Yangshuo, September 18

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October 7th 2012
Published: October 7th 2012
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All the way to Yangshuo we were surrounded by towering green karsts of different shapes and sizes. We have seen karsts in Laos and Vietnam but as with all things Chinese, the Chinese karsts were bigger and the scale was enormous – it just goes on and on. We haven’t seen many blue skies on this trip and we weren’t to see any here either. As we rode along, gazing at the scenery, weather a bit hazy, I started to feel sleepy. In Asia, whenever I take a fairly comfortable ride, the rocking of the car makes me sleepy. I tried to keep my eyes open. I didn’t want to miss the magnificent scenery that we were passing. I have to admit that I spent a good deal of the trip dozing. In my waking moments, I saw that Micha was also gently nodding his head to the rhythm of the car.

But as it’s a two-hour ride in traffic, we didn’t miss the scenery entirely. When we arrived at our hotel, we had the first and only problem with booking on this trip. They couldn’t find our booking. They found it later but in the meantime, until they sorted it out, we decided to take a taxi into Yangshuo and buy some supplies, the usual stuff: chips, chocolate, rice wine, big bottles of water (instead of the complimentary small bottles the hotels hand out). We took some type of motorized buggy into town. We hadn’t read about the town, we didn’t know that there are some very nice tourist streets, running along the river, with the by now, obligatory, massive karsts as backdrop. The driver dropped us off at the town’s main street. Teams of workmen were building and renovating all along the street. It was noisy, hot and dusty. We walked along a bit, but it only got worse. We bought our supplies and returned to the hotel, where the room was now ready. We had a big room with windows that looked straight on to the karsts.

On the way into town we passed a cave with a big butterfly at the entrance. I read that it was the butterfly season and we had already seen lots of butterflies in the short time since our arrival. Mostly very big black and white ones but also a few mauve and yellow ones. They weren’t alighting on leaves, posing nicely for photographs. They were flittering around, from tree to tree, without pause. Could barely see the patterns on their wings. Hoped to investigate more in the next few days but it rained and the butterflies went elsewhere. I thought this might be a good time to visit the butterfly cave. I asked at our hotel, she was quite enthusiastic. It included a tour though the cave and an ethnic dance performance and after a bit more probing, it appeared that there aren’t actually any butterflies to be seen there either, apart from the hideous plaster butterfly over the entrance. The only butterflies there are dead butterflies mounted for display on the walls. Needless to say, we didn’t go.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the area next to our hotel, through some small villages, over the bridge, down to the river to watch everybody sail off on their bamboo rafts in the sunshine. As it got dark, the karsts took on shades of grey and blue, the water buffaloes were slowly making their way from the water up the river banks, the ducks were flapping their wings in the day’s last rays of light, the air was warm and pleasant, the water glittered and the fields were green and golden, a truly idyllic scene.

We went back to the hotel’s rooftop terrace and had an area specialty, beer fish. We sat over dinner and debated how we would fill the next few days. I don’t do too well on a bicycle, which means that we would be doing a lot of walking and boating. We wanted to take a bamboo raft along the Yulong river and do a four-hour walk, along the river from Xingping to Yangdi. Maybe a Li River boat trip too and there is also the Impressions show on the river with a cast of 600 local fishermen and village people, directed by the director of the Beijing olympic’s opening show, supposed to be very impressive (with very impressive-priced seats too). There was a lot more to do and see. We were looking forward to the next few days.

We woke up the next morning to heavy haze and grey skies. We decided to put off the bamboo rafting until the next day, when the weather would be better (based on what did I make this assumption?). We went on a walk to Moon Hill instead. Depending on who you talk to Moon Hill is between 1-3 km from our hotel. We walked up the road in the increasing mist. The visibility was very poor, the karsts were slowly fading from sight. We stopped at a passion fruit farm and had some juice and ice cream. We reach Moon Hill, and we could still just about see it through the haze and the swirls of dust from the convoys of Chinese tour busses.

You can climb moon hill, but we didn’t really look for the entrance to the stairs and instead, in an effort to escape the tour busses, walked out of the village and kept on going and now found ourselves behind moon hill on a new highway with hardly any traffic, just the occasional truck every 5 minutes or so. We were surrounded by karsts, it was very quiet and we were completely alone. So we took a seat by the side of the road and had a rest there for about twenty minutes. Strange place to stop but as I said, we were alone there, and that sort thing doesn’t happen that much in China.

