or bouncy-castle – and anyone who thinks they have a genuine cultural experience* to offer us (or who just wants to try something crazy) – let me know! You might not think it, but I’m always up for an adventure.

Walking on beach

Right then, here’s the nitty gritty:

  1. I can’t come to visit everyone. I wish I could, but the Powers That Be will only let Roo and I into the country for three months. We’ll get as far as we can, but that’s a big-assed country you’ve got there. Ain’t no way we’re going to see it all in one trip. Sorry!
  2. We’ll need a place to stay, but we’re not fussy – having lived for months in a tent, and slept on floors, benches, beaches and the world’s most uncomfortable van, we’re not expecting luxury! But we will need somewhere to sleep while we visit you, as the motels part of our budget will be spent on the nights in-between visiting people.
  3. Food is good! We’d appreciate it if you could feed us at least a little bit while we’re there. This is the perfect time to break out Grandma’s famous recipe for meatloaf, and we’re happy to help with the cooking – well, Roo is. I’d probably burn down your kitchen. And probably your neighbour’s kitchen too. But I’m a mean washer-up J
  4. SHOW ME AMERICA! I’m keen to do as much crazy, fun stuff as is humanly possibly on this trip. If there’s anything cool you can show me (or weird, unusual, exciting, traditional, different etc.) – please let me know! I can’t give you an example, as I’ve no idea what’s out there, but I’m less inclined to go to expensive, well-known touristy things like Disneyland, and more inclined to find interesting stuff to write about – secret places, experiences that not everyone gets to have… anything we can have fun doing, without breaking the bank!
  5. Media Is Also Very Good! Mostly this trip is about me meeting all my awesome readers, but the cold-hearted money-making machine inside of me hates to miss an opportunity. We might not be able to afford to eat by the end of this trip, unless I manage to get some books sold, and the best way to do that is to attract a bit of media attention. I know not everyone has a girlfriend/uncle/friend from yoga class who runs a multinational publishing empire, but if you’ve got a tiny local rag, and it’s a sufficiently slow news week, the story of one of your favourite authors** coming out to meet you might be worth a mention. I’d really appreciate it if you could do a bit of leg work and find out if there’s any interest before I visit, as it’s notoriously difficult to set these things up after I’ve gone 😉
  6. Books are GREAT! I love books. And I love book shops. I also love libraries, and book groups, and all those kinds of places. I’m happy to do talks (or just have tea!) at any of these places if they’re interested. Again, if you think there’s a local place or group that might like to hear me waffle about the topic of their choice, I’d love to include that in my itinerary. I’ve got to get a bit of practice at that kind of stuff before I end up on Oprah! (Hang on – didn’t she get fired?)

Having said all that, please don’t be put off! I really DO want to see you all, and I’m flexible (you should see me do the splits! It’ll bring tears to your eyes.) I just had to put this stuff here to save me writing the same bunch of questions in every email. I won’t automatically choose not to visit you just because you can’t afford to feed me! There’s always room to wiggle. And I LOVE a good wiggle.

And that’s it. As of now, I’m accepting suggestions! If you’d like me to come and visit, please drop me a line, by Facebook, email, or a comment on here. (I was going to allow carrier pigeons too, but that always ends badly.)

Please let me know if you have any ideas for things to do near you, and whether or not you’ll be able to help us out with them.

I do have a Wish List of stuff Roo and I would dearly love to do while we’re over there, which I’ll be posting at some point, but for now I’m open to every suggestion under the sun. And even ones that aren’t.

So! Thank-you to those of you who’ve made it this far. Sorry for the gigantic blog post, and rest assured that service will return to normal after this. Which means nothing for a whole year short, witty blog posts, and lots of Roo’s pretty pictures. I promise!

Meanwhile… stay happy! I’ll look forward to hearing from you J

Tony@TonyJamesSlater.com

 

* Watching Star Wars totally counts as a cultural experience.

** And while you’re waiting for one of your favourite authors to come and meet you, you could have a visit from me!

So, where were we?

Huashan SunsetOh, that’s right. We’d arrived at the top. Except, it wasn’t the top. It was the beginning of an immense, circuitous route which visited each of the five peaks of the sacred mountain; from the North Peak, where we were now, over the much-higher Central Peak, to the West Peak, where our hostel was, and to the notorious East Peak, where we wanted to go tomorrow. I forget what the other peak was called.

Mountain view

Now, where exactly was that hostel again?

