A Pedacito Of Wudalianchi Volcano
Without a doubt, we were the only foreigners visiting Wudalianchi National Park that day. Judging by the way the locals looked at us, we seemed to be the only foreigners who had ever been there.
The small town of Heihe, located just outside of the park, is what we in the south would call a “one-horse town.” There was absolutely nothing to see or do there. To make matters worse, we discovered that our “hotel” was actually a three-bedroom apartment which meant that we would be sharing our living space with a very large and extremely loud Chinese family. There weren’t any actual hotels to be found, so we had to make do.
Our first day outside of the park was a wash. The driver we had hired for the two-day excursion drove us to a local beekeeper to buy some fresh honey and then took us to several small restaurants before we found a place with pictures next to the dishes so that we might know what we were ordering.
Everywhere we went, our driver would point to me and spin his finger next to his head. To me, it looked like he was telling everyone that I was crazy. I discovered later that he was explaining to the locals that my blue eyes were giving him a headache. We went to sleep early that night. We were bored and pessimistic about the trip as a whole. We felt like there wasn’t anything worth seeing in Wudalianchi and to add insult to injury our host had no issue in repeatedly coming into our room unannounced to check on us or change a lightbulb or any of the other five reasons she found to burst into our room.
I mention all of these negatives to point out a universal truth when it comes to international travel. Some of the coolest places I have ever been involved suffering inconveniences and hardships in order to see them. I found this to be exceptionally true with Wudalianchi.
The next day, we awoke early to meet our driver, who would drive us to the entrance of the park. Wudalianchi National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site comprising fourteen young and old volcanoes which erupted in different periods, five lava dammed lakes, many cold mineral springs formed from volcanic eruptions, and extensive lava plateaus.
To say the place is pretty and interesting doesn’t do it justice. Picture a landscape of gigantic boulders made of petrified volcanic lava spread out as far as the eye can see. Imagine being at the mouth of a volcano and scanning the horizon to see thirteen other volcanoes on the horizon. Wudalianchi isn’t just pretty. It’s awe-inspiring.
After visiting the volcanoes, our driver took us to another area of the park that was situated a little further from the actual volcanoes. I’m no scientist, but it seemed as though the centuries of volcanic activity in the area had created patches of thick green forests where you can hike. In one such area, we spotted deer and other animals that were so close to us that we could almost reach out and touch them.
Visiting large international cities in China will offer you some of the creature comforts of home. In a city such as Beijing, for example, it’s easy to find a cheeseburger if you want, and the locals don’t really seem too phased by the fact that you aren’t Chinese. In Beijing, there are plenty of actual hotels where the staff won’t enter your room without knocking.
On the other hand, if you go to a place like Wudalianchi National Park, you are going to be stuck eating what the locals eat and being looked at as some sort of alien from another planet by everyone you come across. But I’m telling you from experience when you find yourself dealing with such difficulties, it usually means that you have veered off the beaten path and are in a position to experience some truly unique destination.
Wudalianchi is just such a place, and I am so very happy that I went there.
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