Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 8. The Li River

Last night Luke discovered the fun of staying up all night, shooting the breeze with fellow travelers. The party broke about 2:30 am, but then he stayed up talking with the cute girl that was operating the bar. Somewhere along the line she lost the padlock for the door of the bar so she couldn’t leave. They ended dozing in the chairs of the bar, and that is where I found them at 5:30 am lost in sleep (in reality I didn’t recognize Luke, and simply thought the two attendants normally slept there).

By 8 am we were ready for the minibus that picked us up, and by 9:30 we were at the ferry wharf, where it seemed thousands of people were trying to board one of the dozens of ferries docked. Later we heard that this was a very small proportion of visitors compared to other years, presumably because there were so many people at the World Expo in Shanghai. Well, somehow we all got sorted out, boarded our ferry, and started the most magnificent trip one can imagine. The river meanders through steep buttes, partially covered in a dense green vegetation, and partially exposing the limestone that forms them where vertical walls make it impossible for the vegetation to get hold.

Visibility was quite good, so I cannot tell you about peaks emerging from the mist. However, I can tell you of the play of the sun in the green and white of the mountains, and on the reflection of these peaks on the water of the river. It was a magic trip.

Included in this trip was a Chinese lunch, which was served in tables of six people, and which included leek soup, rice, crunchy crabs and small shrimp, potatoes cooked with pork, green beans cooked with beef, cauliflower, and a few other things I cannot remember right now. A regular feast it was.

Our tour guide, Trudy, worked real hard to make us all comfortable, and took special care of me and Luke. She finally talked us into taking a tour of the countryside around Yangshou after docking (for a modest fee, of course). She even made it her job to see that we were comfortably installed in our youth hostel (a supercool one, partially excavated into the side of one of the limestone buttes), and afterward escorted us to the place where the group for the tour was meeting. The bus took us to a small village about 10 km from Yangshou, where we got to see a traditional farmhouse, and where I bought myself a traditional Chinese hat at the general store. Across the village is one of those tall bridges, and from the top of it we got to see another fabulous landscape (Trudy called it Shangri La).

Our next stop was a small pier, where we boarded bamboo rafts to take a trip through one of the smaller tributaries of the Li River. These rafts are awesome, since they have a draft of less than 5 cm and can float through almost anything. Evan, I think you should get one of these through the internet. I can totally see you floating through the Eel River (and I can lend you my Chinese hat!)

The raft trip included a stop to see a fisherman using cormorants, a “drunk” girl singing folk songs (to me it sounded the guide called her a “drunk” girl, but she was really trying to say “young” girl), and a water buffalo and its calf. I also got a chance to buy “green fruit”, which looks like a fat green grape but is totally different in seeds and flavor.

We are finally back at the youth hostel, and I am typing these notes looking at a magnificent sunset among the peaks of Yangshuo. Couldn’t ask for a better office!

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