Owing to the slight delay in our starting time, it was 7pm, and the light was already beginning to fail. It made for some gorgeous pictures of the valley below, and the lights of nearby Xi’an City were very nearly visible through the smog. But not quite. We gazed up at the ridiculous ribbon of the Dragonback Ridge payed out above us, and resigned ourselves to another epic stair-climbing session – but not before a brief comedy interlude:

Propergander DeskOh, yes! The bloke behind the desk clearly didn’t appreciate the irony, and I wasn’t about to tell him as he was armed to the teeth. Like all good Tourist Information officers.

And so to the stairs! Forgotten those, hadn’t you? Or blocked them out… Sadly, we didn’t have that luxury. Dragonback ridge followed the barest knife-edge of the rock, a path at times less than a meter wide, with sheer cliffs plunging down on either side. Not a great place to be drunk, I thought, or to meet anyone coming the other way…  At first I thought we were lucky with this, our lateness meaning most visitors had already left the area; but later on we discovered it’s a strictly enforced one-way system, as it is simply too dangerous to allow people to try to pass each other on the ridge.

Looking down Dragonback Ridge

Looking back down the Ridge was even more dramatic!

Beyond the ridge we came to an unexpected guesthouse, that wasn’t listed on any of our maps (Ha! Maps? We had a 2-inch line drawing on the back of our ticket. Labelled in Chinese.) The manager offered us a discount, but Roo and I had been in China long enough by this point to expect a scam of some kind. We pressed on, hauling ourselves up the ragged stone steps, until a gap in the foliage allowed us a glimpse of our destination.

“Bugger that,” I said to Roo. She agreed. The West Peak shone in the distance, the last rays of sun picking out a tiny building clinging to the slope facing us. It was bloody miles away.

So, steps retraced, we booked into the cheapest dorm, and spent the night with eighteen other people, packed in so tight I could feel tremors in my bunk whenever the guy at the far side of the room scratched his arse. We’d scored some free hot water from the manager to make our noodles; in China boiling water is always freely available, in hotels, on trains, in libraries… cold water, though, was an issue. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince the manager that it was safe to give me any. I had a bag full of water purification pills and a state-of-the-art UV steriliser in my bag, but still I spent two hours decanting boiling water from cup to cup until it was cool enough to pour into our plastic drink bottles!

Huashan Hostel

Gateway to the central peak… where a dorm-bed for $20 is a ‘discount’!

Then we settled in for some sleep. We didn’t get any of course, but what were we expecting, really?

It’s one of the eternal mysteries of the universe: how do people who snore like a drunken sumo-wrestler, always get to sleep before everyone else? Within minutes of the lights going out, a fat bloke two beds over started moaning like a water-buffalo with its balls caught in a barbwire fence. His vocal range was impressive; from squeaks to ecstatic sighs, he covered every noise the human body is capable of making – all with the volume knob set to 11. None of it sounded healthy. Every so often, he would lapse into silence for up to a minute, and I would have the happy thought, “At last! He’s died!”

But no. After an hour, I got up and shook him awake. He jabbered at me in Chinese, and I gave him my best pissed-off look, and went back to bed. He sat up, hacked and coughed for a few seconds, then spat a massive gob-full of phlegm onto the floor. And went back to sleep.

Huashan Hostel Dorm

Close Quarters; the 20 bed dorm maximizes the breathing-space-to-profit ratio…

I don’t think anyone else in that dorm slept. Three other people got up and woke him throughout the night, and each time he was snoring again before they climbed back into their bunks. One girl on the opposite side kept throwing her pillow at him. I spent at least an hour contemplating tipping him out of bed, and making some kind of scene so that the whole dorm could tell him what he was doing to them – but then, the faintest stirrings of light in the room made me realise than dawn was on the way. My alarm was set for 5:00am anyway, so it hardly seemed worth bothering.

At 4:00am the room came alive. All these people were eager to see the dawn, but they still had an hour and a half for that. I think they all just wanted to get the hell out of there, and a few stern words were directed at the snorer as the room emptied. This ended rather abruptly, when he stood up and pulled on a police uniform! It made me quite glad I hadn’t physically assaulted him in the night.

So, dawn it was – we ate our last instant noodles on the darkened deck, and slowly, feeling every step in leg muscles still burning from the previous day’s climb – we headed upwards.

As we went, we passed hundreds of people waiting to see the dawn; they thronged the path, making it more of a shoving match than a hike. There was no sign of dawn, as we moved up past them; nor would there be, as a dense curtain of vegetation shadowed most of the route. But hell, they were the ones who’d invested all this effort in seeing the sunrise. Let them stand wherever the hell they wanted! I was far more concerned with something else just up ahead…

Crowds on Huashan

Dawn is a rare sight in China!

