Yulong River

a dark & misty bamboo raft ride down the yulong river

Sunday, May 31:  This morning, Erica and I awake to a steady downpour of rain, but as we walk to the Cosy Garden’s sister restaurant for breakfast, the rain magically tapers off.  The mist doesn’t disappear though, not even remotely; even though no rain is falling, it is still exceedingly damp.  After nearly a year of living in Guangxi province, I’m finally coming to the conclusion that the province is ALWAYS damp.  That’s why you always see pictures of the karst landscape in Guilin and Yangshuo with misty clouds draped protectively over the fantastical mountains.

After breakfast, we check out of the hotel and wait for our ride to the Yulong River, which we arranged yesterday.  When we arrive at the boat launch, an altercation with our driver ensues.  We had asked when we arranged the ride if we could leave our bags in the vehicle while we took the raft ride down the Yulong River.  We are heading directly to Guilin after our boat ride, so we didn’t want to have to return to the hotel, which is quite out-of-the-way.

The driver has apparently not been apprised of this arrangement and keeps arguing with violent gestures (he doesn’t speak English) that we cannot leave our bags in the van.  It gets quite ugly, but we insist on leaving the bags. I have a smaller bag in which I carry my camera, money and passport, so I carry that with me on the raft, but Erica has only one bag, a big one, in which she has everything, including all her valuables.  She wants the driver to lock the car, but he refuses.  We end up leaving the bags there anyway, as he marches us angrily to the boat launch.

We situate ourselves on the rafts and before long, we’re underway.  It’s a dark and dreary day, not ideal for pictures, but… it is what it is.  This is Yangshuo and this is more the norm than not.

bamboo raft central on the yulong river

bamboo raft central on the yulong river

pulling away from the jumble of rafts

pulling away from the jumble of rafts

Our raft on the Yulong River

Our raft on the Yulong River

Every time we come to a drop in the river, shown below, we have to ride over and splash into the lower level of the river.  It doesn’t look very steep, but we can really feel it when we go over.  It’s quite exciting!

the first drop

the first drop

misty morning

misty morning

Erica can speak a little more Chinese than I can, so somehow she gleans from the captain of our boat that his home is right along the river.  He points out his homestead as we go past.

our bamboo boat captain

our bamboo boat captain

It’s fun to watch the mostly Chinese tourists who are floating along with us downriver.  They repeatedly want to take pictures of us, while we in return take pictures of them.

karst landscape on the Yulong River

karst landscape on the Yulong River

bamboo boat jam

bamboo boat jam

The boat captain in the picture below ends up dropping his pole in the river, and as we go on, we wonder what will become of him and his passengers.

fellow travelers

fellow travelers

the bamboo boats

the bamboo boats & Chinese girls

It is a very cloudy day, but it’s still lovely.  The pictures don’t turn out so well though, sadly.

mist-covered mountains

mist-covered mountains

the boat captain's house

the boat captain’s house

At some points on the river we encounter a few pile ups.

traffic jam on the river

traffic jam on the river

And of course there are always the ubiquitous Chinese girls taking selfies.

picture-taking time

picture-taking time

green mountain majesty

green mountain majesty

reflections

reflections

bamboo rafts

bamboo rafts

the Yulong River

the Yulong River

more views from the river

more views from the river

magnificent karst landscape

magnificent karst landscape

karst heaven

karst heaven

rafting down the Yulong

rafting down the Yulong

bushes and karsts

bushes and karsts

We pass by the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat on our way down the river.

Yangshuo River View Hotel

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

wonderful rafting

wonderful rafting

Yulong River scenes

Yulong River scenes

When our raft ride is over, we have to wait nearly an hour for our driver to appear to take us to the bus station.  Because our bags are in his van, this causes us some consternation.  Luckily we have the phone number for the woman who sold us the bamboo boat ride, and she is able to contact him and hurry him along.

In the end, we make it to the bus station with enough time to grab some lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant.  Then, we’re on the bus to Guilin and from there, on the train back to Nanning.  It’s great to have had a little adventure with Erica, as I’ve traveled alone on all my adventures this year.  I’m glad I got to share what little I know of Yangshuo with such an enthusiastic friend and colleague. 🙂

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Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Travel, Yangshuo, Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , | 17 Comments

an afternoon bike ride in the yangshuo countryside

Saturday, May 30:  After we finish the Li River cruise, Erica and I drop into town for a quick pizza lunch at the Rosewood Cafe and then head out immediately for a bike ride.  As we only have a short weekend, I’m trying to compress what I did in four days into less than two days.  We take off into the countryside in a steady drizzle, hoping that it will let up before long.  By the time we get into the heart of the countryside, it has stopped raining, but we are fairly damp.  The moisture in the air is thick, making for some hazy views.

