A very important story was missed from the last blog! Geoff got hit on during the tour boat within the city—and didn’t even know it. Daniel and I were chuckling about it from the other side of the boat where we could see this short blonde woman leaning in and smiling up at Geoff, obviously trying to engage him in flirtatious conversation. It was only when he said, “My wife and I are here together” that she turned immediately and walked away, and the penny dropped for Geoff. “I just got hit on!” he said to me. No kidding, Sherlock. It made his day. (Ed. Note: I am just a naturally friendly, unsuspecting guy.)
So, the downside of our trip, briefly. Both of us felt the effects of the Guilin water. Geoff was in such bad shape that he told me he wouldn’t be going to the rice terraces, really unfortunate as these were the main reason for coming to Guilin. I agreed that he should stay in bed and I would be just fine going with our small (6 person) tour. By the time I had breakfast and returned to the room, he was showered and dressed and still looking grey, but prepared to make the trip.
We set off with a new tour guide, a young protégé of Daniel’s named Jen, and got in a van with our fellow travellers. The trip took 2.5 hours and the closer we got to the terraces, the slower we had to travel as the road was muddy in places from the previous rains. Small landslides were frequent along the relatively narrow road.
Our first stop was at the Longji village where we saw the ethnic show, which demonstrated the cultural peculiarities of this group. The women are the dominant ones in relationships and they never cut their hair, ever. Their status in life is reflected in their hairstyles: single women keep their hair coiled and covered with a tight black scarf; married women keep theirs in a style called the snail, coiled on top of the head; and married women with children sport the dragon, featuring a large knot above the forehead. In courting rituals, the man gently touches his foot to her left foot and she returns by pinching his butt. When Jen first told us this, I was sure she was saying the women paint the man’s butt, which might be a bit forward, I thought, but pinching was alright.
From there, onward we went up the mountain to Ping ‘An Village. At this point, the mountain was almost completely socked in but we learned quickly that the weather would change in a few minutes, the skies clearing periodically allowing just enough time to take some amazing shots of this amazing place. The people live very much off the grid and the old way of life is apparent.
Old women acted as sherpas for the few white tourists who were staying in the one hotel. What they could possibly have in their large suitcases for even a week on the mountain top was beyond me. It wasn’t like they would be doing anything other than hike and photograph, and fine dining experiences were definitely not on the agenda, although the food was passably good in our café. There is also a hostel in the village, recommended by Lonely Planet.
Our climb took us up up up, more than a thousand steps to two points from which we had spectacular views of the terraces. Amazing, absolutely spectacular. Even in poor shape and unable to eat, Geoff made it to the top, so we could enjoy this fantastic place together. It rained cats and dogs, but we were patient and within 5 or 10 minutes, the clouds broke and we could take photos again. Feathery clouds against the mountains with the terraces below – what a reward!
On the downhill trip, we stopped at a kiosk where I donned an ethnic costume. For Y30, we got two pics in plastic coating, no doubt to preserve them from the rain. That was when we decided we should take advantage of every tacky photo opportunity we encountered—why not?
But was it ever worth it.
Flooding, Reed Flute Cave and Wandering
By this time we were pooped, figuratively and literally, so decided to have a low-key day. Daniel sent his friend and student, Joe Hu (who) to take us to the Reed Flute Cave, the biggest in Guilin. This place is crazy big. According to Joe, if they cleared away the stalactites and stalagmites, the entire 7storey Sheraton Hotel would fit into the space. Yet another example of what nature can do with a limestone base.
The cave in its natural state was interesting enough but the local government, in an effort to please tourists, installed lights and stone walkways, which were helpful. However, the lighting really detracted from the place, much more so in pictures. We were stunned to find all of ours in mad fluorescent colours. They did not seem so garish when inside but apparently the camera picks up more than our eyes. We took advantage of another tacky photo opportunity.
The rest of our last full day in Guilin was spent wandering the walkways along the rivers and streets, taking pictures of the Ozmanthus trees and the river. Now remember how we were so doubtful of Daniel’s claim about the height of the water? We had heavy rain on one day and one night. How heavy? We reprise the photo of the horses from Day 1 with a photo taken from exactly the same view point on Day 4.
We couldn’t imagine what the road to Ping ‘An village must have been like but Daniel told us that a detour was necessary and some groups got home late at night. We could well imagine, as the limestone so easily erodes, especially in heavy rains.
We had to conclude that our trip to Guilin was incredibly lucky. First, we arrived in sunshine before the national holiday and crowds, and were able to walk around and take the river cruise within the city without a drop of rain interfering. The sunshine followed us on the Li River cruise. We got to see all the sites and take pictures galore. Had we waited until the next day to cruise, our trip would have been shortened by nearly 2 hours as the river was running so fast, and the bamboo raft trip would have been cancelled. The evening show we saw in Yangshou was also cancelled as the seats where we sitting (Row 27) were under water! A day later and the trip to the terraces would have been taxing and somewhat dangerous, not to mention muddy, slippery and extremely time-consuming. Instead, we did it all and were able to explore the cave nearly by ourselves on our last day, not with a multitude of Chinese tourists, so we had lots of clear photo opportunities and were able to hear Joe when he spoke.
Not all of China is interesting but Guilin is fantastic—we highly recommend it as a place to see!
(Ed. note: some photos of things we saw on our walk:
Last night we had dinner at a little Spanish restaurant by the hotel. We watched with amazement as
1. a car pulled up,
2. a young woman got out, moved a traffic pylon and a 2 x 3 foot sign that said “No Parking” in both Chinese and English and were centered in this spot
3. the man she was with parked the car and
4. she put the sign back between their car and the bus and
5. they walked away.
When we left, I put the sign right up against their car door and Terry put the pylon next to it.
One final unique experience from this morning to share. I went down for breakfast at 6:15 and Terry came down about 7:40. At about 8:15, I went back up to the room to shower and get ready to leave. As I approach the room door, I notice that Terry has, advertently (love that it isn’t a word) or inadvertently left the security latch open so that the door hasn’t actually closed. This is very strange because, if nothing else, Terry is paranoid about that kind of thing. When I go in, however, I realize that it’s open because she has packed everything up and taken it down to the front desk, which is fine – except that she has packed up my toiletries as well. I get my shirt off and start for the bathroom, when out of the corner of my eye, I notice that there are two double beds and when I left we had one king. Whoops, wrong room! Shirt back on and up two floors to our room, where the door is locked and our stuff is still there. To quote Rasputin from the early ‘80s – “Oh those crazy Canadians!”)