Snake Blood - Yummy!

Trip Start Apr 01, 2001
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The hard-sleeper train from Xian to Guilin was a bit different from the Beijing to Xian train. This train reminded us of a concentration camp... green bunks with grey metal supports and lots of Chinese men squashed into confined spaces with their trouser legs rolled up and their shirts off. Needless to say, this train isn't airconditioned. It also doesn't have any "non-smoking" carriages. It is absolutely filthy, and this is just the beginning of the journey. Chinese people throw everything onto the floor... plastic sachets from their pot-noodles and eggshells from their pickled eggs. These people should be dead from cholesterol or constipation... they eat about 10 eggs on every train journey. They also drop their cigarette butts and ash onto the floor. Then there is the spitting. Thankfully we only had one "internal spitter" in our vicinity. Most people are polite enough to gob out of the window rather than inside the train. It isn't so much the spitting that gets us - it's the loud hacking noises they make beforehand. We've never heard anything like it... even elegantly dressed young women do it!

Because it was so hot on the train we had all the windows open - the downside being that we got covered in sooty grime. We kept wiping our faces with good old "Wet-Wipes" and each time the cloth would turn black. It was as if we had been working in a coal mine.

The samovar on this train is lethal. You have to lean right over a charcoal bonfire to get to the tap. The whole thing is red hot, including the lever on the tap, and you just have to pray that the train doesn't stop quickly sending you face first into the red hot metal tank.

We ate the usual train food: Chinese pot-noodles. They are really spicy which means that you don't need to spend long in the most unpleasant of unpleasant train toilets the next morning!

Our train has just run out of water... the toilet no longer flushes and there is nowhere to wash you hands... lovely!

Surprisingly, we slept better on this hot and smelly train than on the smart air-conditioned one from Beijing. We didn't think we were going to sleep at all when we counted three cockroaches in the 10 minutes before we went to bed. One of which disappeared somewhere into Tonya's bunk. Oh well, living in Bermuda prepared us for something in life!

The touts in Guilin are the worst we've met. As soon as we stepped outside the station we were met with a chorus of "Hotel? Minibus to Yangshou? Bus to Hong Kong? Trian to Shanghai?" One bloke was adamant that if we didn't buy a ticket to Hong Kong from him today, there was no way we would be able to get on the bus in 2 weeks time... Yeh, right!

The minibus to Yangshuo wanted to charge us 20 yuan each plus more for our bags. We've had enough of unofficial minubuses anyway, but 20 yuan is ridiculous.

At the official bus station we couldn't find the ticket office. We were being followed by a woman who was talking into a mobile phone or two-way radio. We imagined that she was saying "I have two gullible looking tourists heading towards the taxi rank... be ready to offer them a taxi to Yangshou for $100, yes $100, they look that gullible"
Then, we turned around to see that she was actually talking into a remote control from a TV! Complete lunatic! She followed us around for the next 15 minutes while we searched out someone in a uniform and shoved the chinese script for "ticket office" under their nose. Every time someone gave us directions the crazy woman with the remote control picked up on them and started waving us in the stated direction.

Eventually we found the ticket office and got tickets to Yangshou for 6 yuan each with no extra charge for our bags.


YANGSHUO

Yangshuo has one street (West Street/Xi Jei) which is a huge backpacker hangout. It is lined with cheap hotels, travel agents, cafes serving coffee and banana pancakes accompanied by English-language videos, and lots of stalls selling chinese art, calligraphy sets and sarongs. The perfect place to relax after the stresses of travelling in China!

We stayed at the SiHai Hotel and got a gorgeous air-conditioned double room with ensuite western bathroom for 80 yuan ($10). This is probably the most you can spend on accomodation in Yangshuo with dorm beds going for 15 yuan.

Our highlights in Yangshou included:

- Eating Snake... and drinking it's blood!
Yes, we really did it... and we have the video to prove it! We preordered a big snake from the Meiyou Café in Yangshuo and spent the rest of the day wondering what we had let ourselves in for. At 7:30 pm we arrived at the Meiyou Cafeé and met Craig, the Kiwi who we had originally met in Xian. The waitress took our drinks order (Dutch Courage) and told us "Man with snake arrive soon". A man walked in carrying a cloth sack with a knot tied in it. He untied it and all hell broke loose. He had hold of the snake's tail, but the rest of it was writhing around in the air between him and our table. Then he put it on our table and we all thought we were going to get bitten and die a slow and painful death. Most of the other people who had been in the restaurant had by this time fled in panic, leaving their meals to get cold.
It was the first time any of us had been close to a real snake and we each took turns holding it.




Tonya filmed both Paul and Craig, but Paul was still in a state of shock after his snake-encounter that he forgot to video Tonya. She was not happy... "I'm up there risking my life with a lethal animal in my hands, and he "forgets" to get my act of bravery on film!"
The snake-handler set up a bowl in the now empty restaurant and held the snake over it, then lopped off its head with a big pair of scissors.

She poured the blood into a glass of rice wine and handed it to us. Hmmm... did we really have the balls to drink this stuff? Craig took the first sip. Now we had to try it. It tasted OK, but the blood was still warm. Who said snakes are cold-blooded reptiles?

