Sunday, September 20, 2009

From the Rice Terraces of LongJi to the Mountains of Yangshuo

Dear Blog,

Oh I have neglected thee. It's been a very busy and tiring couple of days, and I just didn't have it in me at the end of the night to chart my adventures. But fear not, I am back. And, surprise, surprise, I have a have a lot to report!

I believe I last left off at the very cool Panorama Hotel in the Long Ji Rice Terraces. The next morning, we attempted to get up in time to watch the sunrise over the valley. A little sign in the lobby said the sun would rise as 6:30 am, so I set the alarm for 6:15 and hoped for the best. To our own amazement, we actually got up in time and headed out to the vista point. To our great dismay, the sun had clearly already risen. We had been handed faulty sunrise information. Next time.

So we went back to sleep for an hour or so, got back up, ate a quick breakfast of rice soup (which is what we in the West commonly refer to as "gruel") and embarked on the five-hour hike through the rice terraces. The terrain and weather was very similar to the previous day: stunningly beautiful, but rainy. Within the first hour, our shoes were soaked through from the unavoidable puddles. I brushed the discomfort aside though, because the scenery was just too much. Here are a few pictures that we took:

Throughout the course of the hike, I also saw lots of animals, which is always fun. In addition to the chickens, ducks and horses we saw the day before, I also saw a several colorful butterflies, a snake, and inexplicably, a crab. How a crab ended up in the rice terraces, I will never know.

We had been warned that the path was a bit difficult to follow. Indeed, there were numerous forks along the way, and we often had to ask locals which way to go. I've come to realize that Chinese people consistently give the vaguest direction known to man, so most of the farmers just sort of pointed in one direction and mumbled the name of the village we were headed to: Ping'an. At one point, we had gone quite a distance and were unsure if we had taken the right path. Eventually, along came a merry trio of elderly locals, whose voices we had heard echoing of the sides of the valley for quite sometime. The reason they were so loud, it turned out, was because they were utterly drunk at 10 o'clock in the morning. Imagine crossing paths with three wrinkled, babbling septuagenarians carrying a nearly empty gallon-size jug of home brew. Then imagine asking them for directions. They vaguely pointed in the direction we were headed, and carried on their way. I seriously felt like I was in the opening act of a fairy tale.

The hike took us along the ridges of the rice terrace valleys, which allowed for superb views. Sometimes, the path would dip down into the actual terraces. Here, the path narrowed down into a thin strip of stones. If we looked to the right, rice would rise above us. If we looked to the left, rice would descend further down into the valley.

After trekking through a few small villages, we eventually descended into the village of Ping'an, which was a little more built up and touristy than Dazhai, but still very interesting and quaint. During lunch, we were able to catch part of some sort of local ceremony for men. They danced a bit, set off some fire crackers, and played a few songs and then marched through the town. Apparently, someone important had returned to town.

The night before we had decided that instead of staying a second night in the rice terraces, we would haul ass all the way down to Yangshuo. So we caught the bus back to Guilin and again did the old "transfer buses by running across a highway" routine. After arriving, we grabbed our suitcases from the hostel in Guilin and went right back to the bus station and caught the next bus to Yangshuo. We pulled into the Yangshuo bus station at about eight pm. Stephen, the owner of the West Lily Hotel, came out to meet us at the bus station. He led us back to the hotel and checked us in. The West Lily is a small hotel on a quiet street away from the main tourist drag. Our room here is cramped, clean and cheap.

So, what's so great about Yangshuo? It may just be one of those places you have to visit to understand, but its amazing here. Yes, its overrun by Chinese tourists. Yes, touts and hawks follow you around town, trying to get you to buy overpriced bamboo boat rides down the river. But Yangshuo is uniquely beautiful. Everywhere you look, karst limestone mountains shoot up towards the sky like malformed rockets. They are nearly impossible to describe. Misshapen eggs? Green obelisks? Sometimes, they remind me of the mashed potato monolith from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Well, I am too tired to write any more. I didn't even get to the last three days. Sigh. More tomorrow. I will leave you some pictures of Yangshuo. It's ok. I know you are jealous.

1 comment:

  1. That really is incredible. I'm so glad you are keeping up with the blog! It's a real pleasure to read.