Picking up from where we left off on our rainy Yangshuo afternoon… the rain soon cleared and Alyssa and I headed out to explore the surrounding area on bikes borrowed from the hotel. As you may or may not know, I do not ride bikes as a rule. The last time I rode a bike, I almost got mowed down by a truck on a road in Santorini. The time before that, for no good reason, I just fell off my bike and landed on a snail next to a French road, smushing the snail and ruining the glove I smushed him with. I do not have a good track record with bikes and so I was a bit apprehensive about setting out on one again, but aside from a sore bum and some protesting thigh muscles, I actually did ok. We rode to a nearby cave that boasted incredible stalactites and stalagmites, as well as mud-bathing and a hot spring. I had forgotten about those latter 2 and really wanted to do them, so once we realized we rode back to the hotel, grabbed our suits, and returned to the cave, to the confusion and amusement of the workers there.
Since we were going to use the baths and spring, our guide insisted we change out of our tennis shoes and into these slip on sandals that provided exactly zero traction for the following climb and descent. We noticed that the Chinese tourists got to keep THEIR shoes. Hmph. And then of course we had to rent a locker for RMB10 to keep the shoes in. Double hmph. We had also asked if they had towels there, or if we need to bring our own. They had assured us they had towels, so we did not bring any from the hotel. As we changed into the sandals, we asked about the towels. Oh yes, they said, you can buy a small handtowel for RMB10 and a large one for RMB20 ($1.5 and $3, respectively). We stared at them open-mouthed and incensed. We settled on the handtowel, not because we were unwilling to spend the extra $1.50 but for the principle of the thing. Triple hmph.
Then we went into the cave with our guide, who spoke just enough English. The formations really were amazing, and, since it’s China, they had lit them all up garishly with rainbow colored lights. “This one is a Buddha praying,” explained the guide. “See, you can take a picture, like you are Buddha praying!” No thank you, we said. We moved on.”This is Mother’s Love Cave,” he explained (the formations looked like many breasts coming out of the ceiling). “See, you can take a photo touching them, like this! People think it’s funny!” No thank you, we said. “Here is rebirth hole, ” he pointed out – a small crevice in the wall that barely looked like it would fit a human. “You can crawl through it and come out the other side! Why don’t you go?” No thank you, we said. Then he took us to the Dragon Throne, which really was awesome. “You can climb up on it and take photo!” He said. We did. I think he was relieved.
Then we went to the mudbath, which Alyssa declined but I waded right in. The mud was supposed to be full of minerals and very good for your skin. It just felt cold and squishy to me. Then I sprayed off and we soaked in the hot springs for a few minutes. Then we were faced with the greatest challenge of the day: how to dry off with our miniscule RMB10 hand-towel. We stood there in the cave, Alyssa and I, dripping, pondering the small rectangle. Finally Alyssa said, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I think this is the most fair way for us to both dry off with this towel. I’ll take a swipe, like this” (she dried her right arm) “and then you take a swipe” (I did my right arm) “And then I’ll take a swipe” (left arm). At this point we were giggling uncontrollably at the absurdity of the situation we had found ourselves in. We did manage to get relatively dry, and were so proud of ourselves that we had someone take this photo of us outside the cave with our towel.
That evening we headed into town again to see the much-touted show, Impressions Sanjie Liu. It is directed by the same director who did the Beijing opening ceremonies, and was supposed to be a masterpiece of light, sound, and water, with the mountains and river as a backdrop. It was all in Chinese, so we didn’t understand a thing, but it was a true spectacle, with over 600 Chinese performers. A photo could not capture the magic of it, so here is a short video from youtube (not mine): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DI17tIt4Ukg. And the whole thing, if you are so inclined: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SEsjlNM8VM
The evening ended with dinner, my failed foot massage, and the “turnip truck” incident with the cab driver who thought he could swindle us. As if.
Oyster sauce! Garlic! Ginger! Chile!
On our last day in Yangshuo, Alyssa and I took our long-awaited-for Chinese cooking course. It took place in this tiny country town about 20 minutes outside Yangshuo; chickens walked the streets and there was not a shop to be seen, but the scenery was spectacular.
There was an American family of 4 and 3 Australians in our cooking group, and our teacher, Amy, had perfect English and an awesome cooking-school set up. We made several dishes, whose recipes I will share at some point in future posts because they were SO. GOOD, and simple. Dumplings, cashew chicken (I recreate the recipe here), sauteed bok choy, Guilin eggplant, and beer fish, a local specialty. I also learned an incredible thing about ginger. Did you know that if you peel ginger and cut in into big chunks, you can smash it with the flat of a knife like a garlic clove? It explodes in a rather magnificent way and significantly reduces chopping time! Garlic, ginger, oyster sauce, and mild red chiles are the staple of Guilin cuisine, and appeared in some combination in every dish, yet amazingly each dish tasted unique.
Stuffed full and armed with recipe books from the school, Alyssa and I returned to the hotel to see a few final sights.
We rode to the nearby Moon Rock, which, as you can see, is so named because of the moon-shaped formation at the center. We huffed up 80+ flights worth of stairs to get to the top, where we were badgered my frail old women to buy water. We didn’t need any, but I had to admire them – they looked at least 70 (although quite possibly they were much younger) and still hiked up this mountain every day to hawk cool drinks, no doubt with those cool drinks strapped to the coolers they carried on their backs.
All the climbing and the pestering was worth it though – the view from the top was incredible:
After we climbed down, we stopped to buy strawberries on the side of the road – the area was covered with strawberry fields – and took one final bike past the hotel, to a sleepy little village with yet more beautiful scenery. I got distracted by a cow in a field and almost crashed my bike, reminding me again why I DO NOT RIDE BIKES! But I’m still glad I did, because I got to see this:
After one final pot of the amazing ginger tea, we bid farewell to beautiful Giulin and Yangshuo. If I ever return to China – and I happily would – I definitely think I would come back. I left a great deal undone and unseen, even more reason to return.
And now…. off to Beijing!