They took the headless snake away and soon returned with a bowl of snake bone soup and a platter of stir-fried snake with mixed vegetables. The food was excellent... really tasty. It tasted a bit like chicken, but with a chewier texture more like beef.

- Chinese Foot Massage
We managed to get a full hour's foot massage for 25 yuan. What a deal! We were shown into an air-conditioned room and served jasmine tea while the girls prepared two foot baths with plastic liners and a secret mixture of Chinese herbs. After washing our smelly Teva-feet in this herbal essence we got the full "foot massage" which extended right up to our thighs. It was very relaxing except for the occasional pressure point, which hurt like hell!

- Learning to play Chinese Chess.
We had a 2 hour lesson, and Paul got right into it, tactics and all! Tonya found it a bit harder. As soon as she moved her pieces from their starting positions she couldn't recognise which piece was which... "all the Chinese characters looked the same to me!"

- We managed to buy a Chinese Chess set for 8 yuan ($1) - Yeh, we're getting good at haggling. So we'll be able to play as we travel.

- Renting bikes and cycling to Moon Hill.
The saddles were rock-hard but our sore bums were a small price to pay for seeing such incredible scenery.

- Pizza at Redstar Express... it's almost the real thing.

- Li River Cruise.
At 7am we were stood waitng for our guide when a peasant woman on a bicyle pulled up and handed us a piece of paper on which was scrawled: "If you were book guide for boat please me follow" Hmmm?... our "guide" doesn't speak any English. We followed the woman to the bus station where another woman was extremely keen to get us onto her minibus. Our "guide" wandered off to a public telephone leaving us at the mercy of swarms of minibus touts. Wonderful! Eventually our "guide" got off the phone and her boyfriend showed up. He spoke enough english to appologise for sending his girlfriend to collect us, but he had "other tourists". (OK!) He told us to get on the minibus (like we couldn't work that our ourselves) and he said that someone would meet us at the other end. The bus ride to Xingping was interesting. We passed paddy-fields with people in straw hats walking their cows on leads along the roadside.

At Xingping we were met by a Chinese woman and lead through the village to the Cottage Cafe. Would we like some breakfast? Well, we were expecting to get on a boat, but breakfast sounded good, so we ordered the obligatory banana pancakes and took a seat. There was a couple from Texas at the cafe also waiting for the boat trip. The girl, Helen, spoke fluent mandarin which turned out to be a God-send...

We ate breakfast and chatted, waiting for someone to tell us where to get on the boat... but nobody said anything about the boat. Helen asked when the boat would go and we were filled in on the full story...

The Chinese Government run Official Li River Cruises from Guilin to Yangshuo and back to Guilin. These cost 400 yuan per person - outside a backpackers budget. So, the local people in Xingping run illegal "smuggling boats" up the river from Xingping to Yangdi and back. (The most beautiful and interesting stretch of the river.) This is the trip we were meant to be going on (35 yuan including bus fare). The only problem is that the boats can only go when the "coast is clear" and just our luck, the river police are out in force today.

Helen was translating for us, and every time someone came to give us information the time the boat would leave got later and later. At one point "The policemen have lunch at noon... boat go at noon" then "the policemen go to sleep at 2pm... boat go at 2pm" then "The policemen go home at 5pm... boat go at 5pm". The guy from Texas got rather upset. He is only on a one-week holiday and hasn't managed to kick back into relaxed traveller mode... "I paid for a boat trip and I want a boat trip, I can't wait all day, I have other things to do, I have to go see the comorant fishing this evening..."

We looked at our watches and debated what we could do between 10am and 5pm. There is nothing of interest in Xingping and we couldn't sit around eating banana pancakes for 7 hours straight. We had just reached an agreement to get a bus back to Yangshuo when a mobile phone rang with the "all clear". We were hustled down to the dock and onto a boat which looked as if it might sink anytime.

The engine started (eventually) and we crossed the river. We were expecting a slightly longer trip, but it was being made clear to us that we should get off the boat... Pronto!

Our boat driver, with a mouth-full of gold teeth and a belt-full of electronic gadgets... mobile phone, pager, organizer etc lead us into the bamboo undergrowth. Ten minutes later we reached a house and were instructed to hide behind it. While we were in hiding our driver with the teeth made several calls on his mobile We waited. A huge furry spider was being dragged along the floor by a large black and orange wasp. All of a sudden we wanted to get out of this place!

Golden Jaw's pager went off and suddenly we were being ushered down to the riverbank and onto another equally dilapidated boat. This time we made it all the way to Yangdi and back. We passed children playing on bamboo rafts, children swimming in the river, people collecting raft-loads of pond weed from the river, people walking their cows along the river bank and some beautiful limestone karst scenery. We also passed several official tourist boats... huge double-decker boats full of people eating and drinking.

Paul, who was sitting at the front of our boat, had to hold a red "Port" flag out of the window each time we met another boat as an indicator of which side to pass on. The flag was a Chinese flag with the stars cut out of it.
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