Bikes, Bamboo and Buffalo

After breakfast this morning we rented two bikes for 20 yuan each and headed for the Yulong River, which is supposed to be both quieter and even more scenic than the already beautiful Li River.

Getting out of town and starting our 10km ride was a challenge. Sharing the road with people, cars, motorcycles, tour buses, 3-wheeled carts, animals etc etc is exactly as chaotic as it sounds. The only rule seemed to be, if it’s bigger than you, it has the right of way. Also here vehicles are accustomed to coming WAY closer to bicycles and pedestrians than we were used to. We felt triumphant then just crossing safely to the other side of the street.

Eventually we made it onto a quieter road and we found ourselves pedaling through the countryside.

We passed by numerous farm fields with people working: some with the help of a manually-pushed, motorized plow; others using the brute strength of a water buffalo to help them dig up their plot…

…and others still simply using a garden hoe and the stamping of their feet.

We found it particularly beautiful when the workers are dressed in a solid bright color like red, which gives tremendous contrast to the lush green vegetation.

Continuing our ride, we experienced something that still makes us laugh, and will likely make us smile for a long time to come: a huge group of Chinese students on a bike tour, returning from the trip we were on. Keep in mind that a large number of students seize the opportunity to practice their English when they see a foreigner. So, inevitably, in the short time they had to interact with us, as we both rode by in opposite directions, all we had time for was “Hello!”, interspersed with he odd “Hi!”. What’s so funny about that? We must have passed by about 200 cycling students all yelling their respective English greeting, in various accents and tones. It was magical in its musicality and humorous in its overwhelming ridiculousness.

After the swarm of cyclists were well behind us, we stopped seeing anybody. Us being being alone on a dirt road made us wonder if we had missed a turn somewhere and were now lost on our way to Dragon Bridge. Of course, we saw some local farmers in their fields, but no other cyclists going in our direction or towards us. We eventually approached a small village with a family eating a meal in front of a television. In Mindy’s best Mandarin, she asked for directions to “Yulong Qiao”, our bridge destination. A kind man pointed along the road, in the direction we were headed (we were on the right track!) and we continued our way on the pothole-ridden dirt road. We made a couple more stops on our route to double-check that we were still on the correct path, as well as to practice our Chinese.

Arriving at Dragon Bridge was a relief! The temperature by lunchtime had likely climbed to the low 80s F (high 20s C) and we were certainly ready to give our butts a break from the extremely uncomfortable bicycle seats. Dragon Bridge is 600 years old, made of stone and apparently constructed without cement, staying upright for all this time due to its arched structure (science class taught us something about arches working well because of gravity and friction, didn’t it?)

The rice fields flanking the calm Yulong River at the bridge made for beautiful photos. For now, if you close your eyes, can you see the tree beside the bridge with its beautiful purple flowers? Can you smell the fragrant tea plants growing all around? Can you hear the annoying touts asking constantly if you want a bamboo boat, following you wherever you go?

Well, with our butts being as sore as they were, we bargained the price of one of these boats (actually made completely of bamboo, including the seats and “paddle”) and set course down the river.

Along the way between those familiar limestone peaks, the calm-flowing Yulong was interrupted by mini rapids. Capitalistic profiteers were at the base of these rapids, snapping photos as our long, bamboo raft tipped forwards, much like amusement parks that take your picture midway through a roller-coaster ride. The cool splashes of water as the front of the boat hit the water were very refreshing in the hot sun! Floating along that river for 90 minutes, Mindy with a Tibetan barley beer in hand…

…Ligeia taking pictures gorgeous scenery and wildlife (water buffalo and cows, mainly) in all directions, was definitely a highlight of this trip!

After a 6km bike ride back to Yangshuo (the Yulong doesn’t flow into the city) our tender rear ends were screaming and bruised. To ease our pain, we treated ourselves to some popsicles. Ligeia chose her new favorite of green pea flavor, and Mindy opted for a corn one. Both are surprisingly very good AND we’re getting our vegetables!

Our busy day ends with us watching a group of women, perhaps in a club or something, dancing in a public square by the Li River. The music was loud and their movements were fluid. We’re not sure how, but Ligeia had the energy (and muscles that could still move!) to join them. Mindy watched on the sidelines as Ligeia improved her steps to move synchronously with the others. It was great!

We’re almost done our time in Yangshuo and will soon be back in Beijing. We’ll see what adventures are in store for us and we’ll be sure to write about them. Stay tuned!

As always, thanks for reading!
Ligeia and Mindy :):)

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