Yangshuo countryside

Yangshuo countryside

I’m trying to lead Erica by memory into the countryside, following the route that Audrey led me on in October.  I’m surprised that I am able to recognize landmarks and find my way, despite only having been once on this route.  Sometimes I have no sense of direction, and other times I have an uncanny internal compass that enables me to figure out the lay of the land.

the farmland of Yangshuo

the farmland of Yangshuo

We come to a spot along the Yulong River where some girls are standing under the trees trying to keep dry, as it has started raining again.  We get off our bikes and join the girls under the trees, as there’s quite a deluge.  While waiting, we’re lucky enough to have a farmer cross the river with his cows.

The Yulong River

The Yulong River

A farmer and his cow

A farmer and his cow

I love it how the farmer rolls up his pants and wades confidently into the river, and his cows follow obediently behind.

the farmer crosses the Yulong River with his cows

the farmer crosses the Yulong River with his cows

farmer crossing

farmer crossing

wading across the Yulong River

wading across the Yulong River

I am thrilled to experience this little slice of life in the Yangshuo countryside!

disappearing act

disappearing act

bicycles Chinese style

bicycles Chinese style

When the rain lets up, Erica and I get back on our bikes to continue on our journey.

Erica and her bicycle

Erica and her bicycle

Before we leave, two young men come by on a motorbike.  I can’t believe it, but they try to cross the river on the bike.  One of the men gets off and walks alongside.  Of course the bike stalls, but they get it started again and make their way gingerly across.

crossing the Yulong River on a motorbike

crossing the Yulong River on a motorbike

There’s all kind of activity on this rainy day in Yangshuo.  We encounter another farmer leading his cow along the path.

another farmer and his cow

another farmer and his cow

His cow goes off into the bushes to scrounge around, but the farmer doesn’t seem to mind.  After all, cows will be cows.

and the cow goes scrounging in the bushes

and the cow goes scrounging in the bushes

Chinese countryside

Chinese countryside

more farmland

more farmland

We pass more farmland in the midst of the karsts, and we glimpse farmers and water buffalos in the fields.

a farmer in the field

a farmer in the field

water buffalo in the field

water buffalo in the field

Erica and her bicycle

Erica and her bicycle

I have to take a convoluted path to get us to Dragon Bridge. There are no English signs to point out the way, but I use my 6th sense, just letting my body lead us in the right direction.  We go through a parking lot and then emerge on the other side to find the trail continuing along the Yulong River.  Once again, I’m surprised and pleased that I’m able to remember the way to go.

Erica hasn’t seen the bamboo rafts at Yulong Bridge, and she is delighted by the sight, as am I.

the view upriver from Dragon Bridge

the view upriver from Dragon Bridge

Looking downriver from Dragon Bridge

Looking downriver from Dragon Bridge

bamboo rafts on the Yulong River

bamboo rafts on the Yulong River

the Yulong River from Dragon Bridge

the Yulong River from Dragon Bridge

The rafts go downriver, and as the boatmen go by, they toss these ID tags up on to the bridge, where someone collects them.  I’m not sure exactly how this system works and what the point is.

boat ID tags

boat ID tags

As we’re leaving, we catch this character shooting the breeze with a companion.

Do you like my hat?

Do you like my hat?

We pass by a cute little bridge beside a coffee shop in the countryside.

A little bridge in the countryside

A little bridge in the countryside

coffee shop in Yangshuo

coffee shop in Yangshuo

view from the little bridge

view from the little bridge

We stop at the Giggling Tree, a hotel that always seems to be booked whenever I’ve come to Yangshuo.  This hotel is popular among Westerners.  We stop in the courtyard and have some mango drinks.

the courtyard at the Giggling Tree

the courtyard at the Giggling Tree

I was hoping we’d end up back at the Passion Fruit Leisure Farm, where Audrey and I ate lunch in October, but Erica is tired from our long day and wants to make our way back to town.  So we ride back into Yangshuo, where we stroll around the town.  Here, I finally buy a couple of cool lanterns, after dreaming about them during my whole time in China.

Lately, the lens on my Olympus Pen has been acting up, and I’m disappointed to find that many of my pictures are not quite focused.  I’m not sure if they’re like this because of the dense mist in the air in Yangshuo, or because of the lens not focusing properly.  I think it’s going to be time for a new camera soon. 🙂

a little Chinese girl poses at a shop in Yangshuo

a little Chinese girl poses at a shop in Yangshuo

the town and canals in Yangshuo

the town and canals in Yangshuo

After dinner, we hop on our bikes to head back toward the Cosy Garden.  While we’re riding over the bumpy cobblestones under the long pavilion, Erica says she’d like to stop at Demo Tikki Bar, which Audrey took me to in October; it has now moved from the middle of Yangshuo to this somewhat deserted stretch under the pavilion along the Li River.

Audrey had introduced me to the German manager, Peter, and when we stop in, I ask Peter if he remembers me from when I came in with Audrey. He does because he added me on WeChat at that time, so he’s seen all my posts.  I’ve seen his as well, so everything finally comes together: all his posts about Demo Bar’s move to the new location now make perfect sense. We sit at a table and have some beer and cheese plates and Peter joins us when time allows. When he sits with us, he shares his excitement about the restaurant/bar’s new location and all his plans for this and another new restaurant in town.

