But first we fill up the tasty breakfast at Giggling Tree. Emma tried the pancake yesterday but it was more like a dense crepe, so she sticks with bacon and toast. Lily eats peanut butter on toast and tries a little of my very cinnamony french toast.
A good breakfast is a key part of our routine on the road. There isn’t often time in the middle of the day for a normal lunch. We eat up and get fitted for rental bikes.
Death by adventure travel
Yangshuo tourism is all about being outside among the karsts and they have figured out just about every way to do that: climbing, kayacking, hiking, rafting, and cycling. It’s all there for rent or purchase, and there is a lot of competition so the prices stay very reasonable. The only limit is your own sense of adventure, and sometimes the heat and the rain, which can make things slippery.
There used to be hot air ballooning, which provided an impressive view of the karsts, but there were four deaths a few years ago and ballooning was shut down by the local government. The story we were told by some fellow travelers at the Giggling Tree was horriffic.
Supposedly the weather was bad for several days, and the balloon company went up despite warnings. The balloon had a fuel leak, caught fire and crashed into a karst. The two operators and a passenger scrambled out of the basket to safety.
The baloon, lighter now by three people, rose rapidly into the sky, still aflame with four people still aboard. They don’t know exactly what happened after that, but all four bodies were found. Authorities presume all jumped to their deaths.
One has to choose risks carefully, but anything can happen at home or traveling.
A risky bike trip
Not 2 minutes outside the gates of the hotel, a group of young chinese girls next to parked bikes shriek and motion us to stop. They all pull out their cameras and say “hello, photo?” They want a photo of us. We combine in several different ways to make sure each has a photo with the foreigners. Our girls are cute, and Trish looks pretty exotic in a purple bikini with those tattoos.
Lily seems to be doing okay but there is a lot of traffic on the gravel access road, mostly other bikes. I realize that it’s Saturday, the weekend. Lots of people are out. There are a few trucks and motorbikes, though none drive fast. It’s a little hectic.
She is very quiet which isn’t normal for her and I can see her small bike is difficult on the gravel. She is mostly doing the right thing when cars and motorbikes go past but she does finally say that she is worried. I give her a few words of encouragement and remind her that I’m right behind her.
Lily gets nervous easily. Bugs, thunder, fish, amusement park rides and airplanes cause her anxiety. But she generally deals with it, unless she’s pushes through it, and most often finds great joy on the other side of her fears. So we generally encourage her to confront the fear and work through it.
But this isn’t one of those times. The road opens up on a downhill and Lily begins to pick up speed. She screams hysterically ‘I can’t stop” She isn’t going very fast, yet, but she can’t pull the handbrake for some reason. “Help!” she screams, crying. She is out of my reach, but I yell to Trish to stop and cath her before she takes a bad spill.
Trish grabs the small bike safely and we hold Lily who is completely panicked. We agree that this bike trip is over. We can’t go 20km with so much traffic and Lily jittery. We head back and turn in our bikes. Emma is bummed but she understands.
The Dragon River
It only takes a few minutes for the hotel to call a taxi that will take us upstream to the spot we want to put in the river.. A driver is here within minutes and not long after that any remaining jitters from Lily’s near-crash subside.
Dragon Bridge is in the town of Dragon village on the Dragon River. The bridge is famous mostly for being old (600 years or so) and being the upstream spot where bamboo rafters begin their journeys.
But the secnery, oh god the secnery is just fabulous. (The picture at top is of the rafts leaving the Dragon Bridge area.) Some think this is the most beautiful stretch in the whole area, and I would say it is probably slightly better than the wider Li river we walked yesterday, if only because the sides are less jungle, and you can see the farmland from the boats.
The boats are a lot cuter too. These are the real ones, made of some kind of super bamboo that grows everywhere around here. The canes are as thick as a man’s thigh, and they grow to 30 or 40 feet in length in crazy clumps that look like fireworks.
About 10 pieces of bamboo are wired together in a raft, on which they nail two chairs and a big umbrella. You can fit two bikes on the back, which is how we were going to get back from our cycle trip.
The tour voucher system in other countries always amazes me. We bought two vouchers in the hotel for 170 Yuen each, about 30 dollars, and they gave us a slip of paper. 20km north, at the side of the river, we handed that voucher to a boatman, and we go! Somehow he eventually gets paid, and they obviously don’t have trouble with counterfeiters or frauds. It amazes me that a paper voucher system works.
