I stumbled out of the taxi late at night in the rain, and as my feet touched the ground, was pulled through a garage door. “Climb?” asked the man now holding my bags.
“I guess,” I said.
The next morning at 5, I found myself in a small bed and breakfast in Tangkou, a town of one street near the base of Huangshan Mountain. The owner of the motel brought me a steaming pot of beef soup, watched me burn my tongue, then waved me off on my hike.
While the mountain was even more spectacular than my pre-travel research suggested, one of the real highlights of the trip was climbing down a set of mossy stone stairs to the river whose name I can find nowhere online that cuts through the town, plopping my backpack full of empty tea bottles and dried fish wrappers on a rock, and soaking my feet in the chilly water.
In Tangkou, I ate alternately like royalty and like myself (a college student equipped with a plastic spoon and a tea kettle). When I felt adventurous, I would walk up and down the one kilometer of civilization in search of a restaurant with a picture menu. When the pictures were too sun-faded to be identifiable as anything other than a bowl with what could have been noodles or rice in it, I gave up and communicated with the restaurant owner through multiple layers of WeChat translate, all the time feeling terrible for showing up in his rural home with nothing but “ni hao” and “xièxie” under my belt. The food was delicious, though, and once, after slurping down a bowl of noodle soup with chicken and leeks, I walked past the poultry butchery run out of a garage next door—my meal had probably been squawking that morning.
Other times, I felt less confident, and settled for the instant rice bowls and Nestle hot cocoa mix advertised as instant coffee in the town’s flagship supermarket/restaurant/house combo. The first night, when I couldn’t figure out how to turn the power on in my room, I drank the cocoa mixed with cold water, sucked the pork and soy sauce gel out of the foil packet, gave up on the rice.
Either way, though, I ate near a window that looked out at either the river or the mountain.