Erica over beers at the new Demo Bar by the Li River

Erica over beers at the new Demo Bar by the Li River

After dinner, Erica and I hop back on our bicycles to ride through the drizzling dark to the Cosy Garden.  The staff at Cosy Garden gave Erica a miniature headlamp, like what a coal miner wears, when we left the hotel this morning.  At the far end of the long pavilion, we both take turns struggling to turn it on and put it on our heads; finally it’s me that wins out.  We cycle forth into the darkness, a beam of light shining from my luminous head onto the road ahead.

Earlier today, I asked Erica if she’d rather take the bamboo raft down the Yulong River tomorrow, or if she’d rather take a motorbike tour up to the Seven Star tea plantation and Xianggong Hill.  There is only enough time for one or the other.  She was so charmed by the Yulong River rafts that she’s decided she’d like to do that tomorrow; we arranged it in town when we returned from our bike rides earlier.

We settle in quite late at the Cosy Inn, preparing for another raft trip and for our long journey back to Nanning tomorrow.

Categories: Asia, Bicycle tour, China, Cosy Garden, Demo Tiki Bar, Dragon Bridge, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Rosewood Cafe, The Giggling Tree, Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Yangshuo, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

twenty-fourteen

In twenty-fourteen, I: Got waylaid in Denver after snow and de-icing delays on a flight from Washington to Burbank, California.  Shared Sunset Rolls and Fire Dragon Rolls, Sapporo and warm saké, with my little sister Stephanie, and then met The Invisible Woman in LA.  On foggy Venice Beach, wandered past muscle men, tattoo parlors, surfboards and funnel cakes, and contemplated the medical marijuana advertised for sale.  Caught glimpses of adorable houses, with secret patios and lazy cats, on a stroll through the Venice Walk-Streets.  Went window shopping on Abbott Kinney Boulevard.  Drove six hours to San Francisco from LA through a parched California landscape to meet my friend Jayne. Laughed at the antics of harbor seals at Fisherman’s Wharf and met Monarch butterflies that looked like clusters of densely packed brown leaves at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Monterey. Drove 17-Mile-Drive at Pebble Beach.  Sampled some wine on the Silverado Trail.  Saw the iconic cloud-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from the deck of the Sausalito Ferry. Laughed at the antics of sea lions at Pier 39.  On the way back to LA, vicariously lived the high life at Hearst Castle in San Simeon.  Dropped by Old Mission Santa Barbara, walked through fan palms and California chaparral at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and ate fish tacos on Stearns Wharf.  Visited the garden at Mission Buenaventura in Ventura.  Met Rosie of wandering rose and listened to the reverberations of classic rock at Bob’s Big Boy‘s classic car show.  Was inspired by a Poets & Writers LIVE! event in Los Angeles, where I embarrassed myself in front of Chinese writer Da Chen (My Last Empress) when he asked me the for the title of my book and a business card (I had neither).  Had cocktails at the Brig and ate dinner out of a food truck on Abbott Kinney.  Took a hike with Rosie around Corral Canyon in Malibu and ate more fish tacos at Malibu Seafood.  Left behind sunny California to head back to icy Virginia (nomad, interrupted).

Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

Saw tundra swans and parchment-like leaves dangling like wind-chimes on American beeches at Mason Neck State Park. Was inspired by National Geographic’s 2013 Travelers of the Year.  Saw seagulls walking on water at ice-encased Annapolis Harbor.  Learned 20 things about Storytelling Photography from National Geographic photographers Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow.  Chased freight trains and photos along the CSX Main Line at Henryton, Maryland.  Suffered through snowstorm after snowstorm in Northern Virginia, and then searched for spring at Green Spring Gardens.  Heard the thundering roar of Great Falls while strolling with Alex, Bailey and Mike along the Patowmack Canal.  Took a photowalk through the hardscrabble part of Baltimore.  Found the gravesite of the patentee of the Ouija Board at Green Mount Cemetery.  Walked Richmond’s Monument Avenue 10k in the rain with my daughter Sarah.  Drifted with cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin in D.C.  Said “ahoy, matey!” to pirates at the Privateer Festival in Baltimore.  crisscrossed flowing streams & waterfalls at White Oak Canyon.  Stayed overnight at a sleep clinic to test for sleep apnea. Wandered through flowering trees at the Virginia Arboretum.  Was charmed by wisteria at Dumbarton Oaks.  Finally found spring, after a long and grueling winter, at Meadowlark Gardens.  Celebrated Sarah’s 30th birthday in Richmond by sipping wine with the whole family amidst Chihuly’s Red Reeds at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, topped off by a feast at Bacchus.  Cloistered myself at the Franciscan Monastery. Sampled wine and cheese with the family at Doukenie Winery.  Won prizes in photography competitions through Vienna Photographic Society and had my Hot air balloons over Cappadocia photo featured by National Geographic on Instagram.  Finished the third draft of my novel, Scattering Dreams of Stars, but never got around to sending out query letters.  Applied for 40 jobs stateside and didn’t get anything.  Applied for jobs in China and got an offer from Sino-Canadian International College of Guangxi University in Nanning.  Went on safari with sculptures of metal animals in the “American Metal” exhibit at the Corcoran in its last days.  Was awed by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Opened my heart to water lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.  Worked on joining hearts with Mike at Eastern Market in D.C. Saw “Words & Letters” made into art at the Athenaeum.  Felt general malaise at a Civil War Encampment at Sully Plantation. (nomad, interrupted).

