Sun and Rain along the Xi River
Trip Start Feb 03, 2008
33Trip End Aug 16, 2009
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Where I stayed
Mao Family Guesthouse
She's hiking up the hill toward me. As she nears, I see a gloss of sweat on her brow.
I step off the ochre dirt path to allow her to pass, but she stops at the turn a few feet away.
The woman casually swings her carrying pole and its twin baskets of tools from her left to right side. She follows the direction of the swing and looks out over the terraces plummeting down to the river in the valley below us. While she watches the fields, I watch her.
Her hair is under a yellow straw hat, but I can tell that she's got it up in the traditional native style, twisted and coiled into an elaborate pretzel on the top of her head, fastened with a modern elastic band but harboring a carved wooden comb at the back
In contrast, I'm wearing linen shorts from a thrift store in Australia, and a 10 RMB tee shirt from Guiyang. Tevas knockoffs. My camera swings, heavy and foreign, around my neck.
Her face is lined and brown, probably from years of work in the terraces we're hiking up. I would guess she's not much older than thirty-five, but she could be lots younger.
She looks back from the fields to me and smiles. "Ni hao," she greets me.
I say hello back and try out my Mandarin. "Ni xinku le," I say, a stab at telling her that she's working very hard.
She repeats what I said, bemused. Then, adds something quick and unrecognizable that might be local dialect.
She looks me full in the face, and grins
She slaps my exposed white calf with her free left hand, squeezes it. Hoots laughter.
Her hand is strong and warm and my leg feels cold when she takes it away.
Mystified all I can do is laugh too. I notice I'm wringing my hands nervously. I stand on the path and watch her climb the hill. She's still laughing.
Dan is higher up the hill than I am, taking pictures of dragonflies. He looks down and waves when he hears her laughter.
We're in XiJiang, supposedly the largest village of the Miao racial minority in China.
The Miao are known as Hmong among themselves and outside of China.
XiJiang occupies the western shoulders and basin of a long river valley
Between the paddies and on the edges of the terraces grow other crops. Eggplants are in season. We see pepper plants dangling red fruit as we hike. All over Guizhou province, long, fiery chili peppers are strewn on the sidewalks between rain showers, to dry for the winter.
It's fun to walk around the village. On the first day we abandon the main street, which seems like it is all being rebuilt to accommodate hordes of tourists. As we search for a way to go up into the hills, we see a huge dance/performance being paved on one side of the river, with raised bleachers already built on the other side of the water. Three-storey wooden buildings, all in traditional style, are being fleshed out. The regional architecture is a bit like a log cabin, with big wooden balconies, latticed windows, and slate shingled roofs that sweep down, out and up like the boughs of a fir tree.
We suppose the new buildings will be shops, restaurants and hotels
To reach most of the village's houses, residents ascend steep rock-paved stairs. From the river, it looks like the houses are built one on top of another; but really, the buildings climb the hill on stilts.
The morning's drizzle subsides as we walk up the main hill, and by the time we've reached the crest, the sun is out. A group of art students come quickly out of hiding and set up canvas chairs and portable easels. They're working on watercolors of the swooping rooftops and dazzling terraces behind.
Just next to the students, five old ladies wearing pink bath towels ads in place of their traditional headdresses use hoes and shovels to subdue a big pile of dirt. It's unclear from their movements whether they're trying to make the pile bigger or mix it into cement.
Everyone we see in the village is working hard, either at construction or farming.
We see elderly men, wizened and blind, balancing big baskets of produce on carrying poles; a whole family straightening wire to make a frame for cement; little girls about ten years old lumbering under burlap sacks of freshly cut timber
When we reach the top of the hill the rain comes back in squalls and Dan and I stand in our sodden rain jackets watching the sunshine and shadow play over the terraced valley below us.
We go to the other side of the hill and the sun comes out for good. The wet rice stalks and shining roofs sparkle silver. What a beautiful place.
The next day we decide to walk east, along the river. A path paved from the same rock as the village stairs leads intriguingly through the rice paddies. We follow it and are immediately swarmed with dragonflies.
I've never seen so many dragonflies. Some of these are huge, prehistoric almost. They're red, blue, black and green. Dan and I spend a long time trying to get close-up photos of them.
We walk about a mile along the river, taking lots of pictures of the brilliant blue sky contrasted with the emerald rice
A woman bearing two brimming buckets of fertilizer (the human kind) sweats her way after him.
In the fields, people of unrecognizable age toil under conical hats. Butterflies supersede the dragonflies and one of them becomes enamored of Dan's bright green backpack. It rides on the bottom of the pack all the way up the hill.
We hike up the hill for a few hours. Dan realizes he's left his camera battery charger back in Zunyi, so he doesn't take many pictures but I go nuts trying to find the right angle to take the terraces from.
It looks like snake country, so we stomp our feet and talk loudly. I wonder what the farmers who peer at us from across the valley must think of us. Climbing their daily path to work just for fun, walking funny, sweating terribly, shouting and slapping mosquitoes
No wonder the woman laughed at me the day before.
When we make it to the top of the hill I realize there's been a serious malfunction in our travel supplies. Our Australian-bought insect repellent seems to be working like tanning oil, therefore cancelling out my SPF-50 sunscreen. Both of us are bright red, and the silver bracelets we bought that morning shine more brightly in contrast.
We stay at the top of the hill for a half hour or so, willing a breeze to come up and cool us off. We take a little walk down a road we find along the spur of the hill, and realize that there are tombstones all around us.
The way down, as always, only took a fraction of the time it took to go up, so we had enough daylight left when we got back to the village to explore the other side of the river.
This time, the path followed the river for about two miles, maybe longer, so we got to see the dragonflies the whole way
We also found out where the village is getting the timber to build their new houses from. Somewhere upstream, a team of woodsmen are cutting down the trees, stripping the branches and bark, throwing them in the river and sending them downstream.
I've heard of this method of transporting logs in the US and other countries, but always before on a sizeable river. This river is only about four yards across, rocky, and knee-deep. A group of men wielding long, iron-spiked bamboo poles, wade downstream after the logs, pulling them off the rocks and out of the eddies every few feet.
As the sun sank behind the hills, we returned back to the village. We were sunburned, bug-bitten and bone-tired, but also satisfied that we'd had a chance to explore the countryside on a blue-sky day.
What it cost:
Bus from Kaili to XiJiang: 22 RMB each.
Double room with ensuite bathroom (squat toilet), a TV and hot water: 50 RMB
Mosquito coils to burn at night: 3 RMB for 10
Dinner/Lunch for two at the local, open-front restaurants (incl. beer): 20-30 RMB
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