Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stop 2: Yangshuo

Well. Here we go on stop two of the blogocation (see stop one here). We left Hong Kong at about 10:30 PM and got to Guilin just before midnight. We were a little nervous when the taxi that was supposed to pick us up and drive us to our hotel in Yangshuo wasn’t there, and we were greeted by a desolate airport terminal in the middle of southern China. After deciding to wait it out for a few minutes, a guy came running up to us with a crumpled up paper that said “Eyre – Li River Retreat” on it, we were quite relieved. He didn’t speak any English other than a few words, so our communications were limited. So, off we went speeding into the night – into the pitch black in a little taxi. I will be honest it did cross my mind once that this dude could have taken us out there and dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, and we could still be there to this day working for food in some little village trying to figure out where we were. We had just left the most densely populated city in the world – and 2 hours later were in a place on the polar opposite side of the spectrum. After about an hour we made it to our little hotel that we found on tripadvisor (what an amazing site that is) by about 1 in the morning.

The next morning, we awoke to this right outside of our room’s sliding glass doors.

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These crazy Karst mountains just shooting up out of the ground everywhere. My first impression was that it looked like drip castles that you make on the beach – we figured that must have been how God created this place. It was so amazing. This is another one of those spots that I saw photos of as a teenager and decided that I needed to find a way to get there. All of the sudden we were right there in the middle of it. These Karst peaks shoot up out of the ground for miles and miles along the Li River. I love little hotels/guest houses like this. Here is an illustration of why I like them; I was asking the lady working in the lobby of the building for some tips on where to ride bikes – she gave me a rather confusing map and some directions in broken English. I thanked her and as I was walking away, a really nice guy stopped me and offered his advice on where to go and told me about the adventure him and his wife had been on the previous day. Come to find out he was an American professor from Minnesota who was teaching for a year at a university in Guangzhou (China). He gave us some great advice, told us where to find bikes, and we were off. I love that he was nice enough to share that cause it saved us from getting seriously lost.

We rented some bikes from this little old lady that was about 4 feet tall, she had a room full of bikes connected to her little one room cinderblock house – she let us go in and pick which ones we wanted and then asked for a whopping 3 dollars each for the day. We took off and started riding. That day we were going to ride along the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li River. We rode through Yangshuo which is a bustling little town with Karst peaks sticking up right in the middle of it. We finally made it through the town after nearly getting hit by a couple of scooters and weird tractor truck things and suddenly we were surround by rice paddies and these mountains.

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As we started riding through these little villages, we noticed this lady (in the picture below), who conveniently was following us just closely enough to tell us which way to go each time we looked a bit lost. She was pretty nonchalant but I think this was a rehearsed plan to get us lost enough so we’d have to follow her to find out way to the Yulong Bridge (our first destination). It worked, we got lost and couldn’t help but follow her. We pedaled through these little villages interconnected by little roads and paths through the rice paddies.

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Here’s a little house we rode by where they were drying out the rice which was cool to see. Also above, there was an assortment of meats hanging out to dry or age or something. It’s so cool how that rice is laid out so perfectly, it almost looks like a Zen garden or something.

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The weather was perfect. It was in the low 70’s and sunny as can be. A lot of the fields has already been harvested, but many were still green and offered a great contrast to the mountains shooting up everywhere.

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Bam! Isn’t that awesome!!! Holy Cow I was amazed at this site. Surreal. One of the most beautiful sights I have seen, and this was only the beginning.

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Another little trail leading through the fields. At this point we gave up on navigating on our own and just followed our new friend.

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Finally, we made it here, to the Yulong Bridge. A four hundred year old bridge connecting the two sides of the river. Here were were greeted by another sweet lady – who I think was in cahoots with the lady that was guiding us along the trail. She convinced us to come to “her house” and she’d make us some lunch. We thanked the other nice biker lady and gave her some money and then followed this other lady through some alleys and a copy of other houses, until we made it to her house. She had some tables set up on rafts down on the river so we sat down and had some food. We opted for the fried rice and Chinese cabbage over the river carp and other weird meats she had on the list of food she gave us. We were just here in the middle of China, no other westerners anywhere near us, it was awesome. Two couples floated by us on bamboo rafts taking their wedding photos.

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Next we jumped on a bamboo raft after negotiating with the lunch lady to help us get a good deal. They have these little bamboo rafts that they let us put our bikes on the back of while we floated down the river. There was no one else out there, we saw like 2 other rafts and a couple of fishermen in the next hour. Above is the Yulong Bridge – look how it frames the mountains.

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We kind of felt like we were in Avatar Land – didn’t see any blue people though. It really was kind of otherworldly though. We just leisurely floated along soaking in the ambience.

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This guy pushed us along with this big long bamboo pole (the river wasn’t very deep). Cool hat.

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The views just kept getting better and better.

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This guy couldn’t speak English but I wish I could have learned more about him. I would have loved to hear his life story – to hear what his perspectives are. He was such a happy guy. He even threw down the peace signs for the photo. We had some funny experiences with him. Every so often on the river there were these dam sort of things that we would go over (maybe for them to regulate the flow of the water for farming or something), I think the river was relatively low at this time of the year, so on some of them we had to get off an pull the raft over. Our friend the captain needed some help on a few, so I helped him pull the raft over. One time we pushed too hard and the raft flew over the edge and started floating down stream. The captain took a few steps back and ran and jumped and barely made it to the raft – then he realized he didn’t have the bamboo stick to steer – he pointed at it and I threw it to him like a javelin which he also barely caught (I need to work on my javelin skills). Anyway, he was laughing his head off as were we. From then on, he was a little more cautious with letting me help him pull the raft over the little dam things.