As it happened, we did see the dawn. By not waiting for it, we’d already climbed higher than most by the time it arrived, and emerged onto the crest of a bare ridge. It wasn’t as impressive as the crowds suggested; even this high up a sacred mountain, we were still only an hour from the city. As a result, it was more of a smog-rise than anything else.

Huashan Dawn

The sun rises above the… well, let’s call them clouds, shall we?

But there were other benefits to being up early. After following a series of very helpful signs (WARNING: sarcasm), we managed to find our way to the East Peak… and THIS:

Huashan Plank Walk at dawnThe plank-walk, notorious around the internet as ‘The Most Dangerous Hike In The World’ ™ – is not actually part of the trail. It’s an optional extra that, sadly, now requires the wearing of a harness. I know! How rude. But Roo was having a few last-minute nerves, especially after seeing the metal rungs we had to climb down just to get there…

Rungs down to huashan plank walkSo, maybe the harness was for the best! It certainly gave us the freedom to have a little fun (more of which later…) And because we were the first there, we had the entire Plank Walk to ourselves! We spent about 20 minutes traversing slowly around the cliff face, alone with the spectacular view, and each other. We took so long that other people started to arrive; on the way back we had to pass several tourists, a particularly scary experience involving one party unclipping their safety straps while the other squeezes around them…

Huashan Plank WalkRoo on plank walk rocks

Hua shan plank walk

Ever felt like you were flying?

And then, the excitement was done. There were of course a vast number of stairs still to climb, as we hiked the circuit between the peaks – another 8km in total, that took us over four hours. Some of it was crazy-steep, some utterly-ridiculously steep. And then there were some…

Hua Shan Steep Stairs

Climbing Hua ShanSteep Steps on Hua ShanUnsurprisingly, I climbed this last one a few times too! I just can’t help myself. There’s a video of it HERE, if you’re interested (it’s the one that’s been floating around on Facebook). It wasn’t too difficult; a tiny old Chinese woman did it just after I’d finished. But, um, let’s pretend I didn’t say that. Yes, hero-type-stuff, this climb was… :0)

We were on the way down now, and I couldn’t help noticing the ongoing Disneyfication of the place that had bothered me on the way up. We watched a gang of workmen with hammers chipping the ancient stone steps into gravel – while another gang set the formwork to pour concrete replacements! I think the plan is, by 2015, to turn the entire mountain into a multi-storey car park…

Huashan repairs

“Hey, if we smash these crappy old steps into gravel, we can use it in the concrete for the new ones!”

Far more interesting – and amazing – was the labour they were using to facilitate their ‘repairs’. We passed porters on the way up – carrying everything from huge granite blocks, to vast lengths of metal reinforcing bars – on their shoulders! Having climbed the Soldiers Path yesterday, I could hardly believe these guys were doing it for a living – presumably several times a day – with at least thirty kilos of stone on their backs! Incredible.

Huashan PorterHuashan PorterFinally… at long, long last… we were done. Utterly spent! We’d never planned to hike all the way back down, as it would only be torturing ourselves to cover the same ground; instead we shelled out $15 each, to enjoy the view from the cable cars.

Cable Car view Huashan

As we follow the other cars down, you can just see some of the Soldier’s Path below us!

And of course, the bus ride back to Xi’an was fraught with the usual problems. Such as when the driver kicked us out at a random bus stop on the edge of the city, leaving us lost yet again…

But I won’t bore you with details. Instead, here it is – the video from the dreaded Plank Walk… with a twist! Enjoy!

(And please, let me know what you think in the comments!)

Stepping Up: The Climbing of Hua Shan!

Since I first saw a picture of Hua Shan (Hua means ‘Mount’), I was determined to go there. Because the picture I saw had to be seen to be believed…

Hua Shan Crazy StairsAnd try as I might, I could find very little online about the place. Only THIS weird website (which people still send me links to), which babbles on about how dangerous the place is, and even has in-depth descriptions of accidents that have happened – or might have happened. On other mountains. In America. Oh yes; highly relevant stuff.

Huashan from below

So I figure that, having actually BEEN to Huashan now, I owe the world a slightly more accurate description. Because forget all that ‘World’s Most Dangerous Hike’ crap – Hua Shan is great fun to climb, a fascinating example of ancient engineering, and absolutely, utterly, stunning.

So. Hua Shan is one of five sacred peaks of blah blah blah. Yeah, I know – I can’t be arsed with that crap either! But here’s Wikipedia, for those that do care. I know what you really want… it’s pictures of those crazy-assed stairs! They will come, I promise. But I had to wait for them… and so will you.  :0)

We had to wait rather longer than anticipated, as it happened. We caught the bus from outside the Xi’an train station as planned, but just before we arrived, the conductor gave a long and angry-sounding lecture in Chinese. Roo and I just looked at each other, and hoped it wasn’t important.