After that we walked back to our hotel, stopping at a few sites along the river and visiting a cave. We arrived back in the early afternoon in a light drizzle. We thought we would have a rest in our rooms and then continue but the light drizzle turned into quite heavy rain and although we were glad to have had a nice, long walk in the morning we weren’t ready to call it a day. Not having many options we decided to go into Yangshuo again.

This time we went to West street. Although it was raining hard, I could still see a few of the karsts looming large over the town and the area had a lot of shops, cafes and restaurants. After a few circles of the shops, and looking over some of the menus, we decided to have a break from Chinese food and went to an Indian restaurant. The food was good, we enjoyed the meal. Just one thing that I found odd – China has every sort of conceivable mushroom, their shops and markets always have a large variety of mushrooms for sale, from familiar champignons to fungi that looked more like seaweed. We ate all sorts of shapes, sizes and textures. Just about everything had some mushroom in it. But in the Indian restaurant, they used tinned mushrooms in the rice. Strange.

We took a taxi back to the hotel at about 8 and finished the day by watching a video. We watched my favorite video of my teenage years – Harold and Maude. I hadn’t seen it for years. I still found it hilarious. Went to sleep still chuckling and humming Cat Stevens to myself.

The next day it was mostly raining. We had a nice long breakfast on the roof and spoke for a while with a nice Danish family, admiring their photos and interesting to see some photos from places we hadn’t been. There were a few times when it seemed that the rain was less and maybe even tapering off but then it would just get stronger again and it didn’t seem like there was any choice, it was now or never, that bamboo ride on the river is a must, rain or no rain. We realized that the other things on our list were not going to happen but we stubbornly refused to cancel the river ride.

So off we went in the rain, taking a taxi along the river to the starting point. There was a momentary lull in the rain and we set off along with a few other determined Chinese tourists. In comparison to the number of bamboo rafts parked on the side and by the number of rafts we saw on the river the first day we were here, with bamboo rafts almost bumper to bumper for as far as the eye could see, there were now very few people out on the river. And with good reason. We foolishly declined the plastic raincoats on sale for less than one dollar, as we did the flower wreaths for our hair – I noticed that many of the Chinese tourists had flowers in their hair, seems to be part of the rafting experience, we nevertheless declined. This was not a great loss, but the raincoat would have come in handy.

We made our way gently down the river, it was only sprinkling and you could even see a few of the karsts through the drizzle. There was a deep silence as we drifted though the mist, with only the boatman’s oar breaking the water, making a soothing swishing sound. There was nobody out in the fields, we only passed an occasional fisherman and one or two water buffaloes. The rain started picking up. No problem. There was a big umbrella on the raft and we also had our umbrellas to shield us from the rain and from all the unoccupied photographers that wanted to record our historic trip down the Yulong River. The rain ended up pouring down, which made for a sort of surreal experience but after an hour of this I was quite happy when the journey came to an end. I was soaked and my new, fake sport shoes from Beijing took the opportunity to fall apart.

After that we went back into town for dinner. We bought some Chinese pajamas for our new niece and nephew and Micha bought some Mao matches and cigarette boxes. We were tempted to have Indian food again but seeing it was our last night in mainland China we decided to go to one of the big Chinese restaurants and order more than the vegetable and rice that we usually get.

As we had already had beer fish, we decided to have beer duck this time. In all fairness the waitress tried to warn us. Because I can speak a few words of Chinese, the restaurant workers do try to warn me away from certain things. She was directing us to the boneless chicken or fish. We stubbornly stuck with the duck. She shook her head mournfully. So, on our last night, we were served a plate of bones for dinner. The bits of meat that we could find amongst the bones, were more like grizzle and skin. In some ways this seemed a fitting finale. We had started our trip with a plate of chicken bones and now we were finishing it with duck bones.

I accompanied the meal with a small bottle of rice wine. I drank about half a small cup and couldn’t drink anymore. In fact, I had to hold tight on to Micha’s arm because I could hardly walk out of the restaurant. I also really didn’t mind that we had been served a plate of bones on our last night. Just part of the Chinese experience.

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15th October 2012

Wonderful experience and wonderful blog. You know what? I'm now listening to Cat Stevens, thanks to your appreciation of his songs. The first time I've ever heard of him. And hope some day I will see the karsts, butterflies, rafts, etc, too.

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