Wednesday, January 28: We go through a bit of an ordeal with our guide Esther today. She has lured us into a boat ride down the Li River for a lower price than our hotel offers. She says she has connections. I don’t understand how she can give us a better deal than the hotel, as the boat operators on the river charge generally the same prices, so she must be getting a deal on the transportation to the boat launch in Xingping and back. She has already told us that the ride will be upriver from Xingping to Yangdi (east to west), and I told her I wanted the ride downriver from west to east, from Yangdi to Xingping. This is the way I did it in October. What’s so amazing about the downriver direction is that you end up in Xingping, where the jagged mountains are clustered together in such a fantastical array that a painting of them graces the 20 yuan bill.
Esther leads us through the streets to different spots, where she stops and looks all around for some mysterious person who’s supposed to show up. She’s on the phone the whole time. I still don’t like that she won’t guarantee the downriver boat ride, and she’s not telling us any details about who we’re going with. She’s not planning to come along with us, and she’s being generally evasive. As we move from one spot on the street to the other, with her on the phone yapping in Chinese and looking all around impatiently, I start to lose it.
I say, “Esther, you’ve had since yesterday to plan this! How much longer will it be?” She keeps pacing up and down, searching for some vehicle that never materializes, and she has no answers. Finally, I get fed up. “I’m sorry, Esther. You’ve had since yesterday to arrange this and you still don’t have it arranged! We’re going back to the hotel.”
We walk away and leave her on the street, still talking on the phone. Nearby, we stop into a travel agent, and we arrange the boat ride for the same price Esther was offering. It seems however, that the downriver route is not available and the only way to go is from Xingping upriver a bit, but not all the way to Yangdi, and then returning to Xingping. I guess the Li River must be lower at this time of year. We pay the travel agent for the trip, wait about 20 minutes in the agent’s office, and then hop on a bus for the nearly one hour drive to Xingping.
On the bus, I’m squeezed in next to a Chinese lady who speaks excellent English. She’s here in Yangshuo for the Spring Festival holiday with her husband and daughter. She tells me her English name is Julia. We have a long conversation about our holidays and her life in her hometown. When we get to the boat launch, it ends up we all five share a bamboo raft together.
For some unknown reason, we have to wait quite a long time at the boat launch. There are some boats lingering about, but no one seems to be manning them. Things are so much more disorganized than when I took this boat ride in October: a raft trip down the li river: yangdi to xingping
Finally, after at least a half-hour wait, we get on the boat with the lovely Chinese family. We agree with the Chinese family that we’ll start in the front seat, which offers the best views, but we’ll switch places with them from time to time. Sadly, the views today are not great anyway. It’s a dark and cloudy day, but at least so far it isn’t raining. We find out quickly that it’s quite cold on the river, with the cold wind and the spray from the river, and we realize we haven’t dressed warmly enough.
For yet another day of our holiday, I’m disappointed in the dreary charcoal skies and the fog that nearly obscures our view.
The boat driver makes a stop at a little island where people are selling handicrafts, but none of us wants to buy anything. While we wander about, the Chinese girl spends her time throwing heavy stones into the river. Meanwhile, the boat driver sits with his friends and eats a snack. We take turns taking pictures of each other.
It’s so funny, Julia reminds me so much of my Korean friend Julie. Even her haircut is similar: my two closest korean friends
We pass on the opportunity to ride this little pony.
Finally, when our boat driver finishes eating his snack and chatting with his friends, we’re on our way again.
Soon after we get back on the boat, it starts to spit rain. This continues for the rest of our ride. Argh!!!!
By the time we finish our ride, we’re all shivering and wet from the rain and the spray from the river. We squeeze into the bus again and ride back to Yangshuo. We go back to the hotel to rest and get warm and dry for a while before we head out to dinner at Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant.
The restaurant has two huge wooden sliding doors at the front. Mike doesn’t realize they’re sliding doors and he pushes one of them inward, lifting both of them dangerously into the air. He realizes belatedly what he’s done and he steps back, letting the doors clunk back into place. Meanwhile the people in the restaurant run to the front to stop him from knocking down the two huge doors. They’re so heavy that they probably would have crushed him if he had knocked them off their tracks. He causes quite a stir!
Luckily after dinner the rain has abated so we take a short walk around the town again. We run across some funny characters in the street.
We decide to warm up a bit in Mango by sharing a refreshing mango and ice cream dessert. It’s really yummy, but that ice cream makes us shiver all the way back to our hotel.
We get cozy again in our hotel and read a long while. There’s never anything on TV to watch as all the shows are in Chinese. After our day on the river, we’re both feeling really sick, with coughs, sore throats, runny noses and general head colds and shivers. We can see the forecast for tomorrow is for rain all day. We decide that if it is actually raining, we will get massages in the morning and just stay in our hotel room for most of the day, trying to recover from our miserable colds.