Li in the sunshine!!!

For the first time, I woke up to blue skies in Yangshuo!  I knew immediately what I wanted to do for the day – go back to the Li River!  Anya and I quickly changed our plans to meet at the Yangshuo bus station for another ride to Yangdi.

We agreed that we would bring along some snacks and a bottle of wine; specifically, cheese and crackers.  The only problem is, they don’t make or otherwise sell cheese in China.  I asked around and was told that there was a specialty shop that carried cheese.  I finally found the store and they had Craft Singles brand cheese slices complete in individual plastic wrap.  Hmmm…. wine, crackers and cheese slices that are usually reserved for cheeseburgers?  Well, one can only try.  The vendor charged a small fortune for a stack of 20 of the slices; I suppose that the markup consisted of not only import costs but also the half dozen hands that these slices must have passed through from the West to southern China.

The bus ride from Yangshuo to Yangdi was fun.  It was nice to look at the beautiful mountains without the pale of overcast or fog.  As we crested the hill between the two towns, I looked down to Yangdi and I could see the entire valley and the mountains that stretched as far as the horizon (top photo).

We passed through the area of the road that was being reconstructed and eventually we were dropped outside of Yangdi as the road was completely gone and being rebuilt.  As we walked through Yangdi, we spotted the woman who had “sold” us the last ride down the Li River – the ride where her husband tried to drop us off at the half-way point.  Had we fallen for this ploy, we would have been stranded half way to Xingping without transport.  I wanted nothing to do with this woman.

She approached and began her sales pitch.  I looked at her and said “I remember you.  Your husband tried  fraud us.  We aren’t interested in your services.”  She told us that we were mistaken, that she had never met us before and even asserted that she didn’t have a husband.  She was so convincing that I almost believed her.  I thought long and hard.  Yes, she was indeed the same woman.  She was even wearing the same jacket.

We walked away from her but she shadowed closely behind continuing to plead her innocence and simultaneously trying to sell her services.  As we passed through the town and approached the docks we encountered several other bamboo raft vendors.  As they approached and we began discussing price, the woman shouted at them and they sheepishly walked away.  We tried our best to shake this woman but she followed behind disrupting every attempt we made to negotiate a ride.

As this happened the fourth and fifth time, it became apparent that the boat vendors here all had a system of rules that dictated the “ownership” of customers.  This woman was telling everyone that since she had “negotiated” with us first (more likely that she had sold us a ride the previous week), we were “her” customers.  I was livid.  I did not want to give this dishonest woman any repeat business.

We found a man who was preparing his fishing nets and we stopped to take his photo and chat with him.  While Anya was photographing him, I wandered over to another boat and began negotiating a ride.  Just after we had agreed on a price, the man’s phone rang.  I saw him look up to the dock, to the woman who was hounding us, she was also on her phone.  At the conclusion of the call, the man told me that he was sorry, he could not accommodate.

… a fisherman readies his nets at Yangdi - the staging point for bamboo raft tours from Yangshuo to Xingping…

Anya suggested that we just pay her, that we were wasting away the day arguing.  I suppose there are merits for that viewpoint, but I just didn’t want to be taken advantage of a second time.  Just then, I had an idea.

I told Anya to wait, I’d be right back.  I ran down the shoreline to the next group of boats.  I found a man who wanted to take us but before we began negotiating, I asked to see his cellular phone.  When he handed it to me, I hit the power button and held it until it powered down.  We negotiated a price, I paid his wife and she walked towards town as he untied the boat and we put out to the river.

I told him that we needed to go back up the river 200 meters to pick up Anya.  As we puttered past the annoying woman, I saw her frantically dialing on her cellular phone.  But no luck, my man’s phone was shut off.  We pulled up to the dock and as the woman yelled to my boat driver, he shrugged his shoulders probably saying, “My wife already took the money, what can I do?”  I smiled with the smugness that comes from beating a fraud at their own game.

Finally, we set downstream on the river and began to relax.

I cracked open the ten dollar bottle of imported French wine and we made a toast to China, our Chinese friends, and to the Li River.  We offered a glass to our boat driver but he politely refused.  For the next hour or so, we snacked on cheese (singles), on crackers and wine.  The cheese was perhaps the best I’d had in years.  It is amazing that a processed cheese slice could taste so wonderful.

We passed a water buffalo who was knee deep in the river.  He dove his head completely beneath the water to reach some plants.  His head would resurface, dripping with water as he happily munched on the greens.  We saw ducks and swans and passed dozens of Chinese as they puttered upstream in their rafts heading the opposite direction.  Many of the Chinese elbowed their friends, likely saying, “Look, white people.”  We smiled and waved and they all smiled and waved back.  The days was just turning out to be bliss after our initial encounter with the hell woman of Yangdi.

As our boat driver lit his 3rd cigarette in a half hour (yes, the Chinese love to smoke), me motioned to the pack of cigarettes as he tried to hand it to me.  “No thanks, I don’t smoke,” I said, half realizing that he couldn’t understand me half way through the sentence.  He shook his head as he exhaled another thick cloud of white smoke (it was a good thing that he was at the back of the boat and I never even smelled it).

He popped the cigarette back into his mouth, dangling it from his bottom lip.  He pointed at the box and then pointed out ahead of the boat and muttered something in Chinese.  I looked out across the bow of the bamboo raft at the beautiful mountains and then looked at him again.  He was pointing to the photo on the cigarette box.

I finally took the box into my hands and looked at the photo and then looked up at the mountains again.  “Well look at that,” I thought.  Not only is is river on the 20 Yuan note, but its on the cigarette boxes as well.  I nodded and smiled to our boat driver.  He was quite pleased with himself.

I handed the cigarettes back to him and then said to Anya, “Oh, we have to get a photo of that…”

We ate cheese and crackers until we were full and finished off most of the wine.  And then we sat back to enjoy the view, the peace and quiet and snapped away with our cameras.  We had an alternating view of dark back-lit mountains on the right, and sun drenched green mountains on the left.

When we came to the area of the Li River that is featured as art on the 20 Yuan note, we looked back to where we had come from.  The western sun was shielded in this valley and made the mountains look very pronounced against the sky.

Along the bank ahead I saw a group of people and watched curiously as we motored by.  I immediately recognized it as a wedding as the bride was in her traditional red wedding dress.  I looked curiously at the groom, he had his pants rolled up to his knees as if he were about to wade into the water.  He had a handful of rocks and was skipping them across the river.  I’m not sure the tradition, but it was interesting to watch.  We waved and the bride and other members of the wedding party waved back.

Towards the end of the trip we came to one of the most famous parts of the Li River called the “Nine Horses Fresco Hill.”  On the face of this hill, if you look closely, you can see the shapes of what look like horses that are galloping along.  The legend is that the Monkey God put the horses on the mountain.  It seemed to be the subject of a lot of attention with some of the Chinese tourists stopping to take photos of it.

We arrived in Xingping at the end of a long day’s river ride.  We purchased some snacks and began the 1/2 mile or so walk from the docks to town.  We crossed over the Xingping bridge and the setting sun provided a beautiful backdrop to the Yangshuo Mountains.  It certainly had been a wonderful day.

My time in China was fast coming to an end, and with it, the end of my trans-Siberian railroad adventure.  I relished the warm air, the beautiful sunset and the wonderful company.  China is much different than I expected; the people are so friendly, so many sites to see and the food was wonderful.


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