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The battle of Jiuzhaigou

A monsoon descended as we waited for a minibus at Jiuzhaigou Airport. Considering we’d spent three weeks in 40 degree heat with 100% humidity you’d think we’d rejoice at the cool flurry of rain on our faces but instead, we got in a major grump and wished for the exact opposite.

Our driver flat-out refused to leave until he had squashed 14 unfortunate souls (and their luggage) into his tiny van but after two hours, sensing the 13 of us were on the verve of a non-peaceful protest, he finally relented. The rain slashed against the windscreen, the roads were windy and steep, people were being sick…it’s probably best to forget this ride altogether but we arrived in one piece and finally found our way to Jiuxiang Hotel in Penfeng Village.

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Our room had small leak in the bathroom ceiling resulting in a slow but constant dripping onto the forehead of whomever happened to be relieving themselves on the toilet below. I wasn’t too concerned, suggesting this ancient form of Chinese Water Torture added to authenticity of the place but El insisted we switch, presumably because he spends a little longer on the commode. Unfortunately, our second room induced an alternative form of suffering, that of being just the right distance from the road to feel the reverberating engines and screeching horns of the hundreds of tourists buses roaring through the tiny village streets. All day. All night.

After an average night’s sleep in our cocoon of tranquillity, we made our way to the entrance of Jiuzhaigou National Park. We’d been extremely efficient in picking up our tickets the previous afternoon and arrived at 8am, confident of a smooth entry and an avoidance of tourists – a distinct group we don’t count ourselves as being amongst. We are independent travellers. It’s different, OK?

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Before we continue, Jiuzhaigou is stunning. We felt unbelievably privileged to be among some of the most breath-taking scenery on the planet. There was Five Flower Lake, a glistening turquoise pool where ancient tree trunks criss-cross beneath the shallow water. The Multi-Coloured Pond, crystal-clear and mineral-laden turning it a deep, rich jade. Pearl Waterfall named after the spray which looks like a curtain of delicate pearls. It was a fairyland and we will never go anywhere like it again.

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Sadly, the rain had resulted in the closure of 90% of the hiking routes, which would’ve allowed us to explore much of the park alone. Instead, we took a series of “Green Buses” (we assure you these weren’t in any way eco-friendly) from scenic spot to scenic spot along with the 12,000 other visitors who enjoy the park daily.

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Getting off the bus in Jiuzhaigou was like trying to escape a crowded bank during an armed robbery. Barging, trampling, elbowing, shouting, using kids as human shields or all out weapons. Oddly, the staff appeared to be spurring on the mob. Much to our shame we don’t speak Mandarin, but whatever was screamed by the park keepers was extremely effective at generating mass panic.

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Being taller than the average Chinese tourist enabled us to wage our own silent but deadly battles. These were generally won through brute force and ‘going wide’ through the already scuffling crowds to find a seat and then smugly sitting back to watch the ensuing chaos unfold.

It was here that El began perfecting various techniques to ensure no strangers sat next to him. These included The Puffer Fish (simultaneously inhaling and clenching the biceps, with a view to enlarging himself enough to spill over onto the neighbouring seat) and The Questionable Liquid (peering down at the empty seat and then sniffing with a face of utter disgust to imply some obscene spillage lay thereon.) This worked on occasion and proved extremely useful in the months to come.

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We queued for everything. The bus, the lakes, the waterfalls, the toilets, the stalls selling Snickers. We queued to go into a forest. We queued to look at a mountain. It was madness. The experienced left us exhilarated, exhausted and hardened us as travellers. We were tougher, stronger and infinitely less polite than when we left London. And to face the endurance event that is China, that’s just what was needed.

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  1. Ma

    What a beautiful spot. And surely the torrential rain we had in Cancun prepared you for this little bit of rain. Shame you couldn’t set off on the trails to escape the crowds. Fabulous pictures darlings. Glad all going well xxx

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