Searched in vain for a happy 4th of July, as both my mother-in-law and my father were admitted to the hospital; my father’s problem was corrected without complications, but my 88-year-old mother-in-law’s health went into decline and she went into hospice care in early July.  Went with Alex on a road trip to New Hampshire, where we stayed in a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee, seeking a reprieve from Shirley’s illness and our sadness.  Drove the Kancamagus Highway through New Hampshire’s White Mountains, topped by a hike at the Flume Gorge. Stopped to buy a bird nest ornament in a garden shop in charming Woodstock, Vermont, where I was mistaken for Alex’s girlfriend (ha!). Admired painted “meeses” and mountain lions in Bennington, and scrambled over rocks at Kaaterskill Falls in New York.  Returned home to watch helplessly as my mother-in-law continued to decline; she passed away on July 17.  Went in search of light-crazed sunflowers in memory of Shirley, who loved gardening.  Visited the George Washington Masonic National Memorial as we waited for Shirley’s memorial service, which was on Thursday, July 25.   Took our 12 1/2-year-old border collie, Bailey, to the vet when he got sick the day after Shirley’s memorial service; he died the next day, sadly, at the human age of 88.  Searched for summer, and solace, at Solomons, Maryland, where empty boats conversed in a language of their own, groaning, clanking, lamenting and whining.  Hiked at Calvert Cliffs State Park where a kid told me: “My dad says your name is Stranger.”  Dropped off my passport at the Chinese embassy to get my work visa, and while in D.C., stopped in unannounced at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral for a brief tour in darkness. Came full circle and revisited summer at Meadowlark Gardens, as I did when I first arrived back in Virginia from Oman (nomad, interrupted).

Shirley and Bailey: both left us in July

Shirley and Bailey: both left us in July

Sampled rum & grapefruit juice with Mike at Mango’s upon our arrival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Was coated like a sugar cookie by a maelstrom of sand at Ocean Park.  Savored every bite of mofongo — mashed plantains — at Raices in Old San Juan.  Had a close encounter with the Baño Nazi on Paseo de la Princessa.  Took a self-guided walking tour through colorful Old San Juan, admiring views of Bahia de San Juan along the periphery of El Morro.  Came face-to-face with an iguana at Castillo de San Cristobal and together we enjoyed views of the Atlantic.  Climbed into a cloud forest on the Mt. Britton Trail at El Yunque rain forest.  Ate fabulous Caribbean Benedicts at El Convento.  Sought shelter from the rain at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.  Visited the “ghost town” of Aguirre in the south of the island.  Was disappointed at Hacienda Buena Vista to see only the historical buildings and not any actual coffee plants.  Got roared at by painted lions at Ponce and took pictures of the historic firehouse and famous landmark, Parque de Bombas.  Looked in vain for 007 (“Bond, James Bond”) and Jodi Foster at the Arecibo Observatory, the setting for Goldeneye & Contact.  Enjoyed a day at the Ocean Park Beach and gorgeous sunset at El Morro before returning home to Washington. Continued to work with Mike on our reconciliation after our seven-year separation and felt good enough about it to go abroad again.  Spent the next two weeks getting ready to move to China.  Left the U.S. on August 30 (notes from north america).

Arrived in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on September 1 and was installed in a gritty apartment with a view over a lotus pond.  Spent the first couple of weeks in Nanning getting a phone, internet, a medical exam, and the visa.  Took a walk with another new teacher, Caleb, on Qing Xiu Shan in dreadful heat & humidity, where we saw koi in Sky Pond and a 1350-year-old Cycas King in the Cycad Garden.  Climbed to the top of Longing Tower where we saw views of Nanning and the Yongjiang River.  Encountered communication problems when haggling in a Chinese market.  Experienced the fringes of Typhoon Kalmaegi as it brushed past Nanning. Spent a frustrating day trying to figure out how to buy train tickets to Guilin.  Finally acquired a bicycle after much rigmarole and rode to Nanning Zoo, where I watched Chinese visitors feeding junk food to the animals.  Began fall semester on September 22.  Encountered students with funny English names: Maleah, Kitty, Yuki, Albert, Hebe, Lancy, Shally, Amber, Azura, Nyako, Spring, and best of all: Yoyo, Echo, Coco, Smoothies and Evita.  Heard tell of other teachers’ students: Biscuit, Yogurt and Potato.  Was flummoxed when trying to find simple household products such as shampoo, conditioner and floor cleaner at Nan Bai Supermarket.  Learned how to say Xièxiè (thank you), Ní hǎo (hello), and Wǒ yào yīgè daizi (I want one bag).

