Life on the Lijiang

Trip Start Aug 03, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed

Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Friday, December 17, 2010

We left the charming village of Xingping for the town of Yangshuo - more of a backpacker mecca. There are many shops, bars, restaurants (serving pizza, burgers, and the like), and other westerners. The scenery is still equally amazing, and it is here that you can easily rent bikes to ride along the Lijiang or just take off through the countryside. This is exactly what we wanted to do after a quick exploration of the town.

Unfortunately, it wasn't so easy. We ran into a little bit of a strange experience. Leaving the hotel we noticed quite a few policemen hanging around. A block or so away we kept seeing more and more. Pretty soon there are dozens of them all grouped together hanging around this street right on the river. After not too long somebody spots us and signals for one of the cops to talk to us. A female officer asks us to "please go back". We were kind of in disbelief, because we couldn't even see anything happening and they were all just standing around. Back to the hotel, we asked? No, just back. A little confused, we asked if we could please just head down the pedestrian street that we could see full of people right across the way. She agreed so we went of in search for lunch, very curious but figured there was nothing more to do.

We walked all the way to the main road, not finding any restaurants that caught our eye, and noticed that it was now closed to all traffic. Police were everywhere, but people were all just standing around watching nothing, from what we could tell. We tried to ask a couple people what was happening but didn't find any English speakers. So we just kept going. A couple of blocks down we tried to turn back, but now they weren't letting anyone back into the area we had just come through. We were hungry so we turned down another block and figured we could at least head back to the hotel and eat there. By now their was a cop every 10 feet, at least, and cars were driving up and down the streets, some with flashing lights, making repeated announcements on their loudspeakers (which, of course, we couldn't understand).

We are obviously getting very curious by now. Should we be concerned, is there some sort of raving lunatic on the loose? Half way back to the hotel we are stopped for good. One of the officers forces us off the sidewalk and back into a little alley area near a creek. There isn't another way around and we are just standing there not knowing what to do when he fiercely gestures for us to go into the clothing store that is right there. We have no other choice but to go in, along with several other bystanders. Standing around the entry way wasn't an option, he wanted us all the way in the store. We had to wait in there for probably 20 minutes, listening to blaring, crappy music, not having a clue what was going on. Finally, what we were waiting for happened - a caravan of cars with tinted windows and mini-buses full of people went by. Oohhh, exciting. Not really. Later we found out that it was either the current or former president of China. People didn't seem comfortable telling foreigners what was going on. Kind of a big deal, I guess, all we know is that it really delayed our bike ride.

The bike ride turned out to be incredible. We rented very new mountain bikes for only 30 yuan (a little over $4) for the day and took off out of town. We had a map and some Chinese directions written down by the friendly store owner in case we got lost. We didn't actually get lost, but we did have a little trouble finding our way. The directions went something like this: Turn left at the stoplight before the petrol station. Go straight until you see the lotus pond on your right and then take another left on the bad road that goes through the village. Don't continue on the good road, and don't ever cross the river. We wouldn't have been too worried about finding our way except we didn't get out of town until 4 o' clock and only had a few hours until dark.  

It was a gorgeous route along the river, at the very base of the peaks. We went through several tiny villages, seeing the locals going about their daily lives. Rice paddies fill the space in between the rivers and the hills. Farmers were out in their fields wearing the round, pointed straw hats that you picture in rural China. Their water buffalo were alongside them, munching the already-harvested stalks and plowing away at the fields with their big feet. The scene was so classic that we felt like we were in movie. The best part about it was that we had it all to ourselves. There were few villagers and we only ran into one other tourist couple on bikes, and they just helped to confirm that we were heading in the right direction.

The afternoon turned out to be pretty incredible, and the rain even lessened enough so that we didn't get drenched. We did, however, end up splattered in mud from the dirt roads from head to toe. In our hurry to get out of town we didn't get fenders to go over the back tires and ended up with a large concentration of brown mud in a place on your body where you don't want mud brown. Luckily, it was dark by the time we returned the bikes. This was mostly due to, yet another, roadblock set up that required us to do a massive detour after our estimated 15+ mile bike ride. We never did get our boat trip on the bamboo raft because the river was closed again in the morning for the president, but that only means that we must come back another time. Preferably in the summer when we can take the trip in our bathing suits and swim in the river. If you ever make it to China, don't miss this spot you guys!!
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