Tianmen Mountain

As if the cable car ride up the moun­tain was not thrilling enough, once we reached the top of Tian­men moun­tain, we were led around a cement trail atop the cir­cum­fer­ence of the moun­tain. No pic­ture is enough to cap­ture what was mag­nif­i­cent and com­pletely mind-blowing at the same time. Look­ing off into the haze of clouds that swirled beneath us, I felt like I was look­ing out of the win­dow of an airplane…but yet I was stand­ing with a hand touch­ing the face of a moun­tain on my other side.

I don’t know if you’ve ever walked around a mountain.…but it was my first time.

Sec­tions of glass-bottomed paths pro­vided a truly exhil­a­rat­ing expe­ri­ence. Seri­ously, where else on the earth can you walk out on an I-beam sup­ported glass walk­way to what seems like.…nowhere?

More Cable Cars

Look Ma, more cable cars!

Only, this one’s not stop­ping any­time soon. Every­time we peaked over the crest of one moun­tain, more clouds enveloped our view and more moun­tains appeared, loom­ing in the distance.

Sup­pos­edly the longest cable car in the world (though there hasn’t been any fact check­ing post-trip), 15 min­utes into the ride, I started believ­ing that fact to be true.

And then finally, Tian­men (天门; Heaven’s Gate) Moun­tain.

Seri­ously though, are we there yet?

Breakfast Time in Zhangjiajie

On our way to an early morn­ing hike in Zhangji­a­jie National Park, we passed by a string of local restau­rants, open to their clien­tele for a hearty breakfast.

The local break­fast seemed to be based around noo­dles, boiled fresh to order and paired with your selec­tion from a vari­ety of spicy broths. Other options included steamed dumplings (饺子;jiaozi) or sim­ple rice por­ridge with top­pings such as salted peanuts, mar­i­nated cucum­bers, and pre­served vegetables.

Not a bad way to start the day, if you ask me. (Although, those spicy broths could be poten­tially dangerous)

Hangin’ with Mr. Local

A long day ends per­fectly with sit­ting out­side a local restau­rant and enjoy­ing a good local beer.

The minor­ity group of the region call them­selves tu jia (土家), which roughly trans­lates into earth familiy. Look­ing at the menu, the locals pre­fer meat-based foods with lots of pre­served and wild moun­tain veg­eta­bles. Also lots of spice, and as our (mediocre) din­ner proved that night, very salty.

My favorite part of any trip is the chance to get chummy with the locals. Which is why it’s nice to travel with the Diplo­Man, who is just so good at mak­ing friends with them. I sup­pose it’s his “Arab” good looks or per­haps his “excep­tional busi­ness skills” or his “amaz­ing Chi­nese”, all of which were pre­sumed that evening.

Don’t think we were get­ting wasted over the clus­ter of beers on the table, either– each of those light and tasty local beers were 2.5% ABV (alco­hol by vol­ume) per bottle.

Cable Cars

All guide­books and park ser­vices referred to these gon­do­las as “cable cars”. Which, I sup­pose makes enough sense. They were labeled as an alter­na­tive for hik­ing up the moun­tain, but really, not tak­ing these cable cars would have been a shame. The views were spec­tac­u­lar, and never have I been so thrilled and pet­ri­fied and in such awe at the same time (although Space Moun­tain does come close).

Getting out of GZ

It hap­pens in any city. Every city. We become so con­sumed in our daily lives and become so cyn­i­cal about peo­ple, pol­lu­tion, pol­i­tics, what­ever. But you know what? Recharg­ing is easy. I learned this past week­end that all it takes is a train ride (and a bot­tle of Mak­ers’ Mark mint julep) to get from this:

and this:

to this:

Boom. Instant recharge.

Zhangji­a­jie (张家界) is a small city in the Hunan province of China, an easy 14-hour night train ride from my GZ home. Our first des­ti­na­tion off the train was a fun, “fan­tas­tic” (as described by the tour com­pany who we con­tacted), raft­ing trip down the MaoYan river.

I don’t have the pic­tures to prove it, but our raft was two banana boats tied together. Yep, I rode that river strad­dling an over-inflated tube. Oh, and instead of pad­dling down­river as I had nat­u­rally assumed a raft­ing trip would require, we were pro­vided with an old weath­ered Hunanese man who, upon review of Barrett’s pho­tos, was wear­ing an old brown sport coat, and sat at the back of the dou­ble banana boat guid­ing us down with a motor strapped to the back.

Despite this com­i­cal out­door adven­ture, and the con­stant, shrill roar of the motor, the scenery was indeed fan­tas­tic, and there were sev­eral tiny rapids that got us wet enough to call it an adventure.

After refu­el­ing with a late lunch, we tack­led the moun­tain. We decided to con­quer Huang­shizhai (黄石寨; yel­low stone moun­tain vil­lage), per­haps the main attrac­tion of the old­est National Park in China– undoubt­edly a must-see within our quick trip. A short but very steep gon­dola ride brought us to the top what seemed like a huge, densely forested rock plateau. A series of con­crete trails pro­vided us an easy DIY tour around count­less scenic points.

Every­where we turned were these mag­nif­i­cent lime­stone giants.

Each scenic point had its own unique (and very Chi­nese) names, like “Five Fin­ger Peak”, or “Six Won­ders Pavil­ion”, “Star Gath­er­ing Stage”,“Remaining Piers of the Heav­enly Bridge”, “Clouds Drift­ing Cave”, or “Golden Tur­tle in the Clouds Sea”. I promise, they sound much more poetic and enchant­ing in Chi­nese. And these pic­tures don’t do them justice.

At the top, in the com­pany of friends, there was no men­tion of other peo­ple, pol­lu­tion, or pol­i­tics. Some­thing to keep in mind as I make myself back at home here in a city of 12 million.

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