But it does, and we are on the river, which is only a few feet deep so the boatmen use long pieces of narrow bamboo to move the boats along. On the side of the river are farms, water buffalo and kids playing.
Emma and Lily have been waiting for this moment for several hours. They put their soakers in the river, draw up some H2O, and send a cooling spray of Yulong River water at each other with giggles of fun. Once each is completely soakes, Daddy and Mommy get a soaking too.
It’s completely enjoyable on the river. There are no bugs, you can cool off if it gets too hot and the chair is comfortable. It’s no surprise that there are dozens of other craft floating downriver on the hot day.
And have I mentioned the scenery? I can’t get enough of it.
The international waterfight.
We seem to be picking up speed, or maybe the clump of boats ahead is moving slowly. As we approach, there is shouting and screaming. A huge fight with the waterguns is underway and the boats have clumped together for maximum impact.
The soakers are like a big needle that you use to draw up water and push back out in a stream. Some work better than others, and Lily has a pretty solid model made of PVC.
Emma holds hers up, armed and ready to join in the fun. I asked her not to hit anyone unless they fire first just in case there are people that don’t want to be hit. As we drift into the middle of the fight, the soaking stops for a few moments. The young Chinese seem to be sussing Emma out, waiting to see if she is fair game. I guess they also don’t want to hit her if she doesn’t want to be.
But someone figures our correctly that she wouldn’t be holding a gigantic soaker if she ‘came in peace’ So the all open fire on her at the same time, and she gets blasted.
But she has a big gun of her own and one by one, she gets them back pretty good. Soon Lily’s boat gets close enough and she provides some cross fire. Everyone is laughing hysterically and Trish gets caught in the middle of the mass soaking.
Eventually the watergun fight dies down and the clump of boats drifts apart. We cross one of the several man-made falls with a splash. It’s not unheard of the Bamboo boats capsizing.
An incredible ride
As we pull into the little town of Jinxian and disembark, it’s nothing like Xingping’s touts, markets and hawkers. There isn’t much here at all, a sign of the relative remoteness of the Yulong compared with the Li river.
In fact there isn’t even a taxi, which is something we need right now. Our plan was to bike back from the river to the hotel, but it’s too far to walk. There is one van parked nearby and I say “Taxi” and show him our address from the hotel business card. He says 100 Yuen, which I know is crazy. It’s probably 30 Yuen maximum, but I offer 60 and hold there stubornly until he agrees to go.
The ‘Cats’ of Yangshuo
And we’re back to the hotel in time for an afternoon nap, as opposed to the evening variety we took yesterday. That’s good for the jetlag. And we need to be awake tonight because we have tickets to “Impressions San Liuje” an outdoor music and visual performance corepgraphed by Zhang Yimou, China’s most famous movie director. It’s loosely based on a famous movie about the people of the Li river.
The scene outside the theater is crazy. Tour busses line the streets, and guides are everywhere herding their groups from place to place as tickets are distributed. We are asked to post for photos, at least a dozen. And again, we hand our voucher to some nondescript woman who takes them and dissapears.
But back she comes, 20 minutes later, with another voucher, this one scribbled with something like B2d3B. She instructs us to join a nearby tour group that eventually moves into the complex, gets tickets and is seated.
The scene when you enter the stadium is amazing. It’s situated on a bend in the Li river, with a particularly beautiful formation of Karsts. They say that this is the worlds largest ‘natural theater’ and honestly I’ll give them that. It’s a fantastic spot.
Impressions is one of the signature events in the Yangshuop area. Chinese must go if the come to the area even though the ticket prices are very expensiuve. I guess it’s like seeing Cats on Broadway in the 80’s.
The lights go dark and the audience, including me, gasps as the entire landscape of karsts is imlluminated by floodlights. It’s an incredible use of nature.
Unfortunately for me and Lily, the rest of the show was a let down. It was very slow paced because most of the movement happens by people in bamboo boats which are by nature pretty slow.
Tomorrow we see more karsts, but instead of from a river, from a mountaintop and a water filled cave! We can’t wait.
Here are the days pictures: