Unsatisfied with my riverside adventures, I told myself, "one day, I'll get on that Yellow River" bus.
|The Zhengzhou Yellow River Market. Not near the Yellow River and soon to be demolished.|
That day came when a government official probed my school and I had to lie low for a few days and wait for brown envelopes to be sent out.
I spent five minutes sweltering by the side of the road in the 8am heat before the air conditioned long distance bus came. It was almost empty, I perched myself on my favourite seat, facing sideways at the front, turning my head to look along the oncoming road.
|This is what bus stops in Zhengzhou look like|
Zhengzhou's inner city turns to semi-suburbs when you go north of the third ring road with the tower blocks becoming sparse and the buildings growing older and decrepit. The suburbs are have a quality of ugliness and grime that the inner city lacks, a throwback to China's poorer past.
|A less dense Zhengzhou, outside the third ring road.|
As you get past the outer ring of deprivation you stumble upon the future. New developments, golf courses, highways, theme parks and Spanish style villas litter the side of the road, all in various stages of development.
|A Spanish style development peeping it's head out of the bushes north of Zhengzhou, China|
|The entrance to a new golf village north of Zhengzhou, close to the Yellow River in China.|
We then pulled up beside a rustic tourist train painted British racing green and I was thrown off the bus. It was now 10am and the heat was stifling. I guessed the Yellow River was nearby because the air felt fresher. As I continued along the road to where I thought the River was, I noticed a sign for tickets and a queue. Not a good sign, I thought.
|The entrance to the Yellow River Scenic Area National Park in Zhengzhou. Tickets cost 60RMB.|
Not wanting to pay just to see a dirty old river. I took a side path into one of the forested hills surrounding the road thinking I might be able to beat the guards. It was only a few meters parallel to the road. It wasn't difficult for them to stop me, but I was determined to get in for free!
I trudged around the corner, away from the main road and into a shady village. The main square had three roads (so it was a triangle I guess) shooting out of it. I walked down the one leading back to the river, past towering relics to the Maoist past in the form of some old workers apartments, seemingly built to last. Unusual in China.
|The Village Triangle.|
I kept going expecting soon to see the river but once again I was stopped.
"What's going on", I protested.
"Do you have a ticket?" Asked the guard with just a village street behind him.
"No, I don't want to go to the park, I'm just visiting the village", I lied.
"You can't go past this point without a ticket",
"But I've got no money",
"That's your problem".
Growing ever more annoyed I questioned him on why some old women walked passed his little checkpoint unchallenged.
"Villagers don't need a ticket".
"How do you know I'm not a villager? That's my house over there!"
He stared at me, a foreigner in shorts and with a tourist camera around my neck, before lighting a cigarette and laughing.
I took his photo and gave up, stomping off the other way.
|The smoking guard who wouldn’t let me through|
I passed the village triangle once more with retired folks staring at me. I felt out of place in this newly zenoxiac village.
I walked up a path into the forested hills, surrounded by mansions and caves and guarded by vicious German shepherds, thankfully on ropes. It led nowhere.
|A mad dog, photographed by an Englishman. Out in the midday sun.|
I was almost about to give up my fare evading quest when I noticed a flight of stairs leading up the hill. I was now at least a mile away from the river, so despite the overgrowth, it was my last chance to sneak in. Climbing the stairs covered me with sweat. My sun cream was dripping down my face and stinging my eyes.
|Can you spot the stairs going up the hill?|
The stairs led to an abandoned bunker. I climbed up onto the roof and was blown away by how green the hills now looked but was still unable to glimpse the river.
|The Bunker at the top of the hill. Goodness knows what it really was.|
There were no more steps now up the hill but there was a seldom trodden path of dirt running up the hill at a fifty degree angle with trees at the side. Using the vegetation to pull myself up, I somehow scaled the hill with no regard of how I might get back down.
|The dirt path up the hill|
There was little shade at the top of the hill, and the burning sun meant I couldn’t stay to appreciate the view for much longer. The Yellow River lay below me, brown and mostly empty, and strewn with bridges making it altogether less impressive. The disapointment of the river was matched by my pride at scaling this impossibly steep hill and the view of the temple covered peaks in the distance.
|The disappointing Yellow river, a brown strip in the distance. Zhengzhou, Henan.|
|The beginning of the Yellow River Hills|
I saw the path ahead of me meandered deep into the forested hills, and you could have spent a week camping here, but I had to teach class.
I slid down the hill covering myself in dirt, and scratching my arms as I used them to grab onto plants to slow me down.
|The bum sliding route down.|
The sweat turned the dry dusty dirt into mud as it settled on my exposed skin and by the time I'd returned to the village I was brown.
When I went into the village shop to buy some more drinks, I asked if there was a tap I could use in the village, the shop owner sat me down, brought me a basin of water and gave me a towel. They could have easily tried to cheat me, but they were nothing but generous and altruistic.
|The lovely shop who helped me clean myself up. If you ever visit the Yellow River Scenic Area National Park, please go there and buy lots of things.|
I'm glad I didn't pay 60RMB to get into the Yellow River Scenic Area National Park, going the other way is much more fun.