The day was spectacular, the sky was clear, the sun was warming us at the top of the mountain, but it was time to go back. I don’t know exactly how much time we spent there, but it gave us time to get some rest, explore, eat and take pictures. I saw that not far from the stairs we climbed there was a cable car, I swear I tried to convince my group to go for a more peaceful descent, but if there’s something Chinese don’t like, it’s spending money and that was exactly the answer they gave: “Going down is easy, paying for the cable car is throwing money away”. My legs didn’t agree, but part of me wanted to believe them.
As we approached the staircase, we noticed that people were going down using the sides of it, holding onto the handrail, when there was one, or chains. The steps were so steep and uneven that any oversight was sure to fall. The problem was getting to stop falling, unlike many stairs, there were no resting spaces for people to rest, or stop falling.
Nobody dared to take a picture, the breaks occurred only to analyze the best way to face the next group of steps ahead, the few who tried to risk going down in the middle of the staircase gave up not long after. I kept wondering, what was I still doing there.
I had climbed those same stairs, they couldn’t have changed so much overnight. Despite the initial tension, over time the stairs became a little more accessible and we were able to continue more safely. But the legs that were already tired began to feel the physical effort much faster. I found a bamboo cane, probably from someone who gave up on the way, and the feeling was better than finding money on the floor. My descent became a little more comfortable and shortly after I noticed that two other Chinese in my group had also found a cane like that for themselves.
It’s interesting how lighting can completely change your perspective about a place. Despite the pain, it was impossible not to be amazed by the landscape. We could see the mountain better, there were some carved stones in Chinese, the nature around the mountain and the staircase itself, which had definitely been built before the profession of engineering existed. I’m sure if we had tried to climb the mountain during the day I wouldn’t have been able to, because looking at the stairs my motivation would have left me with my legs.
Even though I felt humiliated by the children who had fun going up and down and by the Chinese who carried heavy boxes with products that would be traded on the top of the mountain, I managed to get down. Even though the last half hour cost me a lot of my emotional control to not give up due to the pain and fatigue.
We believed that in one hour we would make it down the mountain, it took us three. As we approached the place where we’d met the man the night before, trembling legs and tired expression, I not only related to him, as I also felt my body was very close to having the same reaction. If before we were uncomfortable by the people’s expression descending at the beginning of our climb, now the role had reversed and we were scaring everyone who crossed our path to those stairs.
The most difficult and rewarding part of the trip was over, we all arrived tired but alive, at least that’s what we imagined.
Remember that all that will be reported from now on were actions taken by young people, people who have a much greater tolerance for discomfort and the unknown, in addition to tired people, who already lacked reason.
We took a regular city bus to the train station as the taxis there did not want to use the meter and charged an excessive amount for the ride. We arrived at the station and there were no more tickets for that day.
But Tassia, why didn’t you buy a return ticket sooner? I wasn’t responsible for the tickets, they assured me there would be no problems, as we weren’t sure how long it would take to go up and down the mountain, they didn’t want to risk missing the train. I didn’t know, and still don’t know, how the ticket exchange process works in the case of slow trains.
Moving on. There were no more tickets for that day, there was an option to take different trains and it would cost around 600 RMB ( $94,11), considering we paid 68 RMB ($10,67) for the one-way ticket, no one was willing to pay almost 10 times more on the way back, but there was a small catch, I had to work the next day and I wasn’t willing to miss a day of work.
Things started to get a little tense, they wanted to spend the night in the city and find a hostel to stay, I had to leave and I needed them to help me find a solution. At that point, I was willing to go back alone and let them do what they thought was best for them, but the language barrier was getting in the way, because I didn’t even know how to look for any bus service or any other option, and at that moment I didn’t have any idea of what I could do.
We were still in front of the train station, not really knowing what to do. When a man approached our group, the Chinese tried to move away, but he managed to get the attention of one of them from our group. They talked for five minutes and we remained alert to their interaction. She came back, her expression was not very encouraging, but he seemed to be the only solution to our problem at the time. He had a way of getting us back to Tianjin.
They argued for a long time before taking a decision, not that it’s correct to judge by appearance, but clearly, no one was comfortable with that Chinese man, and because he approached us outside the train station, evidently the service offered was not licensed. I hardly participated in the discussion, because it was very complicated to translate what each one said and what I thought.
We decided we had to risk it, they didn’t want me to go alone and I didn’t want to wait until the next day to leave. We paid part of the agreed amount and he asked us to accompany him. We walked to a street nearby where a car was parked. He asked us to get in the car and from there he would drive us to the next vehicle that would take us to Tianjin. All the way, about 10 or 15 minutes, he was talking on his cell phone, telling his colleagues that there were five more people. We were cramped, due to the lack of space and very apprehensive, uncertain about the decision made.
He stopped the car in an empty street, no houses, no shops, nothing, he said we should get off. I swear I started to get really worried, all the possibilities were going through my head, I felt like I was in a movie, but not one of those with happy endings. He started walking and once again we followed him, he could see that we were parallel to an expressway, or road. He jumped the protection tab that gave access to the road and continued walking, although we were confused we continued following. Five minutes later we arrived at a gas station where there was a parked bus, inside other people, who like us, needed to be in another place and had not found a better way. We pay the rest of the agreed amount and wait for our departure. The man disappeared so quickly that we didn’t even notice he wasn’t there anymore.
The bus was comfortable, everyone could sit and there was water for passengers. It didn’t take long for us to leave the gas station and begin the journey to Tianjin. Even confirming the destination with the driver, there was always one of our group awake to make sure we were on the right path. It was early afternoon when we arrived in Tianjin. The bus stopped in an area far from any busy area of the city and we took the subway to get closer to downtown. The feeling of being in a familiar place soothed my nerves, but my muscles still felt uncomfortable and needed rest. In the city, they were trying to help me find the bus that was going to my house, but I had already decided that I would end that trip with a taxi stopping at the door of my community. I said goodbye and thanked them once more for the opportunity to accompany them.
I took the taxi, arrived at my building and there were still seven more flights of stairs ahead of me, I had to go up using the handrail as support. The banister probably hadn’t been cleaned in years, but at that point, I didn’t have the luxury of choosing, my legs no longer responded. I got home, took a shower, and the most rewarding part of the day was being able to go to my bed and give my legs a little rest.
For the next two weeks, my legs still ached. The first week I couldn’t go up or down the stairs in my building without the handrail support. I had to make sure I didn’t forget anything at home and avoid stairs as much as possible. A little later I had already forgotten how much my leg had suffered, but I would never forget that adventure.
If there is one valid lesson to be said after climbing Taishan Mountain it is that when I had the chance to visit the Great Wall of China I was sure that I would use the cable car on my way up. 🙂