It was years ago my cousin from Belgium and her friend were visiting at the moment, and they wanted to go see some beautiful nature near Xiamen. Cool, I thought, we can go to the tea mountains! Last I was in Anxi with my parents I had met a young girl (21) at the bus station, she told me that her whole family were tea farmers, and invited me to visit her village. So I thought, what better opportunity to go than with my cousin!
I called her up, she was very happy to here that we were coming by, and she recommended that we stay at least a day, because the area is very big and beautiful. So we prepared to go in the morning at 9.30, and expected to be home the next day, so I recommended that everyone packed just a light bag for the bus and didn't bother with towels and too much extra clothes.
DEEP IN THE MOUNTAINS.
First we went to Xinglin bus station, Lotte (my cousin) caught the first motorbike, and her friend (Mark) and I caught a taxi down there. We got a ticket for the bus at 10.30 from Jimei station, so first we got on the free bus from Xinglin to Jimei, and after a bit of a wait in Jimei we got on the bus to Anxi. The whole bus ride through I was texting with my friend, and she eventually told me that there is only one bus for their village, and that it left at 13.10, which would have been no problem to reach (the bus usually takes 2 hours), except we got stuck in a huge traffic jam on a mountain for about 45 minutes, and arrived at the station at 13.05. Lotte and I had been sitting for the last while of the bus journey with water almost coming out of our eyes, that's how much we wanted to go to the toilet, so I rushed past my Chinese friend after a quick hug and we ran to the toilet. It was one of those great bus station toilets, no doors of course, but it had walls - no more than half a metre high - so that everyone could sit there looking at each other. the toilet itself was just a crack in the floor from wall to wall, and the sights down there were... interesting... but at that point we didn't care anymore.
THE LOCAL STREAM.
It was shot on our way to the train station.
Tea, tea, tea as far as eye can see!
After rushing out the toilet our friend (Wu Bao Lan, I'll just call her Wu), declared that we couldn't go on the only bus of the day without eating lunch, so she insisted we go into a restaurant on the other side of the road to eat lunch, and then take another bus to Gande village, where a friend would pick us up. She insisted on paying for the lunch and for Mark's carsickness medicine - she even slapped his hand when he tried to pay. We took the bus to Gande at 13.30. This bus was a real karaoke-bus, the music was so loud and everyone was singing along to the music. We got to Gande about 2 hours later. In Gande we stood at a street corner for about an hour waiting for our "friend" to come pick us up - Mark tried to buy drinks for us but didn't succeed in paying, the girl was too quick. He did succeed in finding a little baby phone for her kid though.
ON THE WAY TO THE TEA FIELDS
After lunch we got on motor bikes, I with Wu and her husband, and Lotte with Wu's husband's brother.
When we finally got into the car, we drove for about an hour through some very misty tea-country, and at 5 or maybe 5.30 we finally arrived at Wu's family's house. She lives with her husband's parents in a tea village near XiaoZhou train station near FuTian village. First, of course, we drank tea with the man of the house and had a chat about tea production and different tastes of tieguanyin. It was a new experience to translate from Chinese to Dutch, but it worked. After a few cups it was time for dinner and baijiu - 40 percent Chinese liquor, preferably drunk in huge gulps. It was a nice dinner - but the women of the house were running all over, cooking and eating at the same time. We were encouraged to eat a lot, and so we did.
JUST AFTER STANDING UP AGAIN...
After dinner we had more tea and more talks, and at 9 (when we were just about to call in for the night, and I had brushed my teeth already) they announced that we were eating again. First some delicious local oranges and a bit of candy, and then a full on noodle soup. It was delicious, but it was hard to squeeze any more food down. After "extra"-dinner we finally went to bed. Well, after Wu went away on a motor bike to get tooth brushes and cigarettes for us. We had the whole top floor in the neighbouring house to ourselves. They rent the top floor because their own house isn't fully finished yet. Only the first floor is usable. They explained that it cost them 180000 yuan to build the house, but it would cost 200000 to fix it all up and get floors and doors and stuff - so they rent. Usually tea buyers stay there during the tea plucking season before they buy the tea, but now, out of season, there was lots of room for us, and Lotte an I got our own room with bathroom and several beds, and Mark shared a room with a big, but not poisonous, spider.
We were woken up at 6.45, 7.00 and 7.20 by Mark who couldn't sleep anymore cause the sun was up, and tried waking us up. We refused getting up till eight, and were immediately picked up by Wu, who had heard through the neighbours that we were up and taking photos.
First, of course, some tea - and then breakfast. Breakfast consisted of rice cooked in too much water (or, the correct amount if you like your tea porridge-y) and some nice fried eggs from their own chickens. All meat and vegetables we ate were from their own little household.
After breakfast we (6 people) went on 2 motorbikes to the neighbouring village where Wu grew up. We had tea with her sister's husband, his son, all the neighbours and whoever else popped in - and then we walked up to the railway bridge of the town. It crossed the whole valley, was 80 years old and, we were told, cost many human lives to build. It was a bit of a walk up there, but the views were breath taking. We could see the whole village on both sides and green mountains (and tea) all around. The train had just passed by while we were down in the village, so we thought we were safe. We walked along on the tracks and took photos and enjoyed the view until, on the way back, Wu said "the train is coming, let's stay on the bridge". Her sister's husband started running, Mark ran with him, and they got off before the train came. We (Lotte, Wu, her cousin and I) stayed on the bridge while the train whizzed by. The whole bridge was shaking and people on the train were going to the toilet (hmmm...) and afterwards we were all giggling like crazy with the adrenalin. Apparently the villagers go up there all the time, the young people especially in the summer time, to "talk about love" ;-)
WU AND HER PARENTS
The big train bridge in the background is 80 years old...
