Tuesday, June 17, 2008

China Day 18: In Which They Send Us Down the River. Very Fast.

This has been a long, long day!

We put our bags out early in the usual leaving-the-hotel routine. Breakfast was easier to find today, having been moved back to the main floor where it belongs now that the conventioneers have departed. Once we were fed, we boarded the bus for our Li River cruise, which I've been looking forward to for a long time.

The longevity of the inhabitants seems to be a point of pride in every part of China. On the way out of Guilin, Cherry told this joke about the local people: A man met a little old lady crying bitterly by the side of the road. He asked, "Why are you crying, Grandma?" She answered, "Because my father punished me." He asked, "Why did he punish you?" and she replied, "For fighting with my grandparents!"

We drove about half an hour out of Guilin and boarded the boat:
This is the lower level, where we will eat lunch during the cruise. The upper level consisted of an observation deck.

Today's weather is reasonable: mist shading into light rain, but you could deal with it. While we were waiting to cast off Fred passed around pictures of his family, "Mrs. Fred" and "Frederica". They're a cute family! During our Yangtze cruise, we expressed a lot of interest in the dog that Fred's ladies acquired during his absence; it's a white fluffy thing that Fred hadn't had a chance to see yet but they emailed him a picture on his phone. He seemed sort of resigned to the things his family does when he's on the road.

Dad and I sat downstairs chatting with our tablemates for a few minutes but soon went up top to jostle for position at the rail. I secured a good vantage point and started admiring and taking pictures.
We were alone on the river except for a few other similar boats carrying tourists through this beauty spot. Well, we were alone except for these guys,
local entrepreneurs who brave the river on low-lying rattan rafts, pulling up next to the tour boats and attempting to sell apples and trinkets to the passengers.

We haven't gotten to "the pretty part" of the river yet, but it looks nice enough to me! The karst mountains rear up out of the ground in an outrageous manner, and they're tastefully decorated with mist and cloud so they resemble my beloved scroll paintings:
About half an hour into the cruise, we stopped to pick up hitchhikers. Okay, they were really just hikers who had made arrangements to be picked up at a certain point on the river. It was funny, though: one of the raft vendors happened to be hanging onto the side of the boat at the time,
and he just refused to let go when they started to pull in to shore! The boat crew yelled, and presumably cussed him out in Chinese, but he still didn't relinquish his position. The boat boss practically shoved him up on the bank broadside:
but he maintained his grip. The captain eventually gave up and nosed in to the dock to let the hikers board:
I'm not sure what the raft guy thought he was accomplishing.

A little later we passed close enough to another passenger boat to get a view of the kitchen area on its stern:
If that girl is really washing the dishes in river water, the way it looks, it could go a long way towards explaining what happened the next day.

We saw some of the consequences of the heavy rainfall the local area got recently. Temporary waterfalls gushed out of the hillsides in several places:
and flood wrack was piled on the white pillars - channel markers? - placed periodically along the river:
The invisible consequence of the flood waters was that we were traveling about 25% faster than normal. What would have been a leisurely four-hour excursion was accomplished in three hours flat.
Just before they called us to lunch we entered a truly spectacular section of the river where we saw the "Nine Horse Fresco Hill" - it's coming into view on the right here:
The astute observer - or maybe the imaginative one - can see nine outlines of horses on this huge cliff face.
I had no problem seeing the head and neck of the horse at the top center, and the one directly below him, but I admit I couldn't discern the other seven. It was awful pretty, anyway!

During the undistinguished lunch we passed through more spectacular scenery, but it was hard to take pictures through the windows. It's a shame, too, because this was about the only time I saw rice paddies and water buffaloes and I wanted to get some pictures of them! These photos
aren't much.

Once lunch was over we went back up on deck, where the rain was getting a bit heavier but the fresh air was lovely. We chatted for awhile with an energetic young couple who spent yesterday at the Dragon Back Rice Terraces, one of the places I really regret not getting to see. The enormous rice-paddy terraces go up and down the sides of the mountain - the photographs I've seen look amazing.

I got a laugh when we passed these folks out getting a rain tan. I guess they're unwilling to waste any of their vacation by staying indoors!
I want to say a word about Fred. He has been tireless in taking care of this tour group the whole time we've been together. This picture shows him in his most characteristic attitude:
He's on the phone - in the exact geographical center of nowhere - making arrangements and solving problems at every turn. If he's not talking with the place where we'll eat dinner tonight, arranging a special meal for one of our companions who can't have MSG, he's checking on transportation or making sure the guide in the next city is ready or something of the sort. He's really been great!

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