Today is our last day in China.
It has been a fantastic experience, and today's planned activities should be the proverbial "cherry on top" as we are heading to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to take a guided tour, and then Rosaline, David and myself have the entire afternoon to ourselves as we don't fly out until tomorrow morning. Everyone else is leaving today and either going home, or continuing on to the next leg of the marathon, multi-country journey that the Starkey Hearing Foundation is in the midst of at the moment. Some people (Jimmy!) are missing out on the mountain tour as they are headed off immediately to Nairobi for a few days of training, and others are off to Afghanistan (yikes!) and then on to Kenya. Between war and ebola, there are some brave and special people involved with the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Going through my pictures of today...this is going to be a long post! Let's get started!
We got up in the morning and said some emotional "good-bye"s to the people that were leaving right away. Then we loaded into two different buses and headed out to Snow Mountain. Our bus driver was insane. I think he must have been a failed Formula 1 driver as he we driving like a maniac, honking his horn at anything that moved, and passing everything on the road, including the other bus. We passed some gorgeous scenery on the way there, including a spectacular gorge that I would have loved to get some photos of, but we were going so fast, I couldn't even pull off a crappy picture through the window of the bus. I wish we would have been able to stop for a few minutes at one of the many scenic areas along the way. Oh well. Surprisingly, we made it to the mountain alive and piled out to start our tour.
We were given oxygen canisters and parkas (if we wanted them), and then we were able to bypass the very long public line for the gondola as we were VIPs. It was great, but I must admit I did feel a bit douchey cutting ahead of everyone.
At the top of the gondola there were a bunch of shops, and a marker indicating we had just rode another 1100 meters up from the already high base station.
We were told we had 20 minutes and that would be plenty of time to walk to the top and back. We naïvely started out, but I came to the conclusion pretty quickly that making this journey in 20 minutes was never going to happen.
I decided that I was going to try to make it to the top without using any oxygen. People all around me were sucking it back like crazy, and I must admit, I started out too quickly - but slowing my pace and stopping fairly regularly for pictures, I was able to make good time and I ended up not using any oxygen during the climb. It was great to get some real exercise after being relatively sedentary for two weeks.
Halfway up there was a guy with a hawk that allowed you to have your picture taken with the bird. This adventurous fellow decided to remove his shirt and take advantage of some props, much to the amusement of his cronies.
After about twenty minutes of climbing, the end was in sight.
I finally made it to the top! It sure seemed much farther than 175 meters, but I guess that is a significant climb (especially in thin air!). After taking a few more pictures, it was time to head back down. I had some BBMs from Eric that the group (the ones who didn't climb) had already gone down the gondola, and he was waiting for the rest of us. There were quite a few people behind me that were still climbing, so I figured I had time to take some more pictures on the way down. The view was awesome, despite the cloud cover.
After we hiked back down and rode the gondola back to the bottom, there was time for a couple glamour shots with the incredible scenery as a backdrop.
After that we piled into the buses and our lunatic driver raced us back to the hotel in record time. At this point, pretty much everyone else was leaving. Only Rosaline, David and I plus a few of the Starkey China employees were staying one more night. We said our farewells to the group, wished them well, exchanged contact info, and Rosaline, David and I went back to our rooms to prepare for an afternoon and evening in Old Town.