Rain, rain go away....Parlows want to go out to play.
Somehow the misty drizzles of November in Vancouver had found us in the small travellers' haven of Yangshuo where we huddled over our cafe lattes and played chess to the strains of George Winston on the cafe's stereo system while the rain rain rain fell down down down.
Yangshuo is unlike any other place we have seen in China to date -- one entire section of the town seems like it has been lifted from somewhere else and plunked down in the middle of southwestern China. Cafe after cafe offering western food, espresso, capuccino, pizza, real French baguettes, Italian gelato, and apple pie. Shop after shop with beautiful things from all over southern China from batik work to silk pyjamas. You could enjoy one English-language movie over dinner and stay for the double feature over dessert.
Yangshuo is set in some of the most beautiful and unusual scenery in China as well, The countryside is an unbelievably green patchwork of rice paddies and sugar cane fields, all bordered by the most bizarre looking "karst" peaks, that look like the droopy mountains in Dr. Seuss books.
The rain gave us a chance to take some time out to relax, however, as the days passed and the rain continued to fall, it became apparent that we would have to venture out in the rain.
One of the most popular ways to see the amazing karst peaks (those loopy Dr. Seuss mountains) is to take a river boat trip between Yangshuo and Guilin on the Li Jiang River. Extortionate rates designed to take advantage of the well-heeled tourist traffic in Guilin has resulted in the outlawing of the more reasonably priced trip originating in Yangshuo; However, we took advantage of the opportunity to take an illegal boat from the midway point. We were surreptitiously herded onto the boat and warned to keep our heads down until we cleared the wharf. The scenery was breathtaking -- green and gray, misty and moody - and we cruised for about 4 hours amidst the mist-shrouded peaks. On our return, the boat's captain got spooked and put us ashore well outside of town, leaving us to walk the last couple of kilometers in the pouring rain.
Some of the karst peaks in the area actually shelter extensive cave complexes which have been developed for visitors. We visited one very large cave complex on one of the many rainy days, but were really turned off by the technicolour lighting schemes and the very Chinese obsession with "seeing" people or objects in the formations and with providing hyperbolic names for everything. Dan took perverse pleasure in refusing to "see" the particular object or person that our mandatory English-speaking guide was trying to point out; we really just wanted to enjoy the formations for themselves, but that is not the Chinese way!
We had hoped to do some bicycling in the countryside and had hooked up with a great local guide named Daisy. With no let-up to the rain in sight, we decided to take our chances and head out in a light mist on reasonably good mountain bikes. We had managed to find a child's seat for Robin and a medium-sized bike for Adrian, so we were all set. Daisy led us down small rocky roads that meandered by rice paddies, past small carp fish farms, through small villages and finally to her home in a nearby village where she and her mother cooked us a delicious lunch including some of their ethnic group's specialties. After lunch, we took the scenic route home -- a 2 hour ride through pomelo orchards, along paddy dike walls, across river dams, all in the pouring rain. We arrived in Yangshuo cold, wet, muddy,and tired -- but exhilarated. It was a fantastic day. Adrian was a real trouper, slogging through the mud and rocky roads on a single gear bike and suffering the rain without complaint; even Daisy marvelled at his ability to manage the very tough terrain in extreme mud conditions.
All good things must come to an end and so we too must push on from Yangshuo. Next stop -- Yunnan province and the last leg of our journey in China.