Hainan Island, situated off the southern China. When I visited there with friends during 2001 it was still in its transition from a primarily Russian frequented trading port to a holiday destination. The four of us were living and working together in Beijing and were desperate for some beach time which can be hard to come by in China. The beaches were fine and the beer was good. What really made the trip for us was meeting a group of English students who were studying Chinese in Beijing there. Four of us became 20 and those friendships followed us back to Beijing making the rest of our year far more social. A week on the Island brought many crazy adventures including three of us ending up with our faces on a billboard promoting the local beer and making the Islands of limits for anyone called Keith for ever more. Those stories can wait for another time because I’ve got a tale of stupidity, naiveite & the most random luck to tell.
Most people who visit spend their time on the beaches but not us, to celebrate my friend’s birthday, we decided to go on a mini Adventure.
We had read about a Jungle reserve on a Mountain in the centre of the Island. With no tour agencies, around we flagged down a taxi and in our very poor Chinese explained where we wanted to go. Amazingly it worked and a few hours later we were on top of a mountain in rural Hainan. A quick walk around the visitor’s village confirmed our worst nightmare. Nothing was open. The whole place was deserted. After a short walk around the village we found an unmanned visitor centre a.k.a a shack with pictures of all the different dangerous creatures to be found on the mountain. It was time to give up. We had to be back at the beach by 8 to meet some friends and celebrate. Upon our return to the taxi, surprise we found… No taxi! To this day, I don’t know whether the driver had abandoned us or hadn’t understood our request. One thing was sure, we had made the rookie mistake of paying for a return fare up front so we now had no money, nowhere to stay & no way to get back to the beach.
Obviously, we were totally unprepared, we hadn’t brought our passports, proper clothing, water or food, or any substantial amount of cash as we figured it was just a simple visit. So, you’re stuck on a mountain in the middle of a rainforest full of dangerous animals and poisonous creatures with only two head torches between 4 of us. what do you do? We figured our choices were; curl up and sleep in the shack and hope someone turned up tomorrow or make our way down the mountain to the village at the bottom and try to find a way back. Not wanting to miss out on a party we set off back down the very steep roads ignoring all the signs that were helpful in English warning people not to go into the forest in the dark,
We walked for an hour, jumping every time something moved in the woods. One of the group thought it would be quicker to try and go down the forested slops rather than the winding road but he was quickly over ruled by some frightening sounds coming from the darkness.
An hour later we walked through a village consisting of three or four houses. We tried to ask for help but no-one spoke English or even any form of Chinese we could understand.
We trudged on. With luck stories of the stupid foreign kids in shorts and t-shirts walking through the forest at night spread and a guy with a truck carrying chickens stopped us as we left the village. Still no English but we could see he was trying to be helpful so with lots of pointing down towards the bottom of the mountain he made a gesture we took to mean he would take us. We jumped on the back in between the rapid chickens and half an hour later we were at the town at the foot of the mountain. When I say town what I really mean is a series of muddy roads, a few half-built buildings, far more pigs than people and a strong odour that convinced us there was no way we were staying there overnight.
Another half an hour of fruitlessly searching for help and having words we couldn’t understand hurled at us we decided a new plan was needed and by that, I mean a plan since our whole day so far had been badly unplanned.
We figured our chances of contracting Japanese Encephalitis or some other horrendous disease were extremely high if we stayed any longer were far too high so we found the road out of town and walked the 4 miles to the Islands only highway. Luckily for us having a young blonde female helped to stop lots of cars but the drivers who did speak English couldn’t fit 4 people in their cars. We were getting desperate now, how were we going to back, forget about birthday celebrations, how do we survive the night?
Just as we were giving up and started walking the strangest thing happened.
On a tiny Island in the South China Sea populated mostly by rickety trucks & ancient soviet hand me down cars a gleaming black stretch limousine stopped and a young girl got out of the back. She was no more than 15 but spoke good English. She was with her parents and two siblings and said her parents were concerned for our safety. Apparently, this very wealthy family had come from the mainland to visit the beach, our beach! They were on their way home. Even though it was an hour out of their way back in the direction they came from they offered us all a ride on the condition that the kids got to practice their English. Their parents only spoke Chinese and obviously didn’t want them to be in our shoes one day and not be able to ask for help!
The 4 of us piled into the back of the limo with the three kids and an assortment of fully inflated rubber rings and beach balls. My favourite was the giant swan!
It was a tight fit to be honest but not one of us wanted to offend our saviours by suggesting we deflate the toys, especially since they gave us their left-over picnic food and bottles of water.
Not only did they drive us all the way back to the town they had just come from they dropped us off at the beach bar where we were meeting our friends.
We may have been three hours late but being dropped off by the only limo on the island with a crazy story of our stupidity, garnered both forgiveness and long living epic notoriety. The birthday celebrations carried on till the early hours & continued in the crazy theme of the day, but that’s another story.
The moral of this story? Well it’s the same as the majority of my adventures – It always works sometimes!