Friday, October 3: I’ve been told by Matthew at the hotel that I should be in the lobby by 6:45 a.m., but when I go down, the guard is asleep on the hard bench chair, and none of the other staff is in sight. I panic a bit because I already paid for the raft trip down the Li River (220 yuan, or ~ $36) and was told it was non-refundable. I’m supposed to be picked up by a moto-taxi to be taken to some park to catch a bus, but I have no idea where that park is. I look all around and call out “Hello!” and finally one of the hotel staff wanders out of a back room in her pajamas and says, “It’s so early!” I say, “Sorry, I was told to be down here at 6:45.” She rubs her eyes and mumbles again, “It’s so early!”
She calls a moto-taxi and instructs him to take me to the park. She also gives him a phone number to call because the Li River Raft guide has never called her back to confirm and she isn’t really sure where I’m to meet him. Finally, after all is said and done, I get on a bus at Yangshuo Park and we’re on our way to Yangdi.
At Yangdi, I’m instructed to get on a particular boat with three young Chinese people, a man and two women. There are two small benches sitting on the raft which are not even attached to the boat. I take the front seat, since I’m first on the boat, and since I didn’t come all the way to China to sit in the back on this boat ride! We all put our life preservers on and take off from the shore.
I’ve come to the Guilin area to see its amazing karst landscape, which I’ve seen in pictures and in the movie The Painted Veil. I’ve dreamed of coming here for a long time.
According to Geotimes: Exploring karst in Guilin, China, “Guilin’s more than 5,180 square kilometers of karst landscape is the result of a perfect alchemy of geological conditions…Rising sharply at odd angles, limestone peaks look like giant teeth growing out of the green plain.”
Says Geotimes: Specific conditions for forming the magnificent topography of Guilin “are fourfold,” according to Ray Beiersdorfer, a geologist at Youngstown State University in Ohio. “First, you need hard, compact carbonate rock. In Guilin, it’s Devonian limestone. Secondly, you need strong uplift, in this case provided by the collision of India with Asia to form the Himalaya. Third, you need a Monsoon climate of high moisture during the warmest season. Finally, the area must not have been scoured by glaciers, which this region wasn’t.”
It’s a gray and foggy morning, but then as long as I’ve been in the south of China (a little over a month), it’s been foggy nearly every morning. The humidity is very high, so it always seems to be hazy. I’m a little disappointed because it seems we’re heading into the sun, and thus it will be a challenge to get good pictures. I keep turning around and trying to take pictures behind us, but they don’t seem to turn out much better.
It’s quite noisy, as there are scores of the motorized rafts around us. No peaceful quiet ride, this one.
My Chinese boat mates are snapping pictures in every direction, and naturally, I am captured in some of them. They end up in some of my pictures too. They don’t speak English and I don’t speak Chinese, but we do seem to enjoy each other’s company.
We cruise along for about two hours. I find myself getting choked up as we bounce along. I can’t believe I’m here in China in this place I’ve dreamed about for so long. I’m in awe of this scenery that looks so spectacular and, with the fog, ephemeral and dreamy.
At one point we stop at a little gravel beach where I get my picture taken with some cormorants (for 10 yuan). The girls and I pose for a picture together, taken by their friend.
Back on the boat again, we continue to make our way to Xingping, where we’ll end our cruise.
Xingping is famous for the scene depicted on the back of the 20 yuan bill. Of course, there are photo opportunities everywhere. The prime spots are reserved for those commercial photographers charging a fee (15 yuan). As hokey as it is, I stand along with everyone else holding up the 20 yuan bill and getting my picture taken.
After posing for our pictures in front of the magical landscape, we hop back in the boat to cross the river, where we disembark.
In the town, we have to trek quite a long way to get to where we’re supposed to catch our bus back to Yangshuo. At the top of a steep hill, we have to wait in an interminable queue to take a mini bus to get back to the bus terminal.
After getting off the mini bus, we still have more walking to do to get to the bus terminal. It’s packed, as you can see from these pictures.
When we arrive at the bus terminal, our bus is nowhere to be found. Luckily our tour guide gave us his telephone number, so one of the girls calls to find out the bus will be another ten minutes. While waiting, we see this young lady on her cell phone. This is a common sight in China. The little flower arrangement on her head is typical of those made and sold by elderly Chinese women to tourists.
My two female boat mates buy some fruit. They offer me some of what they bought. I think it might be taro fruit, and after chewing on a piece of it for a bit, I return the remainder. I’m not too keen on it, whatever it is.
While waiting at one corner of the bus parking lot, we see our bus pull in and circle around. As it settles into an outward-facing position, several frantic young men come running and carrying something between them. They lay their bundle down on the sidewalk directly in front of our bus and, shocked, we see it is a young man covered in streaks of blood. It looks like his head has been horribly cut all over the top. Our bus driver gets out of the bus in a leisurely fashion and talks to the young men standing around the victim. We can’t get a good look at the bloodied man, but it appears no one is doing anything for him. They’re just standing there looking at him helplessly. He’s obviously had a very bad accident and I’m not sure whether he’s alive or dead.
We’re all shocked by this turn of events, but none of us knows what to do, and his friends don’t seem to know either. Finally, after standing there for a while, waiting for something to happen, we get on the bus. As a foreigner who can’t speak Chinese, I know I have nothing to offer to the situation. This is my third time living abroad, and every time I’ve arrived in a new country, I’ve been warned not to get involved in any problems. A foreigner on the scene will surely be blamed, I’ve been told.
Later, when I relay this story to someone, they say that we as foreigners can’t begin to understand the complicated issues involved in a situation such as this. I am told that if an ambulance is called, the victim or his friends must make sure they have enough money between them to pay the ambulance. Also, there are superstitions about saving a person and owing a life later. There are probably more cultural issues about which I don’t have a clue.
We are quite shaken by this violent turn of events, and we’ll never know what the victim’s fate was. By the time our bus leaves, it appears he has been moved somewhere, as he’s disappeared from our sight.
We make our way slowly out of the town. It is so crowded that it takes us a half-hour to get out of Xingping alone, and it is a small town! After crawling through the traffic, we make better speed to Yangshuo, another half hour.
It is a wonderful experience to float down the Li River through such a fantastical landscape, and even though the journey is marred at the end by this upsetting and mysterious accident, it remains a memory I’ll cherish forever.
When we arrive back to Yangshuo, I go immediately to eat some lunch, as I never ate breakfast this morning. I spend the rest of the day exploring bits of the town, and having dinner with Audrey and her friend. Post to follow. 🙂