Overcame numerous communication problems and made it to Yangshuo for the National Holiday.  Took a motorized bamboo raft with hundreds of other Chinese tourists down the Li River to Xingping, the scene of the picture on China’s 20 yuan bill.  Strolled around Yangshuo and Green Lotus Hill, where I was surrounded by magical karst formations.  Met Audrey, the niece of an elementary school classmate of mine, at Demo Tiki Bar and then ate Thai food together, accompanied by lots of wine, at Rock-n-Grill.  Bicycled with Audrey through the Yangshuo countryside, where we took an almost-skinny-dip in the Yulong River.  Ate a late lunch at a Passion Fruit Leisure Farm.  Went on a motorbike tour through kumquat orchards to Xianggang Hill, where we saw karst formations with names like Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Lad Worships Goddess, and Grandpa Watching Apple.  Traipsed through the Seven Star Tea Plantation.  Took my own private bamboo boat ride down the Yulong River.  Returned to Nanning, where I began teaching an English Interest Course on Storytelling Photography.  Got hooked on Mad Men and watched all the seasons.  Walked through artistic trellises at the Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden.  Encountered crazy communication problems on a trip to see Detian Waterfall on the Sino-Vietnamese border.  Straddled the border of China and Vietnam in a bamboo boat and was sprayed by the Ban Gioc-Detian Waterfall on my 59th birthday.  Received a cake for my birthday from the Student Union; I happily shared it with some of my colleagues, cherry tomato toppings and all.

Went to a student-teacher Halloween party on a sweltering night where everyone was sweating in their costumes.  Visited the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, where I saw excellent exhibits on Guangxi’s twelve indigenous ethnic groups.  Ventured to Nanning People’s Park where hordes of Chinese people were dancing, singing, and playing traditional instruments. Watched all 8 episodes of True Detective and began to watch Breaking Bad.  Took a trip to Ping’An, where a Zhuang guide led me on a hike to see Nine Dragons and Five Tigers and a Yao long-haired woman.  Posed in traditional costume at Seven Stars with Moon.  Took a 5-hour hike alone to the Longji Rice Terraces, where I got lost numerous times.  Spent an afternoon of disillusionment at Elephant Hill Park in Guilin.  Treated myself to a whole body massage, a foot massage and pedicure in Guilin to try to alleviate my four days of sickness while traveling.

Encountered a styrofoam lady on the way to Wal-Mart.  Watched a Chinese love story with English subtitles, Fleet of Time, that shed some light on the lives of my college students. Watched all 10 episodes of Fargo Survived another challenging Chinese bus ride to Yangmei Ancient Village. Spent Christmas day alone wandering downtown Nanning, sipping a Toffee Nut Latte at Starbucks, watching The Taking of Tiger Mountain at Wanda Cinema, and finally Skyping with my family in Virginia.  Went to a Christmas party arranged by my students, where I attempted to make proper dumplings, played and won a REAL game of Chinese checkers, and sang karaoke.  Went to a free acrobatics show in Nanning.

Happy New Year!  May all your dreams come true in twenty-fifteen. 🙂

Related posts:
twenty-thirteen
weekly photo challenge: my 2012 in pictures

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a bamboo boat ride down the yulong river & home to nanning

Monday, October 6:  The Yangshuo River View Hotel must truly be a family affair, because today Vivian’s husband drives me in his van to the launch spot for the bamboo boat ride down the YuLong River.  It’s supposed to be a two-hour drift down the river to a bridge near town.  Sadly I don’t remember either the launch site name or the bridge.

When we arrive at the bustling spot, the boats are all jumbled together waiting for customers.  It’s nearly 11:00 a.m.  I need to leave Yangshuo this afternoon around 3:30 or 4:00 to head to Guilin for my 6:10 p.m. train.  I’m not ready at all to leave this place, but my holiday ends tomorrow and it’s back to work on Wednesday.

Starting off on the bamboo boats

Starting off on the bamboo boats

I’m guided to my own private boat by a young man who will be my boatman.  I have to climb unsteadily over a bunch of bobbing boats to get to mine.

a jumble of boats

a jumble of boats

special viewing seat

special viewing seat

I guess the river must be really shallow because the boatmen use long poles to push the boats down the river using the river bed for leverage.

heading down the river

heading down the river

traffic jam

escaping the traffic jam

We finally break free of the other boats and drift down the river.  The views again are stupendous, with the karsts around us in every direction.  Everyone is cocooned in bright orange life vests and shaded by rainbow-colored umbrellas.

karst backdrop to the YuLong River

karst backdrop to the YuLong River

my boatman

my boatman

another boat

another boat

cruising

cruising

My boatman has to work hard with his pole.  He doesn’t speak any English and of course I know no Chinese.  There is no need for words, so we drift silently.

my boatman in his conical hat

my boatman in his conical hat

The boat passengers and boatmen on the other boats are pretty friendly, saying greetings of “Hello!” or “Nǐ Hǎo!”  I enjoy taking photos of the Chinese on the boats around me, and they equally enjoy taking pictures of me, the only foreigner in their midst.

there are moments of peace

there are moments of peace

pretty scenery

pretty scenery

I love the karst scenes

I love the karst scenes

floating

floating

beauty along the way

beauty along the way

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide-show.

