木曜日, 8月 19, 2004

Hiking in Longji

    After Shanghai, we took the train south to Guilin. I read in my guidebook that there is no old city of Guilin anymore since the Japanese destroyed it. No wonder they seemed a little hostile to foreigners. Actually people just stared at us coldly wherever we went. I'm normally oblivious to the "People are staring at me!!!" complaint that afflicts some travelers in Asia, but in this case even I was observant enough to notice the calculating, mean stare we got from the men on the streets as we walked around. They would not break their stare, even when we stared back.
    After a night in Guilin, the outdoor adventure part of our trip began. Steve hired a local guide for a few days, codenamed "Daisy," who was super nice. Daisy led us up and down the gorgeous rice terraces of Longji in the countryside not far from Guilin. This area is home to the Yao and Zhuang minorities. We stayed in a Zhuang village, which was awesome. You had to climb a lot of stone steps to get to the guesthouse. It rained the next day, so our planned 6-hour hike in the terraced mountains became a mere 2-1/2 hours. It was treacherous to find my footing in the rain, since the stone steps were steep, slippery and muddy. Near the beginning of the hike, we were told to take off our shoes to wade across the river, and it just took off from there with more fun stuff in the pouring rain. One guy's shoes went floating down the river, but luckily they were saved. I scraped my hand on my umbrella and bled. But as you can see, I survived this unaccustomed brush with outdoorsiness. And the scenery at the top was incredible.

Originally uploaded by moglet.

Right: The terraced rice paddies of Longji on a rainy day. Find the butterfly.

    You can see how steep the rice terraces are. At the top, Daisy told us that no water buffalo will live this high up, so farmers were forced to use their women as plow animals. This was so shocking it somewhat tarnished the view.
    The kids here had computers to play with, and it looked like the tourist industry was putting lots of new money into the village. We were shown the old buildings, but the villagers have already started living in new buildings bought with tourist money.
    Next door was the Yao village, which is called the "Long Hair" village because the women grow their hair down to the floor and wrap it up in a turban during the day along with pieces from their mothers' and grandmothers' hair. To see one of them comb out her hair, we had to pay one yuan each. Another unusual thing we saw in this village was hair-handled baskets. They were big baskets for carrying on the back and the straps were made of braided (apparently) human hair. Imagine if I took one of these on the subway to work in Japan...
    In the traditional village, the people lived on the second floor and the animals lived on the first floor. Melanie and I discussed the question of how weird it would be to hear animal sounds all the time in your house, because the pigs, especially, were quite noisy, when we were shown to our room in the guesthouse and guess what, there were pigs on the other side of the wall to our bedroom. So we got to experience that for ourselves. Lots of other farm animals everywhere, notably free-range chickens pecking around with their chicks. Nice to see after I've read so much about the cruelty of keeping chickens penned in crowded dirty conditions like we do in the U.S., but I didn't enjoy seeing a pig slaughtered as I was walking around one evening. Also, as we were getting back from our hike, we saw a cute little girl of about 5 or 6, but before we could exclaim over how cute she was we saw that she had a bloody meat cleaver in her hand. Daisy told us that she must have just killed a chicken. As if it were nothing for first-graders to carry bloody knives around. In this world, I guess it isn't.
    The next few days were full of more hiking, biking and outdoorsy stuff. Daisy led us on a long bike ride to her village in Yangshuo, our next destination, and we split up to either go to a mud cave or climb Moon Hill. I wanted to go to a cave, but this one is a dark river of mud in a cave, and you go down a huge mud slide and get completely covered in mud, mud up to your armpits, and you might get hurt or die in there if your flashlight goes out and you lose your way. The advertisements boast: "The best mud in the world." No thanks. I really got muddy enough in Longji. So I climbed the top of Moon Hill instead. It was so beautiful and calm at the top. I felt great.

Yangshuo scenery

    The scenery around Guilin and Yangshuo is famous throughout China for the striking limestone peaks that grace the landscape. Since it's summer now, everything is green and lush, more beautiful than the pictures of the area I've seen in any other season. You can see people rafting along the green rivers and working in the rice fields, children playing with bamboo waterguns, brightly colored flowers and red-bodied dragonflies. The air is clean and misty, the weather warm and rainy.
    I'm in Yangshuo still, and we're leaving for Hong Kong tonight. Yangshuo is a destination I would recommend for backpackers, since there is a lot of cool caving and hiking you can do from here, although the social vibe still seems a bit harsh compared to the friendliness of Thailand and Japan,and the coffee and food here has been disappointing. I would have gone to the Black Dragon Cave today, which I hear has no mud, but unfortunately I'm sick today. Everyone has been getting sick all week. If it's not one thing, it's another, and two of our group had food poisoning so bad they had to call a doctor. We got back from our cooking class and found them in bed with an IV drip hung up on a stepladder with a Chinese doctor sitting by their beds. Fortunately, they are well enough to travel tonight.


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