River Town

Everyone smiling in this photo...a rare occurence!

Yangshuo, Guangxi Province, China
September 20 – 24

Little Li River Boy
Reflecting on the past month spent in China, I am preparing to put pen to paper but am suddenly compelled to give up my seat to a family of water buffalo passing by the river’s edge. Ryan and I jump up in unison, a squealing, lunging Oliver is hoisted to Ryan’s shoulders, and we stand rigid and silent, as if an convoy of the PLA were passing in our midst. Really we are just taken aback by the HUGENESS of these animals, their backs the color of the riverbank and sloping horns seemingly hewn out of the same limestone that forms the karst peaks that swell upwards from the countryside.

Our fifth day in this southern gateway to rural China is passed, other than the buffalo sighting, uneventfully. The locusts’ hum and occasional roosters crow is interrupted only by the rumbling of the tiny outboard engines propped tenuously off the ends of the local fishermen’s bamboo rafts. The sound is oddly reminiscent of the weed-wacker Ryan once used forever ago to edge our lawn in San Clemente. Ollie, naked other than the film of sand covering his lower half, alternates between splashing around in the Li River and chasing the stray chickens away from our little campsite. This is one of the few days of rest we’ve had during our trip thus far, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

Earlier in the week we made the mistake of stopping for two nights in Guilin before moving on to Yangshuo and the countryside. The heat and humidity were at their most oppressive and the city seemed to cater at full tilt to the ubiquitous hordes of Chinese tourists. Night markets chockablock with jade bracelets and buffalo horn combs throbbed from dusk until the early morning hours. Ollie had come down with a cough from the recent temperature change (Shangri-La to Guilin), so we took the opportunity to hide out in our little room for the majority of 18 hours before we made our way south.

Yangshuo was easily reached by a bus from Guilin, and soon we found ourselves surrounded by craggy karst mountains and two winding, green rivers. The best way to travel in Yangshuo and its surrounds was on two wheels, and fortunately for us, the proprietor of our guesthouse lent us her daughter’s bicycle seat. The tiny thing was nothing more than a miniature wicker chair that we tethered to the back of Ryan’s bicycle basket. I had brought along a length of webbing and a clip just for this purpose, and before long, Ollie was secured directly behind Ryan’s butt. At a top cruising speed of five miles per hour, we took to the countryside, bouncing to and from little farms along cow paths that were etched around the perimeters of rice paddies. Ryan and Oliver surprised a mother cow and her calf and were chased for 25 yards before the attending farmer’s cries to come back were finally heeded. We must have ridden down muddy, four-foot wide paths for twelve miles or more that day; to and from the Dragon Bridge, and by dinnertime, the emerald hues of the rice paddies, lotus ponds and fields of sugarcane had become a technicolor blur.

Everyone smiling in this photo...a rare occurence!

The following day, we hiked to Moon Hill, a mountain whose fame was attributed to the unusual formation in the karst which resembles a round Chinese moon gate. Ollie spied rock climbers scaling the sheer cliff face and decided that going up might be something he’d like to try. Unfortunately for him, my belayer’s license had long since expired.

On our third day, we decided to buck our traditional routine of DIY, and we joined a tour that took us on a bamboo raft down the Yulong River. While entertaining, this was perhaps the low of our trip, as souvenir hawkers plied the river and took every opportunity to inform us that we should treat our raft operator to a beer, which they would happily provide us with. When we refused out of principle (we were going down river and over waterfalls on a bamboo raft, after all), he stopped us in mid-river, bought himself a bottle and took his twenty minute lunch break.

"You buy from me?"

Back to today and our lazy afternoon of the riverbank. Mist begins to fill in around the edge of the river and a fisherman stoops over his raft to reel a net slowly back into his boat. The sun dips behind Nine Horse Fresco Hill, now purple in the half-light, and for a second, the rarest of all things happens: time stops in China.

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