The Li River, so I was told, was a trip to make the Yangtxe seem dull. I thought I'd better check it out, in that case! The fact that this flow of water is shorter and narrower than the mighty Yangtxe creates a much more intimate experience, as the stunning karsts seem to surround and then close in on you as you move downstream on a small covered raft. Oh and of course, on a raft for six, the absence of crowds
of photo-posers makes for a much more peaceful journey! (Though I did see plenty of them on the big day cruise boats which motored past, engines breaking the calm and creating waves over my feet... I was very happy to be floating on bamboo and not on a big vessel, along with the obligatory megaphoned guide...!) My raft-mates were three generations of a family from Guangzhou, delighted to be sharing with someone willing to take group shots of them, and very smiley in return.
The mini-bus ride from Guilin to the start point had been gorgeous, as we drove along country lanes through the limestone karsts. All manner of crops were being grown on the mosaic of green and yellow plots and while I identified rice, beans, grapevines, cabbages and lettuce, there were many I had never seen before. It was a vegetarian's delight to see such a multitude of healthy green food sprouting from the earth. Hats bobbed up and down in the distance, shading the farmers' heads from the strong sunlight,
and closer to me I could see figures bent over their plants, using simple weeding tools to tend the growth. The strength of these rural folk was evident as I saw a short man walk through a field, bamboo pole over his shoulder with a heavy water barrel hanging from each end, and tubes jutting from the bottom of them, which he was using to water the greenery. The load must have been phenomenally heavy, I reflected, and his upper body strength, as well as his balance, terrific. Just as I was musing that little must have changed in these fields over the centuries, given the basic equipment still in use, I saw one of the bent figures stretch out an arm and clutch a mobile phone to his ear... well, I guess some
things have changed!
The scenes from the raft were similar. At times there was a thick barrier of bamboo on either bank,the weight of the feathery leaves causing the trunks to bend gently over the water, but at other times the sides cleared to reveal little houses whose inhabitants were busy down at the riverfront, fishing, gathering riverweed, washing laundry, or, in one case, washing a plucked chicken and hacking it
up with a cleaver. Small motorised rafts passed us, carrying baskets of eggs, piles of vegetables and tethered geese, their drivers steering carefully round the stony sections where the water level was very low. In deeper places, the water buffalo were taking advantage, standing shoulder deep and dipping their heads, whether to cool down or to eat below the surface, I had no idea.
It was idyllic and I was disappointed when, four hours later, we reached Xinping village and the bus to Yangshuo...sitting on my wee bamboo seat, gazing at the otherworldly scenery, I could have floated on and on...