Friday, May 13, 2005

Shanxi Province - Part V: The Road to Wutai Mountain

The taxi driver who picked us up had to take the three of us back to his office so his employer could write down our names and passport numbers. For such a lengthy trip, they needed to take this extra precaution. It made us feel a little nervous, and it shaved about 45 minutes off of our available daylight, which was rapidly declining, but it was an otherwise painless experience. He asked us for ¥270, roughly $35, for the trip.

We drove for nearly three hours following a dried-up riverbed past lacerated mountains, the black holes of mines were visible almost everywhere, with the rock and sand spilling down the slopes like great trails of light-brown blood, along windy roads which climbed higher and higher toward the summit. The road continued above the tree line and we could still see snow on the ground in some places. The cab driver remarked that he had neither driven so far before nor ever been to the area where he was taking us. His lack of confidence was apparent as he increased his cigarette intake. We felt a little sorry for him, because we didn't know our destination was in such a remote place. He stopped a number of times, handing out cigarettes to old men along the side of the road, to ask for directions. He stopped once and asked some people who were feeding a herd of goats in the middle of the street. He simply needed some reassurance as there weren't really any signs along the way. All of the residential areas were small mining villages but everyone said the same thing, suggesting that we continue in our same direction.

By the time we reached the entrance to Wutai Mountain, the cab driver had to leave us otherwise, we would have had to pay for his car to enter the park. It was dark already and we had heard along the way that there weren't any hotels available in town. Almost everyone in China was traveling now, and Wutai Mountain was a popular destination. Angela and me paid our entrance fees anyway, while Shanmu tried to procure a ride into town. Finding nothing, we had nothing to do but follow the only road down the mountain.

After about 20 minutes, a van stopped to give us a lift. There were already six Chinese people in the van, but they happily made room for us. They were in their late twenties and also, coincidentally, from Beijing, and the driver was taking them to a hotel where they would also find a room for us. The hotel cost each of us ¥50 for the night, which was a little high for what we were getting, but we were just happy to have a place to sleep. After putting our things down, we all went out to eat dinner in town. Dinner wasn't particularly tasty, being typical tourist slop, but we were starving and ate it quickly. When dinner was over, we returned to our hotel and were sleeping within moments.

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