after an early breakfast of rice noodles (RMB$5) i found the china mobile office (8am was when they opened their doors) to pay off my deliquent bill (i added RMB$200 more to my tab) and to reactivate my cell phone. with that out of the way, i made my waty to the nearby bus station to catch a ride to yangdi, the start of my all-day hike along the li river, past picturesque karst mountains.
the ride took an hour, and heading into yangdi we past a large group of chinese tourists (there was a collective "whoa!" from everyone onboard the bus) who got on the bus and instantly doubled our occupancy, standing room only. somehow i was surprised when i found out there was an admission fee (RMB$16) just to walk down the river, but the fee covered 2 free ferry rides that are required at certain points along the trail (at yangdi and at lanshi). there was a lot of chinese tourists there, as they stood along the shore, trying to decide whether to walk or take one of the many bamboo boats along the bank of the river. i was afraid i'd get lost, but with a convey of chinese hikers all going in the same direction, i knew that was impossible, and put my gps and map away.
across from yangdi
the walk was scenic and definitely not as touristy as the tour boats that travel from guilin to yangshuo. i watched as these large cruiser ships came down the river, the decks packed with tourists, both chinese and foreign. they waved but i didn't wave back, being a bit of a hiking snob.
more bamboo rafts
girls selling garlands
sanding bamboo pole
sticky rice with chestnuts
(wrapped in banana leaves)
i brought snacks but it wasn't necessary: along the way there are various food vendors, selling things like sticky rice with chestnuts (RMB$1) or fried fish on a stick. and if you're tired, it's always easy to flag down a bamboo boat and float down the river instead, which was the option many of the chinese hikers ended up taking once they had enough of walking. the path sometimes would be along a rockwall by the river, at other times through rice fields further inland. walking conditions could either be nicely paved cement, large painful boulders, or dirt paths. i groaned when i saw a few chinese women taking the walk in high heels - it probably would've been better if they just went barefoot instead.
besides myself, i only saw 4 other foreigners. a senior couple (with their chinese translator) had decided to take a bamboo raft early on, and i saw them float down the river. i chatted with a couple of holland, the buxom girlfriend drawing the attention of a group of chinese men who followed them from a distance, admiring the natural "scenery."
at one point i rested by a beverage stand manned by a little boy i'm guessing to be 10 years old. i sat underneath his large umbrella as i sipped a cold can of sprite (RMB$3). "you're on vacation and you still have to work?" i asked him. "yup," he said.
many of the mountains have special names, like "grandpa watching apple" or "tortoise climbing up the hill", but i had a hard time identifying them, and made up my own names, like the poetic "rocky pointy mountain no.23." at the midway point i saw a chinese sign. i couldn't read it all, but it seemed like it was saying that to continue onwards to xingping would cost another RMB$16. figuring there was a mistake with my chinese translation, i kept on going. soon afterwards there was a 3rd river crossing, this time not covered by the original admission price, but i paid the RMB$4 and crossed over to the other side.
the second half of the route doesn't follow the river as much, so the scenery isn't as dramatic. instead of people offering bamboo boat services, it was tuk tuk rides back to town along the dirt road. i met an old man (age 75, i thought he said 45 originally, so i was really confused at first) who wrote a chinese poem for me as a gift. i smiled politely, pretending i understood what he wrote, when i had absolutely no idea.
close to the finish line (the town of xingping) by late afternoon, i met a cute girl on bicycle who said she could take me to the nearby fishing village because she saw i liked taking photos. when she learned i was from america she was awestrucked by the fact that i could speak english. at the exit gate, i was told i had to pay to leave xingping. i thought this was total bullshit and told them just as much as i was paying. it's not really the amount, but just the principle: if they told me early on that it'd cost another RMB$16 to leave, i wouldn't mind, but these hidden fees feel like a scam. earlier i had a tuk tuk driver who said for RMB$8 he'd take me to xingping and i wouldn't have to pay the exit fee, but i told him no because i wanted the satisfaction of walking the entire way.
at xingping i caught a bus heading back to yangshuo. most of the people onboard were going back to guilin, and once we got close to town, i was told to get off and take a different bus, since i'm guessing the bus suddenly became a more lucrative guilin-bound bus. i swore in chinese as i was kicked off, and caught a free continuing ride with another driver.
after dropping off my small backpack at the pan tao hotel, i immediately went back out to look for dinner. i returned to the twin peaks cafe, once again sitting on the balcony with a good view of the busy street down below. i had the hawaiian pizza (RMB$25) and a bottle of chinese light beer. the pizza wasn't that good, the tomato sauce was very sweet (was it even tomato sauce? i hate to think they used ketchup) and they added a lot of onions for some reason. i chatted with an older american couple on a 2 week dash through china (they had a better budget, US$60/night for a hotel), then i made friends with the waitresses who saw that i could speak english and help them translate some useful phrases, and finally i had another chat with an israeli couple (rachel and ariel), sharing with them my complicated feelings about chinese society.
it was 10:40pm when i made it back to the hotel. instead of posting some photos, i decided to relax, take a hot shower, and watch TV the rest of the night with the AC on, enjoying my last day of privacy before sharing a dorm room with a bunch of travelers tomorrow.