Then we pulled up at a café – presumably the driver’s brother-in-law’s – and the rest of the passengers bolted inside and started chowing down on noodles.

Which was a bit of a bugger, as we were on a tight schedule to climb this mountain. We had a long way to go to, and the place we were staying in for the night – the only place we could afford – was on the top of it. So with absolutely no advice forthcoming, and zero English spoken in the immediate vicinity, we did what we usually do; we got lost. We passed a huge brown tourist sign (written entirely in Chinese) and headed through a big temple-style entrance into… a temple. I won’t bore you with the details, but we wandered on our own for over an hour, paid an entrance fee, and managed to climb a fair way up the mountain – before realising it was the wrong mountain.

Eventually we found ourselves (slightly more pissed off), beneath the same brown sign. So we wandered beneath it, and into the car park beyond, in desperation.

Luckily, this car park turned out to be the depot for the bus to the Hua Shan Visitors Centre. If only we’d read the sign!

Brown Sign

Don’t know HOW we missed this!

Much frantic questioning and repeated pantomiming of cable cars finally conveyed the right impression (though why it was so difficult is beyond me. The staff there have exactly one job: ferrying customers to the cable cars. I think they just liked watching me wave my arms over my head like an idiot whilst making ‘whooosh’ing noises).

The ferry bus to the Visitors Centre was empty, because by this time no-one in their right minds was starting the climb. The rather expensive (but compulsory) shuttle bus from the Visitors Centre to the cable car terminal was similarly empty. Well, at least we wouldn’t be climbing in a crowd…

Empty shuttle busEmpty Hua Shan Shuttle BusNow, there are three ways up Hua Shan. The vast majority of people take the cable cars – even though a round-trip costs $32 per person, in addition to the $20 Scenic Area entrance fee.

Not a bad option, really!

Not a bad option, really!

The second most popular route is the ‘long’ path – a steep,  6km hike, ascending the mountain via paved walkways. The third is the damn hard path, which is climbed only by the very dedicated, and the very stupid, because… well, did I mention it was damn hard? It starts right under the cable cars, and pretty much follows their line – except that in place of giant winches hauling six-man gondolas up the mountain in six minutes, there are just stairs. Lots, and lots, of stairs. Oh, and it’s compellingly titled ‘The Route Intelligent Take-Over Of Hua Shan’. Which is probably why they signpost it ‘Soldiers Path’.

Tell you what though – they weren’t kidding about the ‘damn hard’ bit. We’d been going for less than ten minutes when we had to stop, panting and wheezing.

“Thought we were fitter than that,” gasped Roo.

“Maybe we are – and it’s knackering us anyway…”

Few hundred steps down. Few thousand still to go.

We had to stop to catch our breath at every landing.

And trust me when I say, there are a lot of those…

Hua Shan endless stepsOur timing was perfect. Despite everything that had happened that day (or perhaps because of it), circumstances had conspired to send us up this mountain at 4.30pm – entirely alone. The whole climb, we only saw three people – and they were right at the beginning, on their way down. I’d read that taking the more popular route could be like queuing up the mountain, especially at the weekends. Instead Roo and I had the place to ourselves, which gave us plenty of opportunity to muck about:

Roo messing aroundTony messing around

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hua Shan Quidditch

Quidditch!

I had to marvel at the effort involved in creating this path. It’s one of the most inaccessible patches of mountainside in China, so ridiculously steep that only a staircase of stupendous proportions could get people up there – but then, how do you make that staircase? Well, with stone, of course. Massive great blocks of granite, which looked about as heavy as small cars. I had the same feeling I’d experienced standing in front of the Pyramids at Giza; that sense that, without modern technology, what I was seeing was just not possible. How do you haul stone up a mountain? With a donkey? What if the stone is heavier than the donkey…?

Discarded stone step

Discarded stone block – with foot to scale!

Aliens. Got to be. :0)

We also saw evidence of a much more depressing aspect of Chinese culture – specifically, their desire to destroy it. Since Chairman Mao told his followers that the Great Wall was basically just a big pile of free bricks, the Chinese have been happily pulling apart their heritage whenever it suits them. Only this strange phenomenon called Tourism – where crazy people from far-off lands pay vast amounts of money to come and goggle at all their old shit – has saved it. Suddenly, with a whiff of profit in the air, the Powers That Be have mobilized The People, galvanizing a nationwide work-force with one aim in mind: to rinse the maximum possible dollar-value from every attraction they still have left. And so, entrance fees skyrocket (for none-Chinese), and gangs of workers are tasked with taking all that naff old crap and making it look shiny and new for the tourists…

Yes, exactly. FAIL! I even shouted it at this guy – who was deadly serious as he transformed this stone bench into a cartoon-log version of itself.