Here’s a video so you can see what I am talking about.

Yulong River

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The last one of these we went over was like a 3 foot drop off and the whole raft went completely underwater and got us soaked. It was hilarious (notice how my backside is a different color in the photo above).

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Once we got off the raft we cruised along the river on our bikes back toward the town.

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In the center of the town there is main street that is full of restaurants and shops. You can see how the mountains are just shooting up through the middle of the town.

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We found an amazing little restaurant there – I don’t like Chinese food per say (I’ve had some bad experiences), but we loved this place. It was the best Kung Pao chicken I have ever had (like the mac n cheese of China, you can get it everywhere) as it was big on taste and spice and not on oil. We liked it so much we went back again the next night. After dinner, we headed back to our hotel and crashed after riding many miles on our bikes.

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The next morning – our backsides weren’t feeling up for another day on bikes. Wow. I haven’t biked that much since my mission in Japan. So, we elected to rent a motor scooter from our hotel. I love scooters – they are just fun. So thanks to that, we were able to cover a lot more ground the second day. We went first to Moon Hill (above) one of these huge karst peaks with a hole in the middle of it. There was a path that we were able to hike up – like straight up – to the hole.

Here’s a video of the view on from Moon Hill:

Moon Hill

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Once again, we had a persistent lady that followed us along making sure we didn’t get lost. I am pretty sure she asked if we wanted a “cold coca-cola” about 34 times. She was determined to get some money. She followed us all the way up. When we’d sit down to take a rest, she would whip out her fan and start fanning us. She let us know she was a “poor farmer, no money.” I asked her to take our picture and she ran over to Julie and started flashing peace signs and smiling. She was awesome.

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We made it to the top, and thanks to the pollution, we were afforded this most extraordinary view. I mean how amazing is that. We were both in absolute awe. God created an incredible earth I tell you what.

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She then snapped a nice photo of us. The lighting was a little off, but not bad for a “poor farmer, no money” We gave her some money and she was happy.

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Here is our awesome little scooter – cruising past some more rice paddies on our way to Xingping and Fuli – two towns on the Li River (the larger river).

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The Li River; quite a bit busier than the Yulong River the day before. This river is used for some commercial shipping and has ferries going between towns. We heard that on days ending with 2,7, and 9 – the lucky days – the town of Fuli has their market days. Luckily we were there on one of those days, so we went by and saw it. It was like Costco – China style – you could buy almost anything there – from candy to live catfish to chickens to clothing, you name it.

Check out this video of it, there is even a guy at the beginning of it selling something like the Vitamix guys that come through Costco.

Fuli Market

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Need a chicken?

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The aisle of the fish and meat. Those are fish tanks on the right.

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Noodles. We were completely in their world. I didn’t see another westerner.

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Need a live chicken?

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Or some green onions?

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I loved the faces here. Again, we were wishing we could just sit down and hear these people’s life stories.

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Look at this sweet woman. What is her story I wonder?

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I wonder what this little guy has in store for him in his life?

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Or what adventures these two old pals have been on together?

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The people there were kind, they just looked at us and smiled and wondered what in the heck these two white people were doing wandering around their markets snapping photos. That’s an experience I will never forget.

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This was a truck we passed while riding up to Xingping. That is a work of art right there.

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In Xingping – the karsts were considerably taller and bigger – there were a lot more people, and the bamboo rafts were all had motors on them. We jumped on one and took a ride up the river.

Here’s a video to give you some perspective:

Li River

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This particular location is immortalized on the back of the 20 Yuan bill there.

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We headed back to Yangshuo as the light started to fade…stopping along the way to take our last looks at the awesomeness.

We got up at 5 the next morning to catch a taxi back to Guilin and then off to Beijing! So stay tuned for Stop Three of the blogocation – Beijing. Yangshuo was amazing. A completely amazing experience in Southern China. I think the experience was amplified by coming straight from Hong Kong…two awesome spots that couldn’t be any more different. There is nothing better than traveling. I love this world and the sites and beauty it has to offer.

If you missed the post on Hong Kong, keep scrolling down or click on older posts in the lower right corner and it should take you there.

P.S. 3 days 1 hour 20 minutes and 23 seconds until Christmas! Wahoo! Only problem is that it was 63 outside today. I don’t think it’ll be a white Christmas this year. I think DC is out of snow for this year after the past two crazy winters.

8 comments:

Jonah and Aja said...

i like.

Eyrealm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eyrealm said...

"OH WOW! OH WOW! OH WOW!" I feel as though I've died and gone to heaven! Can't wait to see you in a few hours on your favorite day!

Jonah and Aja said...

This is SO great. I loved the videos, especially the bamboo raft video... and I like the story of how you almost lost the raft. I also like the photo of Julie holding the 20 yuen bill with the view in the background. This is SO cool. Thanks for putting in all the effort to blog so we can all see it. Can't wait for the next one.
-aja

Bryan and Lis said...

We're so glad you had such a great time! The pictures are amazing! Hooray for China!

shawni said...

Wowzers. You are one amazing adventure-capturer. I feel like I was right there with you! LOVE those pictures.

.. said...

Hi! I'm a fan of the Eyre's. My parents have known your parents for many, many years. We hosted your family when we lived in Hawaii many years ago...etc, etc..anyway, my sister and I lived in China for 6 months teaching English back in 1996. One of our favorite adventures there was going to Yangshuo, riding the rented bikes through the villages, eating lunch at some random person's house who invited us there while we were on that bike ride. This post brings back so many memories and it's so nice to see that everything looks the same and hasn't become too touristy. It truly is an amazing place!

Shannon said...

oops...that last comment was by me. Looks like I was in the wrong blogger account. :)