I envisioned a little 20 minute hike to a field of tea bushes surrounded by lush greenery at the foot of some hills. It would be picturesque and since I LOVE tea, it would take me to my happy place. But, as we drove through Hangzhou, there were people and tour buses pulled over at the side of the road. The people were taking pictures, then walking to the tea houses and getting back on their buses. This did not make me happy and my expectations were quickly being dashed. ..
But, what we actually got to do was very different and so FAR exceeded my expectations. Our driver dropped us off in a small village, where we picked up some water and our Mandarin Journey’s guide told us we would be walking to the head of the trail. On the way, we passed a few locals processing the tea leaves by hand and lots of eating, card playing families gathered together. This is where our journey began and where I found my nirvana…
We walked through a neighborhood of homes, passing residents working, hanging out, and walking back down the street with beautiful baskets. Some had hoes and other equipment from working the plantation.
Then, it was as if the world just opened up and I saw TEA BUSHES! Not just a field of tea bushes, but hills and hills of tea bushes. As a friend who saw one of my pictures said, it’s a “sea of tea bushes” and she was so so right. It was a sight like no other for me and my cheeks still hurt from smiling all day.
We walked past many locals. Some headed into work, while others were finishing their days, carrying baskets full of freshly picked leaves. We hiked up and up to the top of the hill and onto the ridge, where we were looking over a mere 1% of the sacred tea area; a highly sought after and noble tea in China. As I stood in absolute awe, viewing a lush vista that seriously gave me chills, I saw peace, respect, and generations of lives dedicated to the tradition of growing this special tea bush.
I have hiked in many, many places, but this hike felt different. We were alone among the people and the land. We were alone with the bamboo and the rocks. We were alone in ancient grounds and you could feel the generations that had been here. But, you could also see it in the people; simply through the respect they gave each other. You could see it through the time they spent searching for each tea leaf. You knew each section of tea bush has been tended to by a family who believed in the land and taught the next generation to do the same.
What made this journey so VERY special was that we were the only outsiders here. Everyone else lived and/or worked on the plantation and had a true purpose for being there. We were simply granted the privilege of sharing this land with them for a brief moment in time.
This venture would not have been possible without our guide and Mandarin Journey owner, Marc Mekki. Getting to the tea trail head alone was a tricky task, cutting through streets of a neighborhood. Then, the trail itself had many split offs. We saw only a few people along our hike; one being a Monk with an older couple all carrying prayer beads. This just brought home to me how special these grounds are. But, too funny, it also reminded me that I need to get back to the gym! They were definitely not breathing as heavy as I was!
After about another mile of walking UP the hill, we came across a covered sitting area full of a group of elders who were all women. Their sounds of laughter and chatter warmed my heart. They were enjoying the day, good food, each other’s company, and life. Simplicity personified…
On our way down, we hiked through a very diverse area and suddenly, the bamboo forest opened up with the tea bushes among them. It was simply amazing!
I will forever remember this adventure and am so grateful for the Mandarin Journey’s team who listened to what I wanted to see and then took it to a whole other level. If the Ironman Japan trip they have arranged is anywhere near the quality of China, everyone is certainly in for a trip of a lifetime and it shouldn’t be missed…