Log effect bench on huashan

And yes – it’s depressing. Perhaps the third most depressing thing about China, after 1)  the horrendously disfigured beggars, and 2) their blocking of Facebook.

What? Okay, so maybe I overreacted to the Facebook thing. But seriously – they also block Twitter, YouTube, and every major blogging platform. And there’s over 500 million internet users in China! What the hell do they do all day?

Anyway.

About halfway up, WE SAW THEM!!! This was it – this was the bit that had attracted me, first to find out about, then to climb, Hua Shan. This was the scene of that most infamous of internet pictures – the stairs that scared Roo so much it had taken me three months to convince her to come here! And so, feast your eyes on… oh, what the hell am I waffling on about? No-one’s still reading this are they? Go on then – have a look at the pictures…

Hua Shan crazy stepsHuashan crazy steps

 

Unbelievincredimazing! To coin a phrase. They were vertical. They were insane! They were… chained off? It seems some anal-retentive, bureaucratic individual with health-and-safety on his mind, has just decided to close the most famous staircase in all of China. What a douche canoe! Of course, I climbed it anyway. But then, you already knew that, didn’t you?

Huashan Crazy Steps

Halfway up…

Huashan Crazy Stairs

Little bit higher…

Hua Shan Crazy Stairs

Squeezing under the barrier…

Hua Shan Crazy Steps

And the view back down!

Well, I have to admit, I went a little crazy. There’d been some discussion online about whether I’d end up using the video camera, or leaving it with Roo to film me, or… somewhat predictably, I took the third option and did both. I climbed all the staircases several times, running mostly on adrenaline, until Roo asked me to stop. I’m so glad I have her! Otherwise I’d probably still be there. Or, bits of me would be.

Climbing them was actually much easier than it looked. Each step was like a tiny, narrow shelf cut into the rock; space for the toes to rest, no more, but that was all that was needed. Because the steps were so tiny, each one only raised me a handful of inches, and the chains on either side could easily hold my weight. A couple of meters up, the steps were caked in dust, suggesting that it was a long time since anyone had bothered to climb this far. I dunno – maybe everyone else took the ‘CLOSED’ signs seriously? Ha! More fool them then. I made several ascents, to the top on the biggest staircase but only halfway on the other one, as the top section had been obliterated by a landing for a new set of Disneyfied concrete stairs. With faux-log handrails! Oh, China. For shame!

Huashan Broken Steps

Ancient steps underneath the new concrete landing.

Hua Shan Broken Stairs

I couldn’t climb to the top – some cheesy ‘log-effect’ concrete supports destroyed the top of the original staircase, with ‘bark’ made from painted cement. Ugh!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, right when the novelty had almost worn off… there were stairs. And there were more stairs. And there were STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS!

Don’t believe me? ‘Course you do. But here’s some proof anyway:

Hua Shan crooked stairs

MORE Huashan Stairs

Hua Shan Secret Steps

Yet More Hua Shan Steps

And, just when you think you’re there – when you can almost dare to believe that you’ll never have to look at a single stair picture again…

There was video. Noooooo……….!!!

Let’s just say, we made it. In little over three hours of relentless, leg-busting, lung-bursting, Oero-consuming (what? Try climbing a mountain on ‘healthy’ food. I dare you!) fatigue-inducing, crazy-making, carved stone steps – Wow. We both felt the urge to sit down for a bit.

And this is the view from the top!

North Peak, Huashan

At least, we thought it was, at the time. Because until then, we hadn’t seen a single sign in English. Now though, we could read an interesting plaque noting the relative heights of the different peaks – and we couldn’t help but notice that the north peak, where we’d just arrived, was the lowest. By some 600 meters… oh, yes! This might have looked like the top – hell, it might even have a cable car station and a swanky hotel and a pair of ‘This is the top!’ style posing pillars… but this wasn’t the top. This was the North Peak, at 1,614 meters… and we were a little over halfway up.

Next we had to ascend the infamous Dragon Back Ridge…

“But why is it called that?” you ask.

Well:

Dragon Back Ridge Hua Shan Mountain

Yes – those are people over there. Those are stairs – and they go ALL. THE. WAY.

Let’s take a closer look, and you’ll see what I mean…

Dragonback Ridge Huashan

See! People!

And THAT is where we were headed next.

Sooo… to be continued! I’ll post Part Two in less than a week, and put a link to it right here.

Now go back and watch that video. Seriously – you owe it to yourself.

:0)