The plan was to go to Chenzhou on Monday, be at some place where to float down a river – or is that a water amusement park? – on some sort of rafts… then the relatives on whose invitation that was to happen were coming back, Sunday, and suddenly the call was to pack because we’d be going somewhere else. Some place out in the countryside, up into mountains, which would be nicely cool. Now.

See what I said about flexibility?

The place we were going, as it turned out, was Shennong Valley National Forest Park.

"Just drive to the end of the concrete road..."

“Just drive to the end of the concrete road…”

... into more mountainous landscape...

… into more mountainous landscape…

It is a nature preserve which apparently (reading/quoting from the sign at the entrance – where entry tickets had to be bought, except for the foreigner) contains the Taiyuan cave, the Shennong peak which is the highest peak in Hunan, and various other points of scenic beauty…

Being pointed out as a foreigner (waiguoren) has been a common occurrence everywhere, but this continued the trend of me getting places on this trip where it’s quite likely that no foreigner had been seen before – and not just because we quite literally went to the very end of the road – as the instructions on how to find the place we’d be staying for two nights were, literally…

One tributary of the river we’d driven along, here just a medium mountain creek, was right across the road, so exploring there – in there – was the first call after getting the rooms. Much cooler air, much colder water; a nice refreshment after the average 35-42C we’d been experiencing.

Another creek to explore...

Another creek to explore…

... and cold water to enjoy.

… and cold water to enjoy.

Exploring the stream, of course things were not just all about the cool water, but also about the wildlife that might be found in it. The somewhat cavalier attitude towards animals as playthings still doesn’t much appeal to me, but seeing the fascination with beautiful views and wild animals did strike a chord.

Fascinating it was, anyways, and not just nice because of the cooler air and beautiful nature. It is all the more fascinating to see how many Chinese are here to visit, and many of them in pretty expensive cars. Growth all well and good (if you are of that persuasion; I would argue – and am arguing – for something more thoughtful and sensible), but the desire to experience rather unspoiled nature, get into pristine water and breathe clean air, is obviously becoming a trend. Among those Chinese who can afford the same, anyways.

At the same time, “pack in, pack out” still hasn’t become any concern of theirs; the beautiful nature is enjoyed all the more with snacks and impromptu picnics, and empty bottles and packages just get discarded wherever they are dropped. Possibly, someone will pick up the bottles to sell to the next recycler, anyways. Or so the thinking seems to go, if there is much of any thought about this.

It’s also fascinating how this hankering for nature is transforming some places that would, only a short while ago, have been nothing but the end of the – and for that matter, dirt – road into AAA spots of scenic beauty offering opportunities for making a living, not just managing a subsistence lifestyle; good sides and bad as there are with such development(s).

Dinner, playing cards, chats, short walks, roadside barbecue, all mainly outdoors – typical Chinese ways of enjoying some time – brought this day to a conclusion. Of course, some of the dinner table talk (with a guest house worker) included inquiries about the foreigner and one of those “Only in Hunan”-inquests as to his ability to eat chilli…

Hunan Countryside Hotel Dinner

Hunan Countryside Hotel Dinner

Day 2 was spent truly exploring more of the area and all it had to offer: The Bead Curtain Waterfall, the Forest Path with Black Dragon Pond and Tiny Waterfall, and much more, but we couldn’t go there because the path onwards was closed for construction work.

The descriptions – interestingly, in Chinese, English and Korean – said that monkeys could be seen in the area of the Bead Curtain Waterfall…

Big-Nosed Western Monkey

Big-Nosed Western Monkey ;)

In the afternoon, a few of us went to the mysterious “upstream activity area” which, as it turned out, offered obstacles such as rope bridges and ladders on which to make one’s way upstream over the creek bed there – until we reached a point where the path had simply gone missing.

"Upstream Activity Area," Shennong Valley

“Upstream Activity Area,” Shennong Valley

Back down at the entrance to this area, where extra tickets had to be bought, they said that the path of course continued, but it had definitely not done so; we had had to backtrack.

To me, frankly, it was less challenging than the track leading up the Traunstein, for example, but it was fun and interesting to see what people apparently constructed for others who came to use it. Whether ditched or lost, however, the creek bed had a large amount of water bottles in many a nook and cranny, which leads right back to the point about China and unspoiled nature above…

That day, a certain big-nosed foreigner – and the little bro – also ended up swimming in the mountain creek near the guest house for a few minutes; that night, I’d make myself more at home with my old/new camera’s controls – but that will be a post of its own.

Swimming in the Mountain Stream

Swimming in the Mountain Stream. That. Was. Cold.

The next morning, getting up early, catching a breakfast on the road (not literally ;) ), and returning back were the calls of the day, for the relatives from Hainan who’d invited us on this trip had to get back.