The alarm went off at 720 and we were up showered, dressed, and enjoying a huge muesli bar and coffee for breakfast in our new room. Moved room late yesterday afternoon ( not that we had to travel far as it was just across the courtyard from the dorm)
We banged on Dave’s door and heard some movement so headed up to reception where we were meeting. We found Dave and a note he’d written apologising for piking on the trip to the Stone Forest but he had just returned from a big night out and was blithered. Shani was also at reception but he had wisely headed home early from the night out and was in good condition. We heard about Dave’s night out while waiting for the driver to turn up with Gerry and Deb.
The van turned up just after 8 and soon we were on the road out of town. Shani became our interpreter for the day, as he knows more mandarin than the rest of us put together. We put him in the front seat because the driver doesn’t speak a word of English, pretty crap when you consider that the van driver takes tour groups to and from attractions from a hostel which has many European travelers.
We passed lots of new developments, they sure are banging up the new high rise apartments, and tearing down the old buildings. New construction seems to be happening everywhere, in one area we counted 19 cranes. The new housing is not the only construction, there;s new massive shopping centres, and infrastructure like freeways and bridges for bullet trains. The drive took us through areas of agriculture with small areas of flowers, wheat, cabbages and lots and lots of greenhouses.
It took about 1 1/2 hours to get to Stone Forest, including a toilet break and when we arrived we agreed to meet back at the car park at 1300. At the car park were electric buggies waiting so we caught one to the visitor centre. It cost ¥100 per ticket, ¥25 for the electric car and we paid an extra ¥25 for the Cable car (to later find it wasn’t running). Once inside we caught the electric car around the park. It seemed to be just going around the perimeter without stopping so we forcefully told them to stop, and they got the message. All the locals on the electric car were looking at us strangely when we got off. Shani was keen to be at one with nature so he was off like a shot.
The large grey rock formations were awesome. Some like jagged teeth jutting out of the earth, we were soon happily snapping away with the camera. The ticket office wouldn’t give us a map so only map we had to navigate by was on the back of the ticket so it was basically impossible. There were concrete and stone pathways throughout, with signs leading to different rock formations and features. Once we had worked out that we couldn’t get lost because there was a ring road surrounding the stones we started trekking down one path and up another. Some areas we had to squeeze through, others we had to crouch down to get past but overall it was hard but fun.
The best part of this track through the Stone Forest was we only ran into one other party during the time we were trekking about. The locals just get on the electric car and do a circuit of the stones and take some photos, get dropped off at the viewing platform take some photos, walk through the small area of minor stones take some photos, walk back to the electric car then back to gift shop. While we wandered we took lots of photos of the strange formations and as the time was getting on made our way to the viewing platform overlooking the stones before heading back to the starting point for the electric car. We did the circuit, getting dropped off at the minor stones before walking back to the exit. The other electric car took us back to the car park so we could exit via the gift shop to find the van after a bit of a search with Shani smiling waiting for us.
Soon we were on our way again heading towards Jiuxiang Caves. These caves proudly boast that they have been the scene of a few Jackie Chan Movies. The drive took us through more villages with small crops before leading into mountainous countryside past a dam. All along the way we noticed lots of young gum trees (Eucalypts) which for some reason had a bit of die back. The way the trees were browned off we wondered whether the heavy industry not far away might be causing a bit of acid rain, or whether they might have the die back disease in their trees.
About 30 minutes later we arrived at the caves, where the bus drivers friend was waiting to purchase tickets for us for a discount of ¥100 from 90?, once we got our tickets she disappeared. There was a lift from the top or stairs so we took advantage to rest our legs. At the bottom was a small dam and boats but we decided to carry on into the caves. The caves had concreted walkways, steps and concreted hand rails which had been trowel finished and painted to look like wood with the bark still on. From the entrance we crossed over the river which coursed over boulders through a narrow gorge.
The pathway led into a large cave with heaps of coloured lights highlighting rock formations and it was a beautiful cave. The cave system led us into a large cave with potholes in the roof, the largest about 8 metres across which reminded me of the big sinkhole in the movie “The Empire Strikes Back”. In this area there was a stage, food stalls, toilets, grotesque stones (the Chinese love a good freak show) and there was a bit about the early cave dwellers from around this area.
