Thursday, June 16, 2016

Guilin and Yangshuo

Early Thursday morning we headed out for Guilin. The traveling for this trip was definitely the easiest we've had so far- it consisted of a taxi ride to Guangzhou and a two hour bullet train to Guilin. We couldn't stop marveling at how quickly we arrived to our destination.

We had arranged ahead of time for a shuttle to take us to the Longji Rice Fields a couple of hours outside of Guilin. We arrived there close to noon at the bottom of a village in the mountains. The area has become pretty touristy but the scenery was really beautiful. The restaurant on the other hand was not. It was probably the worst food I've paid for in China. After lunch we hiked a little ways up to the first viewpoint of the rice terraces. What struck me the most was how massive they were and how far they stretched.

The rest of our time there consisted of us hiking around to different viewpoints of the rice fields. It is currently rainy season in China which was a really good time to visit the fields because they were full of water that the sun reflected off of. I felt like I was in a painting the entire time. It was something you just had to stare at and try to remember every detail of what it looked like because pictures were never going to capture the full beauty.

About halfway through our hike we were able to walk right along the rice terraces on a path which was really cool. It wasn't very crowded either, which is never guaranteed in China so we were very grateful for that.

When we were finished with the rice fields we took our shuttle back to Guilin to our hostel. Our hostel was awesome. It was right on the Li River so we got a great view of that. The beds were soft and it was clean and it had great food and the lady who owned it, Cookie, was so sweet. We only got to spend one night there since we were heading to Yangshuo the next day but we had a great time there.

Cookie arranged for us to take a motor bamboo boat ride down the Li River to Yangshuo the next morning. While we were waiting for our bus to take us to the boats we were talking to Cookie about her life. She is a young single mother running the hostel so that she can provide for her daughter who is living in another province in China. She had her child with her boyfriend a few years ago but he drank a lot and they were always arguing so she decided it would be best for her daughter if they split up. Her ex-boyfriend's parents offered to care for Cookie's daughter while she worked since she couldn't afford child care (it is very common here for at least one grandparent to live with a family and help raise the children- Cookie didn't say why her daughter couldn't live with her parents). So while Cookie works tirelessly in Guilin (hostel owners have to be available 24/7) her daughter is being raised by another family. I'm not sure how often Cookie gets to see her daughter but I got the impression visits were not very frequent. I admired her so much as she proudly showed us pictures of her little girl and talked fondly of how smart she was for her age. That would be such a sacrifice.

We rode a bus for a couple of hours through terrible construction. Thursday and Friday were the Dragon Boat Festival in China so traffic was worse than usual, but eventually we got to the river. Right when we got off the bus we bought some flower crowns from some pushy old ladies (they were really pretty, OK?) and split up since the boats only held four people each. One of my roommates and I rode with a very nice young Chinese couple. The ride down the river was so peaceful and relaxing. The scenery was absolutely beautiful as well. The mountains in Guilin are also known as the Dr. Seuss mountains because they inspired the mountains in most Dr. Seuss books.

We floated along for a while until we took a quick stop on a little island. Right when we got off a woman started pestering us to take a picture with some birds and we thought they were cute so we agreed. Apparently Chinese fishermen have used these birds for over 1000 years to aid them in catching fish.

 A few minutes later we got back on the boat and rode the rest of the way to the mainland. From there we followed an English-speaking man back to our bus and rode the rest of the way to Yangshuo. Our hostel in Yangshuo was really awesome too. It was the cleanest hostel I've ever stayed in which was amazing. We had to spend the first two hours there getting one of our roommates out of the shower she locked herself in (long story) but eventually we took off again to get some food.

West Street is the most popular shopping and food area of Yangshuo. We went into the first restaurant we could find that wasn't too overpriced and ended up eating a pretty delicious hamburger that had ACTUAL BARBECUE SAUCE and it was amazing. After dinner we shopped around, bought a bunch of stuff we didn't need, and got some delicious mango smoothies at a place called Mango. China has its ups and downs, but its mangoes are fabulous. And I don't even like mangoes that much. Anyways, the smoothie was really good. The place was really cute too- you could draw and write little notes on your cardboard cup holder and they had them stuck up all over the shop. It looked like they kept every single one there were so many. We also got spray-on tattoos because why not? (I tried telling my parents that I got a real tattoo for my 21st birthday but they didn't believe me.) Around 10:00 pm we tried to go dancing in some of the many clubs on West Street but we either ran into girls who were uncomfortably active around the pole or they kicked us out because we wouldn't buy alcohol. But it was still fun.

