Our next stop was Longsheng, which is really a mountain region in the Guangxi province about 90 km north of Guilin. When we flew into Guilin from Chengdu, we had to spend one night in Guilin. We ended up staying in this snazzy looking hotel in the center of the city, but once we moved into our rooms we realized it was only an upscale hotel to sleezy businessmen and their young asian girlfriends and prostitutes. I won't go into details on the products available for complementary use and purchase in the hotel rooms - this is a PG rated blog : ), but needless to say, as soon as the boys found the hotel contraband available in the hotel bathrooms, they were running up and down the halls with them, and they stocked up on dirty joke fodder for the rest of the trip.
The next morning us girls endured the boys' dirty jokes on a three hour bus ride north through green karst mountains, on bumpy back roads and winding curves until finally our bus came to an abrupt stop. We were then instructed to sit with our luggage in our laps on a smaller bus with a crazy bus driver. Thus began a harrowing journey through steep cliffs and sharp curves for another thirty minutes. And finally, with our rolling suitcases and backpacks, we were told that we needed to hike thirty minutes through the mountains to the hotel.
I was in my glory! All I had was a backpack so I was ready to hike at a moment's notice, but many of the people in our group had heavy rolling suitcases (mostly girls who packed too much and boys who decided to purchase lifesize terracotta statues in Xi'an.) The air was humid and it is rainy season in the Guangxi province, so the stone steps through the mountains were slippery. Longji, the part of Longsheng that we were staying in, is famous for its painstakingly carved rice terraces. The terraces are carved to look just like a contour map, and the Zhuang people, famous for their colorful clothing, have spent centuries keeping the rice terraces and developing an extensive all natural irrigation system through the terraces.
The Yangtze River Adventure Team were reunited again, and Cara, Jay, Richie and I took the lead in hiking blindly up the mountains to look for our hotel. Wet and sweaty (and probably smelly), everyone survived the hike through Zhuang-built wooden houses and hotels to the very top of the mountain, where our beautiful wooden hotel was conveniently located. The view was amazing, and even though we were all soaked from the humid air and the hike, we were given boiling water (Chinese people believe that warm liquid is better for your health even in hot weather) and encouraged to explore.
We set out to explore the rest of the mountaintop and admire the rice terraces, and we spent the rest of the afternoon climbing over narrow dirt paths, crossing log bridges, and looking out over the mountains.
We got to the top, and found a hotel with a large cement patio in front and steep steps leading down to the rice terraces. Cara and I decided we would pay homage to my Grandpa and pretend like we were hanging off of the patio. We weren't very good at the trick.
As the sky got darker, we saw a farmer working on his rice patties, and I decided that I wanted to meet him. Jay, Georgette and I walked over to where he was washing his feet in a stream, and I held out my hand to shake his. I asked him in Mandarin whether I could take a picture with him, and he didn't understand because he only speaks Cantonese. Even though he didn't understand me, he took off his hat and handed it to me to try on. Jay handed the farmer his own hat, and we all got some pictures with him.
The next day, we were encouraged to wander off and explore the neighboring villages in the mountains. I headed out by myself in the morning, hoping I would get to talk to some people. I got my wish, after wandering through the rice terraces and down into a valley, I came across a Zhuang woman weaving a pink scarf outside her home. I asked if I could sit and watch her for a while, and she immediately got me a stool and started chatting with me. She and I both spoke a little Mandarin, so I was able to ask her a little bit about the scarf she was making, and she was able to exclaim over and over how she thought I should be wearing more clothes in the rainy weather. Then she offered to let me try to work her loom, and showed me how to thread the material. I did about ten rows on the scarf, and then she finished it for me. I bought it from her for about $1.50, and she gave me a little embroidered pouch as a gift. My favorite moment was when I asked her if I could take a picture of her, and she got so excited. She asked me to wait a moment while she took off her overcoat to show me her beautifully embroidered clothes.
I met one more woman when she called to me from the second floor of her house and told me to come up and sit with her for a while. By that time it had started raining pretty hard, and I was wearing shorts and a tank top. She was like a fussy mother over me by the time I reached out to shake her hand. She slapped my shoulders and told me I was soaking wet, and she ran downstairs out of sight for a while. I sat down on a stool and she came running back upstairs with tissues and started wiping my arms and legs off, dabbing my face and patting my cheeks with these tissues, as if that would make me dry again. Then she demanded to know whether or not I was hungry, and without waiting for an answer, ran back downstairs and up again with a cucumber. So I sat there, chatting with her, and munching on a whole cucumber while she showed me the waistband she was working on. She was such a funny lady, and I couldn't figure out how to tell her I wasn't cold and I had planned on getting wet, so every time she told me I needed more clothes for the rain, I just told her I was "crazy, a crazy American."
Later I met up with the rest of the group and we explored the villages, walking into shops selling scarves and clothes, and drinking soda and eating noodles on mountainside restaurants.
Later that night, the hotel we were staying in, and in which we were the only guests, set up a dance party for us in the lobby. We were goofing off outside on the porch when two Zhuang women showed up in their colorful garb. They wanted to learn how to dance! They were so happy to be there, just watching us and trying to copy whatever we did.
Our time in Longsheng was very relaxing and the rice terraces were amazing. Despite the long hike through pouring rain back down the mountain in the morning, we all had a great time and loved the beautiful views and the friendly people.