The Peaceful Natural Beauty we Have Longed For

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
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Trip End Aug 12, 2011


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Where I stayed
What I did
Cycling along Yulong River
Visit to local farmer's home
Jiuxian old village
Bamboo rafting Yulong River to Dragon Bridge

Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

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When we awoke in the morning, we pulled the curtains in our room and felt we had been transported to another world of fairytale conical shaped peaks called karsts covered with a lush dense forest. My eyes were like a sponge soaking up the green landscape. This was more beautiful in person than any photograph I have seen!  Oh my gosh, I am so glad we came here.  My spirit says "thank you".  The small hotel we are at, the Li River Retreat, serves breakfast on the outside terrace with these gorgeous views infusing a peaceful calm to this quiet location.   We are greeted by friendly staff who take our breakfast order.  We feel comfortable and happy to be here.

One of my images of China is the limestone karst peaks in the Yangshuo area. So when we decided to finally plan our trip, I knew Yangshuo had to be on the itinerary.  But how could we make the most of our 4 night/3 day experience?  It was easy to identify the activities of bike riding, walking & bamboo rafting in the countryside with a focus on the naturally beautiful scenery (water buffaloes, farmers in fields, hamlets surrounded by the karst formations), the Light Show and Cormorant fishing that were of interest.  But more than doing these activities, how could we get a sense of the people and place? I wanted to find someone who had intimate knowledge of the area to take us to those beautiful places at the time of day best for photography and who would help Harvey practice his Mandarin with locals.  We wanted someone to design our days with the theme of “peaceful exploration” and accompany us making sure to coordinate all the details.  We are so grateful that we found Jack Zhou of Jack's Private Tours, who created an experience that was everything we expected and more.   It was here in Yangshuo that we found the quiet peaceful countryside, away from crowds, that we now longed for after our time in the cities and the national parks.  With this one exception, all of our guides & drivers, hotels and flights on this trip were booked through China Highlights.  Jack's contact information is as follows: Website: www.yangshuoprivatetours.com    Email:  Jackprivatetours@163.com

Jack arrives with two new 10-speed mountain bikes for us.  I’m a little clumsy with the gears as we practice and make sure any adjustments to the bikes are made.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a bike, but they say it’s something you never forget.  Before we know it, we are like the pied piper following Jack down the road.  I stay very close as we approach the town of Yangshuo and make our way with cars, scooters, buses, bikes and pedestrians through the center.  I think the drivers saw the foreigners and stayed clear of us.  Within maybe five minutes we were out of the town and the quiet countryside opened up before our eyes! 

Our first stop is a 300 year old farmer’s house.  We are warmly greeted by the husband & wife as well as the husband’s brother.  We see the manual wheel for grinding yellow beans used in making tofu and after a demo we try our hand at it.    The brother shows us how men kept in shape in imperial times by lifting stones.  Harvey gives it a try and is very macho about it, generating lots of laughter for all of us.  The wife illustrates her raincoat made from tree bark and the hats that protect them from rain while working in the fields.  Our Patagonia rain jackets are made of a high tech recyclable material, but I don’t think ours will last as long as her raincoat which we are told is over a hundred years old.   In their living room they are gracious and offer us fresh juicy watermelon.  Harvey has another opportunity to practice his Mandarin.  I am in awe of how he unselfconsciously gives it a go and tries.  It really is inspirational.  It breaks the ice when we interact with others and we have such a good time.  We suck all the water down to the watermelon rind and look around at the photos of their family, the king of Sweden who had visited their home, and a painting of their ancestor who was a general in the imperial army.  We try the manual pump for water that is used for cooking and drinking.  Clothes are washed in the nearby river.   We are told that life has definitely improved – they have a refrigerator, rice cooker and electric burner for cooking.  We thank them for their hospitality as we depart.  We’re sure Jack paid them something for our visit and we’re glad to have supported a local family and had the opportunity to visit their home and have some conversation.

After some time bicycling, we come to the Yulong River and stop on the bridge to look out at the countryside and the bamboo rafts passing under us.   There is a steady stream of bamboo rafts with colorful umbrellas propelled by boatmen with poles.  It is really quite civilized as the tourists sit in bamboo chairs and watch the world go by as they are paddled downstream.  It’s a festival like atmosphere as I take photos of people on boats and they take photos of us.  Harvey strikes up a conversation with a woman and her daughter who are also on the bridge – this is just so Harvey.  I leave him for just a few minutes and he has found women to talk with!