I enjoy watching these little girls standing at the end of their rafts in pretty dresses.

Little girls stand on their rafts

Little girls stand on their rafts

i see some farmers and water buffalo along the shore, framed by picturesque haystacks.

water buffalo on the shore

water buffalo on the shore

We pass another launch site that looks a little deserted.

another launching point along the river

another launching point along the river

bamboo rafts

bamboo rafts

shady passage

shady passage

the karsts are ubiquitous and ephemeral

the karsts are ubiquitous and ephemeral

YuLong River

YuLong River

Peaceful cruise

Peaceful cruise

We pass by the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.  Audrey and I stopped here on our bike ride and saw the boaters going down the river.  Now I’m one of the boaters.

I like their sign for “Romantic Riverside Dinning.”

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, where I stopped on my bicycle ride: casual "dinning"

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, where I stopped on my bicycle ride: Romantic Riverside “Dinning”

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

The water here is very shallow.  The grass rippling in the water is a little hypnotic.

flowing grasses

flowing grasses

There are some places where people are stopping to eat, but my boatman just keeps pushing us downriver.

lunch stop for others but not for me

lunch stop for others but not for me

This little bridge is a cute one.

pretty little bridge

pretty little bridge

passing under the bridge

passing under the bridge

At another stopping place, I see this young lady checking her cell phone.

checking that cell phone

checking that cell phone

On the way downriver, we cross a lot of dams, going down chutes and landing hard at the bottom, with water washing up over our bow.  It adds a little thrill to the ride.

geese on a dam

geese on a dam

I don’t think this couple is very thrilled at being stuck on the dam.

stuck on the dam

stuck on the dam

looking back at the dam and the hotel on the shore

looking back at the dam and the hotel on the shore

We pass some more pretty hotels along the river.

pretty peak

pretty peak

Finally we come to this bridge.  I look at my watch and see we’ve only been on the river for one hour.  I figure my boatman is taking a break or letting me out to buy souvenirs, but then I realize he’s telling me this is the end.  I was told this is a two-hour ride, so I don’t want to get off the boat, but the boatman keeps gesturing for me to get off.  I’m not very happy about this as I paid for two-hour trip, so I call the hotel to talk to Matthew, the English-speaking manager.   He talks to the boatman and then explains the situation to me.  Apparently, the two-hour boat ride is for people who make stops along the way, like for photos or for meals.  My boatman never offered me any stops, probably because he couldn’t speak English, but also partly because he could finish early and go upriver again to pick up another customer.  I’m not very happy about being misled.  I really did expect a full two hours of a BOAT RIDE, whether I made any stops along the way or not!

the bridge where we disembark

the bridge where we disembark

I call Vivian to have her husband pick me up, and he comes shortly and takes me back to town.  My Rough Guide to China had recommended the Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant.  I had tried to eat here another evening, but something was wrong with their cooking facility when I stopped by.  Now I ask Vivian’s husband to drop me off here.  I sit on the lovely patio and order some grilled eggplant.

sitting on the back deck of Pure Lotus Vegetarian

sitting on the back deck of Pure Lotus Vegetarian

When the eggplant comes, I don’t recognize it as eggplant; it looks like the mushy fringe of a damp mop.

Grilled and fringed eggplant

Grilled and fringed eggplant

The eggplant tastes good, but it’s cooked in a lot of oil, and immediately I can feel my stomach churning.  Again I’ve made the mistake of assuming that if I’m eating vegetables in China, my stomach will be okay.  I’m going to have to face the fact that if the food, meat or vegetables, is cooked in oil, I’m possibly going to get sick.  I don’t know why sometimes the oily food makes me sick and sometimes not.

Pure Lotus Vegetarian

Pure Lotus Vegetarian

Feeling sick from this meal makes for a long trip back to Nanning.  I don’t feel like taking a bus this time to Guilin, so I hire a taxi for 260 yuan (~ $42).  I get to the train station way too early, and the whole time I’m sitting there, my stomach is churning.  On the 2 hour 40 minute train ride home, my stomach continues to churn.

When I finally arrive back at the Nanning Railway Station, the crowds getting off the train are unbelievable.  We move like cattle off the train platform and are chuted into two stairwells.  We are so packed that I feel claustrophobic.  I have a lot of anxiety; television shows I’ve seen about stampeding crowds flash before my eyes.  I imagine getting crushed in a tired and irritable crowd of people anxious to get home.  Finally, after what seems like an interminable time, we are released outdoors.  It doesn’t end here. At the bus stops, the crowds are pushing onto the buses that come up to the train station.  I don’t want to be packed on a bus with all those people, so I look in vain for a taxi.  There are none to be found; every one seems to be taken.  I’m tired and I just want to get home.

