Southern China Airlines tele-transported us west, to the City of the Mountains, Guilin. Since it has the same moniker as Monterrey I should probably rename it the City of the Mounds, but I have to acknowledge that the mounds may only be 50 m high, but they are bloody steep! OK, remember all those Chinese paintings you have seen with impossibly steep mountains rising through the mist? Well, they represent the landscape around and within Guilin. It is what is called a karstic landscape (the name comes from the region of Karst, in eastern Europe), an forms when a limestone terrain gets exhumed by the rapid cutting down of rivers. In the case of Guilin this is not a phenomenon you watch in the distance, but what makes the street turn or end abruptly.
Before we boarded the plane we were approached by a representative of Southern China Airlines, who offered pickup service at the other end for what would have cost to take the shuttle. OK, Lady Fortune is smiling on us. We get to Guilin airport and indeed a charming young woman is waiting for us, gets us into the minivan, and along the way tells us touristy things about the city. I smell a rat. And what are our plans? Ah, yes, “they” can arrange the boat trip to Yuangsho for just 480 yuan, but since we are only going one way and not using the return trip by bus she can cut the fee to 420 yuan each (plus lunch). That is like 70 dollars each, which is a good price for a long ride along the famous Li River, so at the end I sign up and we are set for tomorrow (later I found that at the youth hostel I could have secured the same deal (minus lunch) for 380 yaun. So indeed, Lady Luck is looking after us, and we have booked a fair deal. Isn’t that neat from Southern China Airlines?
To top our good luck, she and the driver have nothing else to do and wait while we check at the hostel so they can give us a ride to downtown. Neat folks!
First order of things is to get lunch, which this time consists of fish cooked in beer (a Guilin specialty), duck in beer (another Guilin specialty), and fried rice. Wow, it turns out to be massive amounts of food! Luke is tepid about the duck (which was very spicy and stringy) but liked the fish and rice. Still, we could not finish it all (and you know how I feel about leaving food on the plate). Good stuff!
Next we went to the Ming Palace park, and climbed the Hill of Solitary Beauty to get a fabulous panorama of Guilin and the surrounding karst topography. At the park we also saw the Examination Complex, and Luke even took a test on Chinese calligraphy (I don’t think he passed). The examinations were the process through which the learned government officials were selected (who we, in the vernacular, call the mandarins), and it was a system that dominated Chinese life for well over a thousand years.
We then took the infamous bus 58 to the Reed Flute Caves (if Luke ever looses patience waiting for something just whisper bus 58 in his ear and he will calm down). Yes, the bloody bus took forever, but eventually took us to the caves, which were quite spectacular. Too bad we could not understand the explanation of the guides, but we ooo’d and aaah’d at the magnificent formations, just like any good tourist should. I stood firm at the onslaught of vendors at the exit, but poor Luke caved in and bought a nice shirt.
By now we are expert bus travelers, so we took bus 3 to downtown, and walked along the Peach Blossom River, the Two Lakes, and the Li River. “But why are we walking?” asks Luke. “Because we are not in Kansas anymore, Toto”, says I, “and because walking here is different than walking in Oakdale”. He really enjoyed the walk, though, and I believe he is slowly coming to realize that part of travelling is just to walk and get a feeling for the people and their city. Incidentally, I like Guilin, and could easily live here.
So, there are lots of pigs here in Guilin. No, I do not mean the people that pick their nose, spit, or throw trash on the sidewalk. No, I mean pigs. Stone pigs, pigs on billboards, pigs on the side of vans. I am not sure what this is all about, but I intend to interrogate our guide tomorrow.