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Hiking away from Home in Huihang.

It has been far too long since I ventured outside the city, almost long enough to forget that feeling of openness, of space, of breath. A bunch of decided to take a four hour bus towards Hengshan in search of an escape off the beaten track. We ended up in the mountains in an area called Huihang in Jixi province. 

Despite the weather leaving much to be desired the landscape was incredible. After awaking just before 7 o'clock to tuck into a Chinese breakfast we headed to the base of the mountain to begin our climb.  After only an hour, I already felt the burn, as my legs struggled to hoist themselves from one earth-made ledge to another. 

It rained almost the entire time, from sprinkles to a downpour, but that didn’t stop our determination. Plus, we had no other choice but to keep on going…our accommodation was on top of the mountain. 

At times I would forget where I was, concentrating so hard on the uneven, slippery path beneath.  My breath was slightly laboured and we were all drenched in sweat, aided in some part by the humidity. However, when I looked around me at the foggy peaks, dark green mountains and valleys below it would jolt me into this feeling of calm.  

That night we slept in very humble bunk beds at a Hiking Inn run by the small Chinese village. They prepared us a large Chinese feast for dinner (which then became congee in the morning for our breakfast) and provided us with cheap ‘Hengshan Snow Beer’.  We all then spent the night playing cards and confusing games where the explanation of the game took longer than the game itself. 

Just before sunset a few of us ran to the very top of the mountain to look out over the large valley. It was amazing. The misty clouds moved slowly across the collection of mountains, sometimes completely obscuring our view. If we waited for around five minutes it would clear and the magical sight would throw us into a state of awe again. 

The next morning we hiked down.  I’m unsure whether this was actually harder then climbing up or not. I certainly used muscles I was unaware existed, or at least hadn’t used for a good ten years.  Perhaps it was our new found exuberance for hiking but our pace was faster.  So much so that we left some of the group behind and they got lost, taking a wrong turn and eventually finding their way back around an hour after the rest of us had reached the bottom.  

Hungry and tired we retreated to an old town.  Our lunch was already laid out on the table, so without any pretence we tucked in. Pickled vegetables, tofu and rice can only remain delicious for so long and I silently rejoiced in the fact that returning to Shanghai would mean I could eat Pizza! Before the rest of the group finished eating some of us explored the cobbled streets of the old town and chased birds along the rice paddy fields.

China’s landscape is truly remarkable.  With such a large land mass it covers almost all of nature’s offerings.  I often forget that just beyond the borders of the cities are forests, mountains, deserts and glaciers to explore. But returning home, I realised that there is even solace in the city.  Perhaps it is because this place is now my home, the familiarity is comforting, the confusion also so, and although the sound can be deafening, from my window it can be silenced.