We cycle over the bridge and stop again at a rural scene of a village, rice fields and the karsts in the background so I can take some photos.  As we are looking around, a local woman walks by and I motion to her asking if I can take her photo.  She says in Chinese to Jack that she is not pretty.  Both Jack & I look at each other because we both thought that her face and smile was appealing and with positive character.  A few minutes later another woman walks by whom Jack knows.  He translates my questions about her life.  She tells me she married a man from another village and she married for love and got permission from both parents.  I was curious about her life and she must have thought I was okay because she invited us to her home for lunch.  That was really nice.  I love these chance encounters.

After this conversation and the visit to the farmer’s family home, I pause for a moment and reflect at how different our lives are.  Harvey & I talk about how hard they work in the fields from generation to generation.  Would they want what we have?  It’s interesting how we spend so much money to travel to see and meet people with different lives

We veer off the small road on to a dirt walking path through the rice fields that runs parallel to the Yulong River.  We stop to learn about rice cultivation, look at the river and the reflections of the karsts on the calm water, observe the fish ponds, and in a small village observe how the rice is laid out to dry. 

Jack has taken us on the backroads to one of the main tourist attractions in the area, Moon Hill.  We didn’t come across any other bicyclists on this backroad, just locals.  This morning’s expedition was just super.  We drink our beers and have a vegetarian lunch at the Moon Hill Café.  Jack arranges for our bikes to be picked up and then we stop in at Yangshuo to see if the few camera shops in town might have a Canon DSLR for me to rent while we are here.  They have only point and shoots.   When we are back at the Li River Retreat for a few hours of rest in the main heat of this summer day I check the internet to see if there are rentals in Shanghai.  The rates are outrageous.  I reaffirm that I will do what I can with my iphone 4 and hope to find some creative processing of the photos at home.  Who know what I will come up with?

It’s now late afternoon and Jack & our driver have brought us to the departure point for bamboo rafting upstream on the Yulong River.  Our boatman is waiting for us and we hop on.  Although there are lots of rafts at the dock, at this time of day we are the only ones on this section of the river!  We leisurely glide on the calm river past rice fields with the limestone karst peaks in the background.  I am taking photos with my camera phone and at first feel frustrated because by the time the shutter snaps the view has changed.  Then I laugh.  As we move, the perspective of the karsts changes and these geographical formations, these living sculptures remind me that there is always another perspective, all we need to do is move the raft, move with our feet, or shift our attitude in our mind.  With patience and awareness “all will be revealed”.   So my little iphone is teaching me life lessons!

We pass water buffalo resting after their day in the rice fields, locals cooling off in the water or bathing, and a man with a net cleaning up trash thrown overboard from tourist boats.  Then in the distance the Fuli Bridge, a perfect stone arc bridge over the river.  At this time of day, the reflection in the water creates a perfect circle!  Wow!  When we pass under the bridge, we see a group of young boys jumping off rocks into the river and it is here that we come along side the river and get off our raft to look around and check out the bridge first hand.  As we walk towards the bridge, the boys say  “hello” and we say “ni hao” in response - and there are big smiles from us all!  Standing at the top of the bridge we watch the young boys climb up a tree and jump into the water.  They are having lots of fun and we are just smiling and waving as they look at us.  We purchase a frozen fruit bar from a young lady and it’s just the right refreshment as our boatman takes our photo and we take his.

On our return trip, we see boys carrying their fishing rods, some people washing themselves and a few other rafts.  Our boatman’s cell phone rings and it has the ring tone of Gloria Estefan from our Miami Beach!  All we have heard in China is Chinese music and here we are in a rural area hearing music from our hometown, Miami Beach!  As the afternoon light receded, the karst reflections on the water became more intense and dramatic.  Double wow.  Jack was waiting for us by the river and we proceed to walk through the rice and vegetable fields to Yulong Village.  We had an opportunity to see people at the end of their typical day – working in the rice and vegetable fields and out in groups on their motor scooters. We paused on the town bridge and observed the people hanging out on its steps, a woman on a bicycle also paused and gazed out, and then another woman led her water buffalo across, and from the top we watched young children jump into the water and laugh.  As we walked through the village, I casually looked into the homes to see kids watching television or playing with their mother, or the mother cooking…  all this offered a glimpse into the everyday life in this rural village.  It not only seems but is a world away from our home and city.

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