The sun had set and still we waited. This was a lost cause now. It was time to get dinner and find a place to sleep. Shane contacted the college student again, and he told us where we could meet him. Somehow we got his directions confused but still managed to find a hostel with a restaurant. 60 RMB ($9) per person for a six-bed room seemed acceptable. We dined on clams, scallops, and pork and green peppers before washing it down with green tea.
Then we headed back to our room to decide what to do. Caty was interested in a sunrise hike. The other Katie wanted to walk outside that night. I just wanted to hike but wasn’t terribly excited about a 4am hike. And Shane seemed up for both. So we left the hostel and began walking along the concrete road.
It was strangely quiet along the road, aside from the occasional passing car. After walking past most of the houses, a Chinese voice suddenly shouted at us from the side of the road. It came from a speaker attached to a pole with surveillance cameras. Most of it was garbled noise to me. We hoped it didn’t say something like, “Turn back now or you will be shot.” Too late. There was no going back now.
As we rounded the bend to the back part of the island, the darkness enveloped us. A few lights twinkled from fishing boats, but that was all. Suddenly one of us discovered a small, dark form moving along the side of the road. It was a hedgehog. It seemed troubled by our presence, but we didn’t let it scurry off until it was properly named by Katie.
We continued on our way until we noticed a temple several hundred feet above us, nestled in the mountainside. We could hear these muffled chants emanating from it, which was somewhat disturbing. The closer we came to the temple, the louder they were, until we came to the final bend that led to its entrance. We noticed that the chants were coming from two speakers at the entrance to the temple. Strangely enough, the doors were wide open, and inside it was nearly pitch black. I was feeling mentally, if not visibly, disturbed, as were Shane and Caty. Katie thought someone had forgotten to turn off the music and shut the doors for the night. I did not feel reassured.
Shane took a selfie for us in front of the temple entrance, and that may have been the longest selfie I have ever experienced. I was waiting at any moment for some madman or a human form shrouded in a white veil to emerge from the dark recesses of the temple. I’d like to think that I would have protected the women from any attack, but it’s also very possible I would have run screaming down the trail or tripped over a rock and landed face first in a briar patch. Thankfully nothing emerged from within the temple.
And so we continued along the main path. Soon it began to bend its way along switchbacks to the top. The view was improving, but our legs were rebelling. Shane and I began to outpace the ladies, and soon we were nearing a small guard shack with a spotlight shining on the path, which led to a military facility on top of the mountain. We decided to turn back. We didn’t feel like spending the night in a Chinese prison.
Back on the trail, we reunited with Caty and Katie. Apparently, they had mistaken two Chinese men, camping at night, as Shane and I. Good thing they weren’t criminals on the run from the law. I suppose you never know who you will meet on a trail at midnight. At any rate, we finally made it to the top of one of the peaks, and the canopy of stars above was breathtaking. This was a moment to savor slowly.
Since the ferry departed at 6:30am, we decided not to savor the moment for too long. On the way back down, we heard a bell jangling and discovered a whole herd of goats standing under trees on the side of a hill. Not sure which of us was more surprised to see the other. Later we heard a distinct rustling in the shrubbery near the road, and it seemed like something was stalking us. I imagined some rabid dog leaping out of the bushes and attacking us. Eventually the rustling stopped. We were safe.
As we neared our hostel, the moon’s reddish crescent shone over the waters, silhouetting a lone fisherman and his boat in its path. This was his home, but we were the outsiders here. This had not been the trip we had planned, but I think in some ways it had turned out better than we could have imagined. Sometimes it’s not so bad to get stranded overnight on an island.