Today was one of wonderful people. It began with us changing rooms again because ours was booked for that night. The new room hadn’t been cleaned yet so the woman working at the front desk proceeded to clean it. This was clearly not her job, so she apologized afterwards because it “wasn’t as good as the cleaning staff would have done”.
We met the next wonderful person at the bus station. We needed to get a bus to Yangdi to start the 24km/15mile hike to Xingping. We hadn’t eaten breakfast, and Mindy especially was very hungry. When we arrived at the bus station we heard a woman yelling “Yangdi!” We stopped and said “Yangdi, dui (yes)”. Realizing we couldn’t get on the bus without eating, we continued with “chi fan (eat food)”. The motion of putting Ligeia’s fingers to her mouth probably helped too. The woman selflessly walked us over to a place with food to go, and then walked us around back to the right bus and watched as we got situated. With a wave she was gone.About an hour later, we arrived in Yangdi and people swarmed the bus wanting to sell flowers and boat rides, etc. etc. We quickly left all that and tried to find the trail head. We initially had some trouble, but when you’re amidst such beauty, all such frustration quickly dissipates. This section of the Li River is home to gorgeous karst limestone peaks, with rich green vegetation covering much of them. Large bamboo trees are sprinkled throughout as well.
This area of the earth is simply beautiful – so beautiful in fact, that a section of it, closer to Xingping, is featured on the back of China’s 20 yuan bill. This view would be the prize at the end of our hike. We wondered how we’d find it. Would we know it when we saw it? Would there be a sign? We forged ahead.
For lunch we sat down on a stone wall beside the river and ate our leftover rice and noodle dishes respectively from the night before. (It was such a good idea to bring those tupperware containers.) Many “Ni Hao’s” and “Hello’s” were exchanged as other hikers passed us by. For some reason people exclaimed “Whoa” when they saw us eating Chinese food. Was it the food, the tupperware, us using chopsticks? Maybe we’ll never know. Several students stopped and chatted with us a little to practice their English. They were very interested in what we thought of the Li River. Little did we know that we would see one of these students again later on the hike.
Wooden HouseWe walked and walked, always wondering how far away we were. We passed through several small villages with farms, orange groves and rice fields.
After hours of hiking we began to get tired in the hot sun and our feet and backs became sore. Then it happened that we got disoriented and we thought we were lost.
While backtracking we ran into the young student from before. He was now with two other people, a man and a woman, whom he said he had just met. We held up a 20 yuan bill and asked in Chinese (because it turned out the young student had only memorized a few sentences and questions that he practiced with us earlier) “zai nar (where is)”. They immediately motioned to follow them. As we seemed to walk further and further away from the river, we began to become a little worried however. Eventually we motioned that we would go towards the river and the student translated “Boat. Better as a group”. We were so tired and sore that we said, “Why not? Fate, we leave us in your hands”, and we followed the couple and the student through beautiful farmland surrounded by those towering limestone peaks.
About 30 minutes later we arrived at the river again where several boats were docked.
After several minutes of phone calls and walking up and down the beach several times (why we’re still not sure, but it probably had something to do with the phone calls), we boarded a boat. The friendly couple insisted that we sit up front. As we pulled away from the rocky rivers edge, we tried not to think about what this was costing us.
Whizzing down the Li River on a “bamboo boat”, where the only bamboo on it were the seats, was a lot of fun. It was much like driving in traffic on a street made of water. There were so many boats, all going in one of two directions – up or down the Li. We had so much fun taking pictures and waving to people.
It turned out that Xingping was much further than we had thought so we were happy to have taken the boat. We docked in a rather crowded place and after confirming that it was indeed Xingping, we pulled out money to pay the couple. They quickly dismissed this and again motioned to follow them. We humbly did so, going up and down stairs, until we reached an area where we could clearly the scenic view that was identical to the 20 yuan bill. Again, with a quick wave, they were gone.
After a meal of fried rice and bamboo shoots, we decided to stay for sunset. We found a perfect rock overlooking the 20 yuan section of the river.
Many people came by and wanted their picture taken with us. We couldn’t understand why, but it made us feel like celebrities just the same. Some business English students from Shaoshan, which they proudly shared was the birthplace of Chairman Mao, came to practice their English with us. They were very friendly, and also got their picture taken with us. One student explained that it is still unusual to see Westerners within China and this was the reason for the desired pictures. We felt so special.
After walking quite a ways to the Xingping bus station, we finally boarded a bus bound for Yangshuo. Because we sat separately, Mindy and I wrote about became the most surprising part of our experience separately.
…Luckily, one of the free seats on the 40 minute bus ride from Xingping to Yangshuo was a front-facing window seat. Ligeia, being her chivalrous self, gave it to me without hesitation. I sat down quickly before anyone else took it (no body-checking needed) and took a few deep breaths, mentally preparing myself for the bumpy trip. At least I had a window beside me that opened in the event of motion sickness. All of a sudden I felt something hit my ankles. Did someone drop their drink bottle and now its stickiness would be all over me? Did a child drop their ball and it bounced all the way to my feet? Nope! None of those. I looked down to see the fuzziest duckling between my shoes! Worried for its safety under the feet of Yangshuo-bound travelers, I reached down and picked up the baby duck as it quacked its high-pitched call. I was stunned.
I looked to Ligeia for guidance, three people sandwiched ahead of me, and she was as speechless as me. Where’d it come from? Should I put it outside? The language barrier between my English confusion and the Mandarin questions being asked to me, added to the hilarity.
A nice woman sitting across the aisle came over and asked “Is this your duck?” I laughed and said no. In response I asked her to pose a question in Chinese to all the other passengers “if anyone had lost their duck”. I never thought that would be something my lips would ever say. Ligeia heard me ask and laughed out loud with me.
A woman clearly understood the commotion in my seat, and pulled out a loosely-tied cardboard box from my feet. Oh! The duckling was hers and I had caught an escapee! Now that I realized I had to put this cute prisoner back into her/his cell, I tried to figure out how to do so gently. Remember, the box was tied up, so shoving a live bird back into semi-opened flaps would prove more difficult than I had anticipated. When I got the duckling close to the opening, to my surprise, I found another one had found the same escape route and was perched on top of the box! Without thinking, my free left hand pushed the duckling back into the box after only 2 seconds of freedom. The original prisoner in my right hand followed as well. Now that all the ducks were back in their place (ha! I had all my ducks in a row!), I firmly closed the flaps of the box and enjoyed hearing their chirp-like quacks all the way back to Yangshuo.
…After making sure Mindy was situated, I found a spot on a hard “seat” that faced sideways. I could sometimes see Mindy between the many people still filing on the what eventually became a very crowded bus. Imagine my surprise to see a glimpse of Mindy holding a duckling. And to overhear her ask another passenger to ask the bus if anyone had “lost their duck” was about the funniest thing I’d ever heard and I’m pretty sure I’ll never hear those words leave her mouth again. After getting a picture and video of the duck incident, I looked around the bus.
The duckling escapee was only one of many random things on that 4-wheeled box taking us to Yangshuo. A small child was playing with a panda balloon, people fumbled around in red plastic bags of various fresh vegetables, some women were singing in the back and the driver was screaming into his cell phone. The obnoxiously loud horn that driver amply used and the bumpy road added extra “spice” to the ride. I looked around and just took it all in. My butt hurt from the hard wooden box and my feet hurt from walking all day. “This is traveling” I thought as I smiled to myself, “and I love everything about it!” As we all shifted around trying to give more people make-shift places to sit, my heart warmed as I reflected on all the kindness we had experienced during the day.