Sunday, October 17, 2010

China Part Four: Guilin & Longsheng Rice Terraces

It was a restless night with the jolting of the train, hard beds, opening & closing of our cabin door primarily by the chain-smoking mafia guy, and the smell of cigarette smoke wafting in through the air conditioning system. I stayed in bed as long as I could knowing we still had hours remaining in our 1519 km or 943 mile journey. I eventually got up around 8:30am and sat in the corridor with a cup of hot tea then moved into the dining car to eat some crackers and watch the rural scenery go by while waiting for Greg to wake up. He finally got up around 10am and we ate our prepurchased breads in the dining car until they chased us out to make way for the lunch crowd. We returned to our cabin and sat on the lower bunk watching the scenery (mostly farmland/rice fields) until it was time to eat our lunch of instant noodle bowls. By then the sister & brother were awake and also ready to eat so we shared the tiny table with them. Soon enough our car’s attendant came by to return our tickets and told us to be ready to disembark around 2pm. We were thankful she told us because there were no announcements in English so we had no way of knowing for certain when we would reach Guilin.
instant noodle lunch on the train
Upon arrival, we finally managed to buy our tickets from Guilin to Guangzhou from the station’s ticket office then walked about 15-20 minutes to our hostel. We checked in, tossed our bags in our room, then returned to the front desk to plan our sightseeing & travel arrangements for the next two days. About an hour later, we had paid for our Li River cruise on the 8th and were on the tentative list of people wanting to go to the rice terraces on the 7th. With nothing else to do and not wanting to venture very far from the hostel as we were tired from the train trip, we walked across the road to the shopping mall and had a look around for an hour or so. Having seen enough, we stopped by a supermarket on the way back to the hostel and bought some beer and snacks. We sat outside to drink the beer and were soon joined by a group of 20-somethings from Xian, students of the Chinese language who were enjoy the holiday break. One, from Ireland, was celebrating his birthday and his friends and the hostel staff had chipped in to purchase two very nice cakes. Luckily they offered to share with us so we had a delicious slice of white cake with blueberry filling and chocolate shavings prior to eating dinner in the hostel’s Bamboo Café. The reception staff had previously recommended the “beer duck” which I tried without hesitation despite the disclaimer that it was not deboned. It was delicious, but a bit messy to eat!
interesting exhibit in the shopping mall
While we were finishing our dinner, another couple who were also interested in the rice terrace trip stopped by our table to introduce themselves and discuss the timing. It turned out that they were flying back to Shanghai tomorrow evening so did not want to do the 5-6 hour one way hike from Dazhai to Ping’an. Their overall schedule and “wish list” fit ours perfectly so we happily agreed to make the trip with them. By then it was already 9pm so we headed to our room to take a much-needed shower and get some sleep.

I didn’t mind the 6am alarm this morning knowing it was for a good reason. We were basically ready to go by 6:30 but decided not to eat our instant noodles knowing that we had at least a 2 hour van ride ahead of us, most likely without any breaks. Pierre & Georgine were right on time at 7am along with our driver. We passed the time on the road chatting about their reason for being in Guilin (taking a holiday break from living in Shanghai as Pierre studies Mandarin and works on his PhD in Sociology with a focus on Christianity in China) and our travels. After plenty of passing slower vehicles and honking at pedestrians, bike riders & tuk-tuks, we finally made it to the ticket office for the Longji Scenic Area. We paid 50CNY each and had a quick toilet break, then continued on for another 45 minutes to Jinkeng parking area and the entrance to Dazhai village. There we spent some time negotiating with our driver as to when to meet us based on our proposed hiking route. Even one of the local villagers, who came over to offer us trinkets for sale, offered her opinion as to the needed time to hike the Golden Buddha Peak route. Thanks to Pierre’s good Mandarin-speaking skills we were soon on our way up the terraces.
Pierre & our driver discuss our proposed hiking route
It quickly developed from a leisurely stroll to a strenuous climb but we reached the second village area within 30 minutes. From there we made a wrong turn and ended up hiking on a balance-beam-width foot path through the very steep rice fields. After only being able to walk horizontally for some time and not vertically as we intended, we eventually doubled back to the previous village where we spotted a tour group coming down from above and thus were able to pick out the correct path to the top. There were a few signs in English, but they were not always located at the critical points of the path, so it was very easy to miss an important turn. Again, with Pierre’s language skills, we were able to get directions to the top from the villagers who were also using the same path.
backtracking on the narrow rice terrace footpath
We finally reached the first of the very scenic lookout points and stopped for a few photos and a quick fruit snack (Pierre & Georgine were carrying an assortment of fresh fruit: tangerines, clementines, passion fruit). Then we continued on even higher where we stopped at a more developed rest area and ate some beef jerky & peanuts that I was carrying, more fruit, and drank a beer that Greg bought from the mountain-top store. After that nice break, we walked to the end of the trail, which, if we had wanted to keep going, branched off to another area called "Music from Paradise." Checking our watches, we knew we had to start walking back down to meet our driver. Of course, it was less strenuous going down, but much harder on my knees. We took our time and arrived at the parking area right on time at 1:30pm.
the view from Golden Buddha Peak
The ride back to Guilin was similar to this morning: lots of horn blowing and dodging animals, people & other vehicles coming from all directions. It brought back fond memories of my time in Rajasthan several years ago! Otherwise the journey was uneventful and we were delivered safely to the hostel by 4pm. We relaxed in the Bamboo Café and ordered an early dinner while Pierre & Georgine ate some quick sandwiches then headed to the airport for their flight back to Shanghai. After dinner, we walked to the supermarket to buy beer then hung out in the courtyard for about an hour to be within range of the wifi signal before heading up to our room for showers and some photo-editing, writing & reading before bed.
our driver navigates the narrow mountain roads from Longsheng back to Guilin

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