Finally, an older guy on a motorbike asks me where I’m going.  I tell him Guangxi Daxue (university).  I must not be saying it right because he doesn’t seem to understand me.   In desperation, I pull out the Pleco app on my phone and show him the word.  He repeats what I thought I said, and then he sticks my suitcase between his legs on the motorbike and tells me to hop on.  In some countries this might be dangerous, but I don’t think it is in China.  I’m so happy to be back on a motorbike again and on my way home.  It’s quite cool tonight and the breeze feels incredibly refreshing on my skin. I love the sense of freedom that riding on a motorbike brings.

We ride directly to the university gate, where I hop off and pay him 20 yuan (~ $3.26) and walk back to my room. There, I collapse on my bed after a long day.

What a fabulous holiday.  I’d say my first solo trip in China was a great success. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Language barrier, Nanning Railway Station, National Holiday, Pleco app, Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant, Translation, Travel, Yangshuo, Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

a bicycle ride through the yangshuo countryside

Saturday, October 4:  My day starts with a message from Audrey on WeChat saying that she hasn’t got the strength to get out of bed yet, but if I am up, she’ll pull it together.  After our late night last night, I’m still in bed, unusual for me at 9 a.m.  I respond, Maybe I’ll go down and have some breakfast, and then take a quick shower.  How about if we aim for 10:30 or so?  She, obviously feeling more energetic than I do, says, No shower! let’s go get dim sum!  She asks if I packed a bathing suit, which I didn’t.  She says she’ll be over to my hotel shortly.

I throw on some clothes and head down to the lobby, where she shows up momentarily and we head down Yangshuo’s main street.  Sadly we find that the dim sum restaurant she knows of is no longer serving dim sum.  Instead we head to another restaurant for a Western breakfast.

We return to my hotel where I rent a bicycle for the day for 20 yuan ($3.24), and we head out of town.  We ride through traffic for a while.  After all, there’s no way to escape the crowds unless we get away from Yangshuo.

Finally, the traffic starts to thin out and we stop for a second to enjoy the view of the beautiful karst scenery beside a coffee shop.  A cute little lady approaches and tries to sell us wreaths of flowers that girls buy to wear on their heads like a crown.  I don’t want the wreath but I do ask if I can take a picture.  I give her a yuan for her time. She’s adorable. 🙂

Chinese lady selling flower wreaths

Chinese lady selling flower wreaths

I take some more pictures of my great hostess and guide, Audrey, as well as a little canal and bridge, the farmland and the karsts.

Audrey and her bicycle

Audrey and her bicycle

Me and bicycles

Me and my bicycle

bridge and canal

bridge and canal

We continue on our bicycles and come upon this charming scene at Dragon Bridge, which crosses the Yulong River.  A flotilla of bamboo boats with rainbow-colored umbrellas is floating down the river.

a flotilla of colorful boats scurrying down the river

a flotilla of colorful boats cruising down the river

There’s a bustle of activity as a group of men load the boats on a truck.  I stand on Dragon Bridge and Audrey takes a picture of me.  I wave to some rafters who pass under the bridge.

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

We continue past the bridge into the heart of the farmland.  Audrey points out the rice fields and other crops, about which she’s been learning during her time in China.  I love the yellow grains of rice framing the jagged peaks.

Rice fields and karsts

Rice fields and karsts

Rice fields outside of Yangshuo

Rice fields outside of Yangshuo

farmland

farmland

yellow grains of rice

yellow grains of rice

We get off the paved road onto a dirt trail that meanders prettily through the fields, where hay is stacked into cute little bundles resembling the karst landscape.

haystacks and karsts

haystacks and karsts

haystacks mirror the karst landscape

haystacks mirror the karst landscape

We catch some glimpses of people drifting peacefully down the Yulong River.

a glimpse of some private rafters

a glimpse of some solitary rafters

We come to the edge of the Yulong River, where some people and their bamboo boat are stuck on a dam.  Audrey trots off to help them move it after taking a brief phone call.

Audrey wades along the dam to help the bamboo boat in distress

Audrey wades along the dam to help the bamboo boat in distress

While she’s helping the boaters, I enjoy the beautiful scenery.

The Yulong River away from the crowds

The Yulong River away from the crowds

a less-touristy part of the Yulong River

a less-touristy part of the Yulong River

Audrey has gotten her shoes wet by wading out into the river.  I say my tennis shoes are the only ones I’ve brought on my holiday, so I don’t want to get them wet.  As we continue our ride, Audrey tells me how she’s learned to live with very few possessions here in China.  She says she only owns two pairs of shoes.  We agree that people in America have too many possessions and that actually we can live comfortably with very little.

We see a rural Chinese house with the top floor unfinished and Audrey tells me that many people don’t finish the top floors of their houses because once the top floor is finished, the house is taxed.  A lot of people never finish their top floors and can avoid taxation indefinitely.

