We caught a bus to Leshan, about an hour away, where the famous Giant Buddha is located. Ignore the museums, the temples, and all the other attractions that one might sell you on. Stick to the Buddha. He’s worth it. We climbed the steps up to the top where we came face to face with this giant. In the distant you could see a hazy Leshan separated from the Buddha by a dirty mote.
Moving down narrow windy steps, we made our way to the feet of Buddha. Halfway down, a Chinese TV station was filming and upon catching sight of two foreign girls, pounced on us for an interview. Ilaria proceeded to impressively show off her fluency in Mandarin, answering their questions with ease and impressing the interviewer and the spectators with her knowledge of their language. Meanwhile, I just stood there and smiled as the cameraman would zoom in on my face.
At this point, I realized that foreigners tend to have a somewhat celebrity status in China. I would like to think that Ilaria and I may have had a slightly higher status being two cute girls. Regardless, throughout the trip I found myself being photographed either with permission or not. Some would just snap a picture as we walked by, others would ask to have a picture taken with us. Children would stop and gawk with open mouths and tug on their parents and point at the foreigners. I have a new respect and understanding of what celebrities go through with the paparazzi. If I ever felt like a nobody back home, China made me feel like a goddess.
After a quick lunch, we rode the bus back to Emeishan to jump on another bus up the mountain. The hour long bus took us to a monastery that was about two hours hike from the summit. It was still raining at this point, but it was early in the afternoon and we didn’t know what else to do other than sit in the monastery for several hours. So with ponchos as our only barrier to the rain, we began the hike to the summit.
It was immediately clear that I was not ready for any sort of hike. Any endurance I had built from marathon training the months before, washed away with the rain. I felt lightheaded from the altitude and most likely dehydration. The poncho gave no room for breathing which caused my body to oversweat. I’m not even sure if it was fully waterproof since my arms were drenched – whether from rain or sweat, I have no idea. By the time we reached the summit, the temperatures were cooling. My clothes were wet, I was cold and tired, and at that point I broke and instead of hiking two more hours down to stay to a monastery, I walked right into the summit hotel, threw down my American Express, and got Ilaria and I a room with heat, a warm shower, and two cushy beds. And just like that, the cool, earthy experience went out the window.
Now that we were at the summit, we were able to roll out of bed for the sunrise. We didn’t see it; not for lack of trying. The great China haze blocked the sun from peering through. Before we knew it, darkness became light, night became day. Once the sun was fully up though, the skies cleared and we could see miles into the Tibetan basin.
After a few more shots by Chinese tourist of the two white girls, we headed back down and caught a train to Chengdu.