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Published: November 2nd 2012
After the excitement of the physical examination at the airport, the flight was a bit of an anti-climax. One and a half hours after takeoff, we landed at Guilin and then transferred to Yangshuo (about a one hour drive). The scenery from the air looked impressive, but on the ground the limestone karsts were very imposing. It's a bit like Halong Bay in Vietnam without the water. We familiarised ourselves with the place by taking a walk around the town and mingling with the many tourists, although, as usual, few Westerners. We ate a small dinner by Chinese standards and when Dean went to meet the guide later in the evening, Eleanor and I caught up on the latest snooker news and had an early night.
Experienced one of the best days yet today. Cycling out to Moon Hill and some outlying villages was fantastic. The initial terror of riding amongst traffic soon dissipated once we joined the peloton of tourists heading towards the hill. Although joining the peloton involved crossing a major road, which was fairly nerve racking. It's incredibly difficult to watch Eleanor walk into traffic. Just imagine crossing Nepean Highway at an intersection
Stopped outside a hotel
A fairly quiet road, except for a few farmers walking their buffalo.
where cars, pedestrians, buses, motorcycles, (and the occasional horse and cart) all feel they have the right of way. Not having a bell, nor working brakes, placed me at a slight disadvantage, however I trundled along behind everyone, admiring the spectacular surroundings. Eleanor's minor celebrity status slowed down a few cars and motorcycles along the way, but generally we managed to avoid any mayhem and for a few kilometres we were the only ones on the road (apart from a couple of farmers walking their buffalo).
Lunch was the usual five courses of joy; a gourmand's delight. Cycling along the back roads, we passed through picture postcard views until we hit the outskirts of town, where my lack of a bell was sorely missed. I can't accurately describe the traffic, but as a lady said today, it all seems to work without the rules and regulations we have. Hmm. I'd like to see the road toll.
Anyway, we arrived intact and ready to take on our next challenge - the cooking class. Taken to a market (along with five others), we were shown the vegetables we would be cooking in the first hall. Moving into the second hall, we
passed through a section with eels, snails, frogs, yabbies, turtles and crabs. Maybe some other water-based delicacies too, but my eyes caught the cages of chickens. Dean thought they were more humanely kept than the battery hens at home. Fair call. A few ducks were in that section too. Resting on top of those cages were the rabbits. Not too sure how happy they were but didn't stop to ask because I couldn't help but notice the cage of cats. Which was right next to the dog being slaughtered (no photographs allowed, unfortunately). I think if I walked a little further on I probably would have seen Bambi being barbecued. I did a 180 and found myself in the fish section. That wasn't much fun either, so I found Dean and Eleanor at the dried meat counter. The usual foodstuffs - ham, bacon, flattened quail. By this stage, one of the girls in the group was ready to turn vegetarian.
After the market, were taken to the cooking school. Overlooking the river, it was a picturesque location, although I feared it was also a mosquito factory so I slathered myself and Eleanor in Aeroguard. We were looking forward to making
our dinner because nearly every meal since September 18 has been cooked for us (thankyou to everyone who has contributed to our expanding waistlines). The sight of Eleanor with a cleaver was a little disconcerting, however Dean was confident she would leave with fingers intact. Our culinary skills were put to the test, making Eggplant Yangshuo style, Pijin Yu (beer fish), Chicken with cashews and green vegetables with garlic. Lots of fun and quite delicious.
We walked back to the hotel through the bustling streets of Friday night revelry. Crowded with people and the sounds of Chinese pop songs, we shuffled along, enjoying the sights more than the sounds. We stopped for dessert and a coffee at one of the many cafes and had the best coffee so far. Although it was technically an 'Americano', it was actually a long black. Oh happy times. The only downside to the coffee was because it was not the typical weak blend of the traditional bucket-sized Americano, it contained caffeine. So, I stayed awake for a few rounds of snooker on the TV before eventually falling asleep around 2am.
After breakfast we were driven to a section of the Li
River where we clambered (ok, I was the one 'clambering'😉 aboard a bamboo raft (it looked suspiciously like plumber's pipes taped together, quite frankly) for a scenic jaunt downstream. With a tug of the cord, the two stroke motor came alive and we joined a flotilla of craft chugging along in a scene reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. The only thing missing was the overture. Wearing bright orange life vests (it was de rigour for everybody on the river), we sat on the wooden garden seats (not affixed to anything) and admired the view. On a couple of occasions the river traffic mirrored that on land and we missed one boat by about 1cm. But don't get me wrong, it was a lovely activity (a little noisy due to the engine) but I think we would have enjoyed it more had we kayaked in a quieter section of the river. Driven back to the centre of town, we didn't have to meet the guide until 2:30, so we had about four hours to kill before we had to leave for Guilin. Yesterday a lady in the cooking class told us about a walk up a small karst, so we set off
in the general direction. To get there we had to walk through a little park containing a small carnival. After purchasing the best fairy floss ever (so light!), we found the stone steps up to the rotunda on the top of the karst. It provided a nice view of Yangshuo and enabled Dean to finally get his bearings.
Dean and Eleanor then experienced the 'kissing fish' foot bath. This involved putting your feet in a warm tub of water with lots of Doctor Fish. Dean's description: The first five minutes was like a wounded seal in shark infested waters. It was excruciatingly ticklish as the fish worked at the feet like a family of bogans at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Eleanor was in fits of laughter as the fish wriggled between her toes. By the end of the session, the fattened fish and we were as one, contentedly stress-free, drinking jasmine tea watching Chinese soaps.
Lunch was less of a frenzy than usual. We ate at a couple of street stalls then went back to the coffee shop from the previous evening. We spent the next half hour writing postcards and trying to upload photos to the blog. I'm a
bit behind on the photos because wi-.fi has been non-existent in our rooms throughout this tour. Hopefully I can rectify the situation in Hong Kong. We were dropped at Guilin Station by our guide with instructions about what to do when arriving at Guangzhou. Waiting outside the station for our tickets to arrive, a family from a rural area stared at us like we were exhibits. Our guide said it was probably the first time they had seen foreigners. One lady asked him what language we were speaking and where we were from. It was like we had landed from another planet. By this stage, Eleanor was feeling very uncomfortable because two members of the family could not take their eyes off her. I had a feeling they were probably adept at playing the banjo, but I could be wrong.
When we were called onto the platform, we lugged our stuff up two flights of stairs and then down two flights to reach the platform. A stationary train opposite us contained young soldiers buying their dinner off vendors outside the windows. At one stage, the soldiers in one carriage stood up and burst into song. After a rousing rendition of
'Down with foreigners' or some such tune, they sat back down and recommenced eating. Once guided onto the train, our guide waved us off and we settled into the journey to Guangzhou. The train lurched off and we rattled our way along the tracks with the omnipresent odour of cigarettes. A nice young Chinese man in the berth next to ours offered to accompany us to the dining car to translate the menu. Not that there was much left, so he didn't have to trouble himself too much. The chicken dish was tasty but contained such choice pieces as the feet, neck and some I didn't quite recognise as belonging to a member of the fowl family.
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