We went down again, had delicious lunch cooked by Wu's mother (and beers), and then we went on the bikes again to go see Wu's family's own tea mountain. They'd gotten an extra bike for the heavy foreigners, so Lotte and Mark went on bikes with only one other person - but I was still sandwiched between Wu and her husband on one bike. The view on the way was really beautiful, we passed a waterfall and so many little creeks, and the tea mountains (and natural mountains) were all around. At the tea mountain we walked up the hill a little bit and breathed in the great mountain tea-air. The views were beautiful, even though the clouds were hanging a bit low. On a sunny day it would simply have been magnificent! That said, the mist did ad a certain aura of mystique to the place :-)
After the tea mountain we stopped at the waterfall we'd seen on the way up there, and then went to the "Anxi protected area". It's a nature area which has been declared protected by the government. It's not open to the public yet, but it's a good effort in saving some of the beautiful natural scenery. There were no people, no park benches, and most importantly there was no rubbish and no Chinese tourists. Definitely the best time to be visiting a protected area! (Before it opens, that is) :-)
We rode next to some nice mountains, saw birds flying over our heads and walked up a hill inside the forest, next to a long waterfall. We walked over slippery rocks, looked into caves and cliff sides and finally made it to an amazing waterfall at the top. I've uploaded a video where one can really see the scenery.
On the way back, gallant Mark was trying to help Lotte down the slippery rocks but fell himself, landed on his bum and got a very wet shoe. Rather funny to watch. Wu immediately promised him that he could borrow her husband's socks and use a hair dryer to dry his shoe.
We then drove back home and had dinner. The two young boys who had been driving around with Lotte and Mark all day also joined in for dinner. They were about 15-18 years old and also joined in in the ganbei'ing (bottom's up-ing) of beer. The older men were drinking Baijiu. Lotte and I stuck to beer, and even though we had to ganbei a few glasses we kept our wits about us the whole evening, but Mark switched to baijiu after a while, and after loudly proclaiming that "there's no way this is 35 percent, it's max 20, I won't get drunk" he started speaking English to Lotte and I, swung an 8-year-old around a tiny room, and later - throwing up. It's a dangerous drink!
The eight-year-old and his mother, the local hairdresser, had come down in the middle of dinner to confirm the existence of foreigners. Apparently the eight-year-old had seen foreigners on TV but told his mother that he didn't believe they really existed. So his mother, having heard that the giraffe was in town, brought him down to espy the wild animals. They were really nice and she ended up offering that we come by the salon and get a free hair wash.
So, after dinner, we went up to the local hair dresser's salon and got a reeeeeeeeeeeaaaally nice 15 minute head massage and wash, both of us. Afterwards we got our hair trimmed, and I must say, it felt SO incredibly soft! The hairdresser proclaimed that she'd never forget having cut a foreigner's hair, and when we asked how come our our hair had become so soft, she immediately gave us each a box of her best conditioner. Very nice.
At this point Mark had been walked home arm in arm with Wu's husband and Lotte, Wu and I went on to the hair dresser's house for a cup of their tea. During the tea session we watched a typical "war with Japan" TV-show and took a group photo with a back ground curtain that had a grassy area, an ocean and white chairs painted upon it.. How nice.
At about 9.30 we were informed that it was time to eat. Again. They had made a lovely soup, and the man of the house had even been out to buy some ribs and deep fried river fish. Very delicious, just a shame we weren't hungry.. After a few more beers and some polite river fish eating, we went home and slept.
The next day we got up at about 8. Mark had already been to the local store to buy some waaaaater to drink to cure the baijiu-aftermath. After a quick breakfast and tour of their tea-making equipment (and requests to "please stay another day") we walked up a hill to the train station. "Oh, don't worry, it's just 800 metres" (yeah, but no one told us it was 800 metres at a 45 degree climb!). It was a pretty walk though, and we made it there in time to watch half the village come up on their motor bikes to wave goodbye.
We said our goodbyes and climbed on the train. It was jam packed! And none of the people seemed to have ever seen foreigners before. Everyone took out their phones and started taking photos, and as we made our way through the aisles (which were jammed with people standing) the train attendants were trying to sell their tooth brushes and demonstrating spinning tops with flashing lights on the floor.
We gave up the seat search half way and decided on standing. Then the train police man came by and asked where we were going and how many of us. I told him, and he then said "OK, come with me". We didn't quite know if we were getting arrested or what was going on, but he took us to a "first class" area in the back, where there were lots of free seats and the doors were closed for most people. Maybe you had to pay extra to get in there - I don't know - we ended up not even paying for a ticket, as we were supposed to buy it on the train, and no one selling tickets came by.
Oh well, sometimes a white face is lucky ;-)
We took the train for about an hour to Zhangping, where we got off, stood in line, bought new tickets, ate instant noodles and waited a little bit. The train for Xiamen at 13.02 was called at quarter to, and we were marched out in straight lines behind the train attendant. We were literally told to stand in two lines, and no one was talking.
The train journey took 4 hours and we spent the time singing musical songs, drinking "REEB" and enjoying ourselves and the view.
Finally, at 17 in Xiamen, we were met by Josh outside the train station. Happy joyful reunion :-)
We then proceeded to get ripped off by Xinjiang cake-merchants, but that's a story for another day :-)