Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guilin and Yangshuo

What a trip! Dad, I just had one of the best times. Yangshuo and Guilin were so much fun and a definite must-see. Remember how I was originally assigned to Kunming? Well, that city is really close to Guilin and the cool mountains there, so I've wanted to see those mountains since I signed up to come to China. We left on Friday the 13th and actually caught some bad luck. We arrived in Guilin on a chilly morning when we were expecting it to be a warm vaca. The sleeper bus we took to get there was quite an adventure. At one stop we got off to stretch our legs and we got back on to see two beds put up between Bailey's, Barlow's, and Sarah's beds. Madi and I then moved to those beds so that the other three wouldn't have to spend the night cuddling with strange Chinese people. I was kept warmer because of the body heat, but comfort was not included in the trade. Tina said she looked over at one point during the 20 hour ride aboard the bus and saw Madi's long legs hanging over the edge, Bailey cuddling Madi, me hanging half way off the bed, and Barlow turned upside down.

It was 6 a.m. when we arrived in Guilin and when we discovered just how cold our weekend was going to be. I knew we could reach our hostel by walking, so we started- in the wrong direction of course. We stopped at another hostel and figured out how to get to the correct location. Once there and checked in, we climbed five sets of stairs with our numb limbs and pilled six girls on two beds. At the time, I didn't think I was tired, so I laid there squished against the wall listening to my iPod only to wake up three hours later- warm. But don't worry, Dad, we all got up and did more than regain normal body temperature and z's. We rode buses!! And lots of them! Our first destination was to the train station to get our tickets home. The hostel gave us correct directions. Our second destination was elephant trunk hill. The hostel did not give us correct directions. Our alternate second destination--McDonald's, for hot chocolate. Oh, did it taste and feel so good! We did some more bus riding without arriving anywhere at all, really. We took the hostel's directions to the commodities market to only find what looked like a massage parlor from the outside, but very well could've been featured in the movie Taken if the inside was a location. Creepy! We booked it out of there. But then we did find some sort of market where we all purchased items to help keep us warm, as we would be riding down a river the next day. I got a beanie, gloves, leggings, and a blanket and do not regret a single one of those purchases.
Even with all of the wrong buses that we had taken that day, we never did get lost. We always found our way back, thank goodness. As we got off our stop outside our hostel, Tina decided to smell something. She's very much into smells, Dad. It's quite funny, actually. A woman was holding pita/tortilla type things and Tina walked up to her, pointed to her nose and then the food item as she was speaking English that she was sure the woman didn't understand. To all of our surprise the woman said, "Try some." I literally took a step back I was so shocked. So Tina took a bite and decided that we all had to run across the street and buy these from the muslim men selling them on the corner. They were quite delicious. I ate a little bit of it there but wanted to save some for the tomato soup that the hostel offered for 12 yuan. With the soup it was delicious! It was then up to the room to attempt taking a shower in the cold air. I would've talked myself out of taking one because the shower was down the hall and the hall was not inclosed or indoors, but it was necessary. The shower was finicky and had moments of scalding hot and moments of icy cold, but the result was the same. I was clean. Our room had warmed up quite a bit because of the heater, so we were all able to sleep in our own beds that night.

The next morning, after bundling in our new purchases, we headed down to the lobby to rendezvous for our raft trip down the Li River. It was going to be us six and Bartos from Poland and Christine from Germany. Bartos had arrived in Guilin after being in Hong Kong, where it was quite warm. He got there in short sleeves and shorts. Now, he was wearing pants five inches too short for him, two zip up hoodies, and his sleeping bag wrapped around his middle. Quite comical if you ask me. It took us about an hour to get to the part of the river we would be entering at. Barlow, Bailey, Tina and I were on one raft and Madi, Sarah, Christine, and Bartos were on the other raft. It was one of the most bitter sweet rides I've ever been on. Remember when we were in Alaska and you wanted to go on the boat ride to see all the wild life and it was freezing? Yeah, this was pretty much that, but in China. And instead of seeing Alaskan wild life, we saw famous Chinese mountains, and instead of hot dogs on the river, we had fried rice. Staying warm didn't really happen. The only thing we could attempt to accomplish was not falling in the river, and at times that even seemed impossible. There was one instance where Barlow was out of her seat to get a picture and the driver left his post to persuade her to sit back down. In that short time, the raft was no longer going straight down the river, it was turning sideways and that's when water started coming up over the edge and he darted the two feet to get back to steering. I think every muscle in my body clenched. From then on I was always nervous of capsizing. At the end of the ride we took a Chinese version of an extended golf cart to the bus station where a bus proceeded to take us to Yangshuo. Walking in the rain from the station to our hostel was not the most pleasant thing, especially with our luggage, but it made it that much more sweet to actually arrive at our beloved hostel. And, oh, was it beloved. Free towels, internet, drinking water, breakfast, a heater, our very own bathroom and a great view. Best hostel so far. As great as it was, we couldn't miss out on West Street--the street our hostel was on that was loaded with all sorts of cute shops and cafes.
We wandered around looking at all the trinkets and items for sale. I tried several stores to get a North Face jacket down to the price I wanted it for. They were not budging. So we took a break and had dinner at Ryley's. I had lasagna, and it was every bit as good as home. With my belly now full, I headed out with a new determination to get that North Face jacket for the right price. Finally, a store offered me a jacket (not the version I was looking for, but still good) for a decent price and I got it. Then it was off to The Drifter's Cafe, where we had apple crumble, to show off my new purchase. That apple crumble was the topper to a wonderful day. You would've loved it, Dad! With the scoop of ice cream on top and the chilly air, it was like I was back at Girl's Camp and President brown had just dished me a good helping of his dutch oven apple cobbler. Yum! Needless to say, I slept well that night.
Tina, Barlow, Sarah and I woke up the next morning to go to the mudcaves. Yes, it was cold, but we weren't going to miss out on this, are you kidding me?! It was all a little sketchy getting there, but we got there just fine. To actually get into the cave we had to board a row boat. Kind of Harry Potter-esque. The sixth one, to be specific. It was a little chilly inside, but the further we went back to warmer it got. At the very end were some pools, so we changed into what we brought to get messy in. Barlow was the brave one and decided to jump in. The moment her head broke the surface of the water was the moment I realized I was okay not following her lead. Sarah wanted to get in as well, but she didn't want to jump, so she awkwardly slid/fell in. It was quite the sight. Love you, Sarah, but that was super funny. We then walked back to the mud to get all sorts of messy. We were unaware, however, that the mud bath was a foot deep. Probably a good thing. The mud felt so strange in between my toes. And who walks into the cave as we're playing in the mud but Bartos and Christine! It was nice to see them again. They were really cool. Before we could head to the hot springs, we had to wash all the mud off. Our guide made sure to point out any mud still on our bodies. The hot springs turned out to be more like bath water that was once hot and left standing for a half hour. Warmer than luke warm, but nothing special, other than the fact that it was very unclear where the water was originating.
Back to the hostel to shower! The real hot spring. My shower was pretty much a sauna. Glorious thing. The rest of the day was spent on West Street and eating at Ryley's, this time I got creamy spinach soup and garlic bread, and Drifter's for another apple crumble. We did not want our stay here to end. But the next morning we did have to get on a bus back to Guilin, where we barely made it to the train station on time. Or so we thought. We ran into the waiting room thinking we had missed it or would very soon miss it. Tina jumped over the rail and ran to find someone who spoke English to help figure out the situation. Turns out that everyone else in the waiting room was also on our train and that the train was late. And now we're back in Fuqing, safe and sound. How've you been, Dad? Hope you've had some adventures as cool as mine. Love you.

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