Sunday, May 24, 2009


Our very last stop on our two week end of semester trip was Yangshuo, which is a place I would go on vacation several more times if I had the chance. The landscape was mesmerizing and the town was quaint and seemed very familiar. There are many Europeans and Australians who vacation in Yangshuo, but Americans don't seem to know about it. Yangshuo used to be just a simple village well known in the area for its market, but because the karst mountains and peaceful rivers are some of the best in China, Chinese and foreign tourists named the area the best for hiking, rock climbing, caving, swimming, and rafting.

The morning of our first day there, we followed our tour guide through the streets and a couple back alleyways to find a shed full of bicycles for us to ride. We all got on and started riding through Yangshuo, and out into the countryside. The mountains were breathtaking, and the weather was warm. We rode towards the Yulong River, where bamboo rafts and rowers were awaiting us.

Molly and I got on a raft together and our friendly punter, the man shown above, started us down the river. The water was very peaceful and pretty clear (especially for China). I thought it looked safe enough to swim in. Because the water is generally polluted in China, and Chinese people, for the most part, cannot swim, my advisors from the program looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if it was alright if I swam. But my punter just smiled and said he'd take us to a deep part of the river where I could jump in.
Among my friends, I am usually the first to do anything crazy or potentially life threatening, so when everyone heard a splash coming from Molly and my raft, they knew I was jumping into the river. They watched me swim around for a while by myself, saw that I had not yet contracted any rashes, hemorrhagic fevers, or the bubonic plague, and then my friends Gill, Cara, Georgette, and Aaron all jumped in as well. The rest of the morning was spent soaking wet in the raft and swimming in the water, with our advisors looking on in consternation. It was probably the most peaceful thing we did on the trip.
For letting me swim, I bought the punter a beer from one of the floating bars that are located at certain points along the river. After the rafting trip was over, the tour guide our program had hired offered to take us to the Water Cave. There are various caves in Yangshuo where you can go explore, swim in underground lakes, and get really, really muddy. We decided to go!

The cave was really beautiful, and we entered on a small boat through an underground lake. The water was freezing, and we were expecting to have to traverse our way through the whole cave, so we went in in just bathing suits. All the Chinese tourists in the cave were fully clothed, and we felt pretty silly. But as we walked through the cave and finally arrived at a HUGE mudbath, we were excited again. We all got in and covered ourselves in mud, throwing it at each other and sliding down a mudslide.
After playing in the mud for a while, we jumped in a freezing cold underwater pool to clean ourselves off, and continued on our journey through the cave. This cave also had hotsprings, and we all soaked in the warm water for an hour before getting back out of the cave. Once we were out again and putting shorts over our swimsuits, we were confronted with vendors selling homemade sandals and some cows that looked like they had had a mudbath of their own!
We rode our bikes back to Yangshuo and once we returned them, we wandered around the town, looking in shops and drinking tea. It was so hot and sunny, but the atmosphere in Yangshuo is very different from the rest of China. It is so relaxed and easy going. I didn't feel as hassled as I do in bigger cities like Wuhan, Beijing, Guilin, and Hohhot
That night, I wanted to do something really interesting, and I got eleven people to come with me. I wanted to watch cormorrants fish for a fisherman, and so the twelve of us set out with a tour guide, got on a boat, and caught up to a fisherman anchored on the Li River, fishing with cormorrants. Cormorrants are birds that fishermen use to catch smaller fish. They tie a cord around the bird's neck so that the bird cannot swallow the fish, and usually loosen it and let the bird eat every seventh fish. It was really interesting to watch, and the birds were amazing. After watching them fish for a while, the fisherman in his raft and our boat pulled ashore and he got to show off his birds to us. He even let us hold them!
On our last day in Yangshuo, I went out to climb a karst mountain in the center of the city. I got about 200 metres up the trail, when two Chinese people came out and told me I couldn't go any further. When I asked them why they told me that somebody had died on the mountain that morning and there were people up on the mountain trying to take care of the body. Apparently climbers will get drunk in town and try to climb the nearby mountains with no equipment. It regularly ends badly. Totally weirded out, I walked back down and instead enjoyed the view of the Li River and the mountains until it was time to fly back to Beijing.

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