I rose early on Saturday morning without a clear plan ahead of me. In recent years I have adopted a more lax approach to my traveling. In the past I tended to micromanage too much: where I was going, how I was getting from place to place, what I would do and see, where I was eating. Eventually I realized that my approach was not working. It took too much time and too much energy. It took all the fun out of being spontaneous on my journeys. It prevented me from following my whims which, usually, resulted in me having a fantastic experience I would most likely not have had given my former approach.
A fellow traveler in my hostel, a young Chinese man named Jacques, invited me to go bike riding with him. In my reading I had learned that renting a bike and touring around Yangshuo was one of the best ways to go, so I accepted. We were headed for the Dragon Bridge, some 9 kilometers outside the city. To me it seemed like a great way to pass the morning and experience some of the most beautiful countryside I had ever seen.
After biking through towns, down highways, and through some winding dirt roads among a rundown village we arrived at the bridge. To be quite honest, I was underwhelmed. The bridge is (supposedly) around 500 years old and is the largest free-standing stone arch bridge in China. As you can see, it is really not that big. But I suppose given the technology available at the time this was quite an achievement. The surrounding area is quite beautiful and I think the bridge really melds well with the scenery. However it is clear that the top part has been rebuilt recently. Like so many historical sites in China the bridge was not left in it’s original state or even restored while maintaining its integrity. It is really unfortunate that this happens so often, but the truth is that the Chinese have some methods and ideologies that are just plain counter intuitive. This is China, right?
From the bridge, we decided to take the long route back to Yangshuo by some trails off the beaten track. This is where the real journey began.
We biked more than 10 kilometers over dirt roads and farmer’s paths. We wove in and out of tiny villages and farmsteads. We made our way through fields of vegetables and passed various animals-dogs, cats, chickens, cows-all the while following along the gorgeous Li River. The sights were simply breathtaking. As we pushed on along the trail through thick mud and pools of water we never lost sight of the omnipresent limestone karsts that are the pride of the Guangxi province. Surrounded on all sides by fields of green and beautiful mountains, with nary a sign of modern technology or industry, I find myself at a loss for words at how much I enjoyed myself. Despite all the pedaling and getting splattered with mud and nearly falling off my bike on more than one occasion, it was simply awesome.
Eventually we made our way back to civilization and turned our bikes in. We grabbed lunch at a local joint with some cheap yet excellent food. A piece of advice, if you will allow me, always try to find the places where the locals eat. It may not be as flashy or showy as the touristy restaurants, but the food is always just as good (if not better) and a fraction of the price. Besides, one would think (as I do) that you travel to a different country or place to experience what it has to offer, including the food. You don’t go half-way around the world just to eat more food like back home at jacked-up prices, do you?
By the time we finished lunch it was late afternoon. I did not need to depart for Guilin until the evening, so I wanted to squeeze one more adventure into my itinerary. I said my goodbyes and thank-yous to Jacques and we parted ways, most likely to never meet again. One problem with making friends on the road is that it is usually so ephemeral. Alas, such is life.
For some reason Jacques was not interested in accompanying me on my next jaunt. I didn’t ask why; I’m sure he had his reasons (probably just wanted to do something else). I was off to Moon Hill. Check back tomorrow for an account of my exhausting climb to the top of the mountain.