We took a quick break before heading up the stairs which opened up to a small valley with a river running through the bottom. Here we had a dilemma, a cross roads, up to the fairy palace cave, down to two waterfall cave, or exit. There were hundreds of steps down to the twin waterfall cave, which looked a bit daunting. As there were no maps Gerry and I descended down the stairs to take photos, Shani was feeling pretty energetic so he bolted off to check out the fairy cave, and the girls took a seat until we returned.
The river had sliced a big gorge through the cave exposing some of the cave features like rimmed ponds, one below the other which looked like they’d been deliberately terraced. The river met an underground river and dropped off about 30 metres together hence the name twin river waterfall. Gerry and I took some photos, then returned up the stairs meeting up with the rest of our little group up the top. In the meantime the girls had been celebrities with the locals all posing for photos with them. Shani had returned and decided to see where the twin rivers led to so bolted off. He was having the time of his life exploring the caves (I think he may have spent too much time in the city and was glad to be out in the countryside)
The four of us went into fairy palace cave it had heaps of stalactites, stalagmites, shawling, pillars cleverly lit up with coloured lights to highlight them. The cave was a circuit so went ascended one side and passed the usual local vendors willingly taking photos of people in traditional costume with the colourful features in the background for a small fee.
Once back to the entrance of the cave we started our descent where we met up with Shani who was excitedly telling us about the cave ahead and all the steps. We took some more photos in front of the twin waterfall before venturing on. There were more terraced ponds and a boulder which had fallen from the roof but had been reshaped by the dripping limestone over the years. This area led to another large cave with a stage which the local Yi people performed with traditional banjos, violins and drums. We’d missed the show but Shani entertained everyone with an impromptu song about the “Five crazy travelers”. It had us all laughing and the local performers loved it (I’m sure he could’ve got a permanent gig there)
The cave started ascending with a long tunnel and lots of steps with a sign reading 500 metres to exit. Alongside the sign was about twenty sedan chairs and their porters. For a measly ¥60 they offered to carry a weary cave explorer the last 500 metres up the steps. We were sorely tempted as this would be another mode of transport but ¥60 is ¥60 and we decided we could utilise it better elsewhere even with Shani’s offer to pay 10 towards it so Michele would get in the chair.
The last part of the cave had similar formations to elsewhere in the caves but in this area the soil had been disturbed outside on the cave roof and had penetrated through the limestone giving all of the features a chocolate coloured covering (which has its own specific terms, none of which I can remember. )
Finally we reached the end of the cave which opened up into a large grassy area with a cable car, back to the top, horse riding (although the horses were pretty small and I thought my feet would drag along the ground) and of course a gift shop. We enjoyed an ice block whilst being tempted to buy all sorts of gifts and trinkets.
The cable car, back to the exit, was like the chairlift at the “Ekka” or ski lifts (for those who’ve never been to Brisbane). We stood on a mat and waited for the chair to come up behind us and just sat down as it lifted us up. Once we were in the air we pulled the safety rail down in front of us and rested our feet on the foot bar. We took some photos going back from the chairlift as it took us high over the forest.
The drive back seemed to take forever and as we got closer to the city the traffic got heavier and heavier. Our last adventure for the day was eating at Shani’s favourite restaurant. It was run by a minority family who specialised in muslim cuisine from the north west. We just had to try the specialty Chicken platter. We also ordered a plate of veggies (because we’d been missing our veggies a bit) and some fried rice. We started with a beef broth which was pretty tasty. The veggies came out and was a shredded potato dish with an oily soup which we will be avoiding eating again as it was pretty flavourless. The fried rice was pretty good. The specialty arrived and it was huge with bits of chicken, chunks of potatoes, onion, carrots, spices and hidden in the bottom of a curry-like soup large homemade flat noodles. The star anise gave it an Indian type flavour which was interesting for Chinese food. Despite our best efforts we couldn’t finish the specialty, it was as predicted by Shani “Massive” (and only ¥75 just over $10 aus)
As we weren’t far from the guesthouse we walked home and on arrival said our goodbyes to Gerry and Deb who were staying not far away.