China, July 31, 2000
A kayak beats a tour boat any day
Into a woman-driven taxi (an odd sight for me) we jumped, showing our
tickets and making fast revving engine noises in a hope to cross Wuhan in
time. After a wild ride on rain soaked streets, cursing the Let's Go China
2000 guidebook for pointing us to the wrong train station (Wuhan has
three) as we went, Ma and I jumped out and ran through the mud and
peasants outside the station. Once inside, the look on the station
attendant's face told the sad truth ma and I needed to accept: we'd missed
Like the time I missed train to Hong Kong the next train to Guilin didn't leave till the following day. Rather than burn another day in Wuhan, we decided to fly because neither of us are masochist to take a Chinese sleeper bus.
I'd taken puddle jumpers before, but I was too young to remember those South American adventures outside of my parents' stories of pushing planes out of mud and sitting on dried fish cargoes. Now I have an adult memory, and the Soviet-designed Chinese-built turboprop was such a smooth flight, I almost forgot my fear of flying.
I highly recommend Wuhan Airlines, not for their un-researched safety record, but for the cool bottle opener and scented wooden hand fan the flight attendants gave us. Oh, and their laid-back style (napping during takeoff and landing) helps those of us who are still not convinced of that whole wing/lift/flight concept.
Anyway, Mom and I finally made it to Yangshou, the downstream and down market version of Guilin and yesterday we saw what all the fuss is about. With tree covered limestone pillars rising up from rice patties and a calm river, postcard photo ops leapt out at us from every turn in the calm, clear Li River.
Unfortunately, we were not alone. As we motored upstream with other cheap-o travellers, luxury ferries cruised downstream, packed with Chinese and foreign tourist who looked a little shocked to see us scopeing the scene on the cheap.
The PRC, in its infinite wisdom, decreed that only certified boats could make the entire Guilin-Yangshou route, charging obscene prices for the privilege. At $80, it is more for the three-hour Li river glide than Ma and I paid for our three-day Yangzi gorges cruise.
Today, in an effort to escape the oppressive tourist and tout onslaught all this beauty has brought, I kayaked downstream from Yangshou, and back in time to an era gone from most of the world.
On either side of the river, water buffalo soaked as villagers beat clothes clean on rocks or fished for eels along the river's bank. The calls of birds, humming of insects, and grunts of beasts were only broken by an occasional shout from a farmer coaxing his bull to make a turn or the flocks of domestic ducks surprised by my water-skimming form.
The government can keep the breath-taking tourist portion of the river, for Yangshou's real value to me is not in the majestic spires of green but the humble rhythm of daily life. Like the laughs of children as a kayak is spun and capsized by inquisitive boatmen more comfortable poling bamboo rafts than fiberglass tubes.