Rural Chinese houses

Rural Chinese houses

fields of hay

fields of hay

haystacks and mountainstacks

haystacks and mountainstacks

farmland

farmland

hay mountains and karst mountains

hay mountains and karst mountains

We take off on another dirt trail.  This time, I stop to take a picture of more haystacks, and Audrey zips by me. She says, “I’m going ahead.  Just keep going till the trail ends!” She disappears.

the bicycle trail through the fields

the bicycle trail through the fields

a motorbike in its element

a motorbike in its element

More haystacks

More haystacks

Finally I come to some ruins.  Beside them is Audrey’s bike, but there is no sign of Audrey.  I follow a bend in the trail to find her stuff lying in the grass, and she’s floating out in the middle of the Yulong River.  “Come on in!” she says.

ruins near the Yulong River where we stop for a swim

ruins near the Yulong River where we stop for a swim

Of course I don’t have a bathing suit, but there isn’t a soul in sight and Audrey says, “Just swim in your underwear!”  I’m so hot and that water looks so refreshing that I don’t hesitate.  I pull off my clothes and dive in.  We float for quite a while and no one at all comes down the river or to the river’s edge.  We honestly have this little spot in China all to ourselves!  There is some hope in this country of over a billion people of finding a little solitude.  From the middle of the river, the view downriver is magnificent, but of course I don’t dare carry my camera into the water to take a picture. 🙂

When we finally get out, I put my clothes back on over my soaking wet underwear.  In minutes even my clothes become drenched.  Oh well, it’s warm enough that they’ll dry in no time.  We continue on our bike ride, at which time we pass a Western guy wandering down to the river with a towel in his hand.  A few minutes more and he would have found us there, and I would have been embarrassed to get out!

We come upon a pretty scene of a new hotel that Audrey says reminds her of an English cottage in the countryside.

a little English cottage in China

a little English cottage in China

We ride through a small town where we see taro drying on a roof and an old mud brick home.

taro drying on a roof

taro drying on a roof

old mud brick house

old mud brick house

We pass by some cute little towns nestled up against the karsts.

a little town nestled into the karts

a little town nestled into the karts

town sheltered by karst

town sheltered by karst

a cute little bridge through the town

a cute little bridge through the town

We also pass some cute hotels in the countryside: The Tea Cozy, the Outside Inn, and The Giggling Tree.  We drop into The Giggling Tree to see what it’s like.   Now that I’ve stayed in town and have somewhat figured out the lay of the land, I think I might like to stay at one of these countryside hotels next time I’m in Yangshuo.

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

Continuing further down the paved road, we come to the beautiful Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, where we can see the bamboo boats floating down the river.  I’ll end up taking this route in a bamboo boat myself on Monday morning before I return to Nanning that evening.

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

Audrey tells me this hotel has hot tubs on the balconies.  Sounds perfectly lovely, but I wonder what the prices are.

the Yulong River in front of the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

the Yulong River in front of the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

Yulong River boats

Yulong River boats

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

We head down another winding road where the traffic is picking up.  We stop to take a picture of this cozy little valley.  You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but this is a busy place where little yellow tour buses are buzzing through at breakneck speed.

cozy little valley

cozy little valley

Finally we head back to town.  Along the way, we cross over a bridge from which we can see bamboo rafts on the Yulong River coming in to drop off passengers.

View of the Yulong River from another bridge downriver from Dragon Bridge

View of the Yulong River from another bridge downriver from Dragon Bridge

Audrey has promised to take me to the Passionfruit Leisure Farm for lunch. By the time we finally reach here, we’re famished.  We start with an ice-cold passion fruit drink, and then Audrey proceeds to order a delicious meal, which includes egg and tomato and green beans, and honestly I can’t remember what else because we gobble it down so quickly!  I don’t even remember to stop to take a picture of the food.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

the arbor under which we eat lunch at Passion Fruit Leisure Farm

the arbor under which we eat lunch at Passion Fruit Leisure Farm

an ice cold Passion Fruit drink

an ice-cold Passion Fruit drink

During lunch my nose starts to bleed and it just won’t stop.  I feel perfectly fine, but I use up a bunch of tissues, making for a pretty unappetizing scene.  I don’t know what is wrong with me.  I do tend to get nosebleeds from time to time, but they usually don’t last this long.

Finally, after leaving the Passion Fruit Farm, we cross over another bridge with a view of the river.

on the way back to Yangshuo

on the way back to Yangshuo

It’s a pretty harried ride back into town because cars, motorbikes, carts, bicycles and pedestrians are clogging up the roads and making it hard to move anywhere.  We do make it back eventually.  Audrey heads home and I return to my hotel where I take a nice hot shower and take a little nap.  It’s around 4:00 by the time we return to town.

What a delightful day!  I don’t know which day is my favorite, the day of the Li River Raft trip or this one!  They’re both so much fun in different ways.  I’m so thankful to Audrey for taking me on this bike trip, because I would have never had this much fun alone, or with a tour group.

Later, around twilight, I take a walk around town and take a lot of pictures as the lights come on and the sun goes down.

If you want to know about bike routes around Yangshuo, here are a few websites that have some good ideas:

Travel China Guide: Yangshuo Bicycle Route

Plan to China: Yangshuo Bicycle Routes

Categories: Asia, Bicycle tour, China, Dragon Bridge, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, National Holiday, The Giggling Tree, Travel, Yangshuo, Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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