The next morning we had breakfast at our hostel (By the way, I love it when hostels serve food. Every hostel needs to do that.) and then went on a hike called Cable Tower or something. We couldn't find it for a long time and as we wandered through a very sketchy back alley an old lady passed us and motioned that we follow her. So naturally, we did. She was obviously used to foreigners getting lost on their way to this hike because she led us to the path and without so much as a second glance she went on her way.

The hike was terrible.

It wasn't really that bad, but it was incredibly hot and humid that day and the entire hike was just steep stairs and mosquitoes. We were drenched in sweat by the time we got to the top an hour later. I have done some tough workouts in high school sports but I have never sweat so much in my life as I did on that hike. And just in China in general. It took me a while to appreciate the view when I got to the top because I was so tired but it really was beautiful. We got to overlook the Li River and the mountains that stretched as far as the eye could see. We took our sweet time taking pictures and chatting and finally decided to make our way back down.

When we got back to West Street we immediately went to Mango and got some smoothies. Those were the most refreshing smoothies I had ever consumed in my life. After we cooled off a bit we arranged to have a shuttle take us to some mud caves. We changed into our old clothes and rode half an hour to these caverns. A nice lady greeted us and took us first through the caves. I've been to a few different caverns in my life and this one was pretty small but still really neat. After about twenty minutes we got to this giant pool full of muddy water. It was the weirdest sensation- it felt like you were just standing in normal water but when you looked down you were coated in a thin layer of mud. We also found out that it was impossible to sink, just like the Dead Sea. There was a man there taking pictures that we would buy later so we posed for those for a while which was quite fun. We also got hit on by some slightly creepy young Chinese men which was less fun. When we were finished there were some showers next to the mud pool to wash off that we began utilizing. We all were covered (I had on a sports bra and shorts) but it was pretty comically uncomfortable showering while tour groups kept walking by with a full view of us. Let's just say that plenty of people didn't hide their joy about watching six American girls shower in front of them.

After we got most of the mud off ourselves (that stuff was stubborn) we walked to some hot springs just a couple of minutes from the mud pools, still in the cave. The same Chinese men that hit on us earlier tried a few time to get us to hang out with them but they didn't know any English so we hit that awkward point where it's nice to have the language barrier. We relaxed in the hot springs for a while and finally decided it was time to head back.

When we got back to our hostel we changed into dry clothes and went back yet again to West Street. We decided to have dinner at the hamburger place again and then of course get smoothies at Mango. There was also a lot of really good street food around that we tried here and there. We spent the rest of the evening shopping and just hanging out around West Street. I dusted off my haggling skills and bought a fan and a skirt for decent prices, which I was proud of. We got back to our hostel around 10 and spent the rest of the night getting ready for bed, talking, and counting down to my birthday.

On Sunday we slept in, got more smoothies for breakfast and then spent the little time we had left in Yangshuo at a Kissing Fish spa. It's just a big line of chairs and fish tanks that you stick your feet in for the fish to nibble on. It tickled like crazy at first and we were all screaming and laughing for a good five minutes but eventually we got used to it and it actually felt really good. And our feet felt so soft by the end! Those fish knew what they were doing.

 Around noon we grabbed lunch at the hostel and then said goodbye to our hostel and the sweet girls working there and got in a van to go back to Guilin. From there we took the bullet train to Guangzhou and then a taxi back to our apartment in Zhongshan.

Guilin and Yangshuo were absolutely beautiful. Our vacation was relaxing and fun and a really great way to get us ready for the home stretch here in China. That's right, two weeks from now I will be done with ILP. I have mixed feelings about it but I am extremely excited to see my family. I still have another month until I actually get to go home but seeing my parents and sister and sightseeing around Asia is going to be a blast. America is finally in sight again.