On our last day in Yangshuo, we decided to go on one more bike ride through the countryside, heading partway up the Yulong river, then wrapping up with a Yangshuo tourism staple, a bamboo raft ride which would take us back towards town.
We approached our little trek with perhaps a little too much ease, learning once again never to ask, "what's the worst that could happen?" Due to a series of delays, including anti-malaria medicine-induced lucid nightmares of the worst variety (specifically, being back in high school) which forced me to sleep in, and an urgent need to stop at the Yangshuo McDonald's in order to pee in a toilet that wasn't a hole in the ground, we didn't get on the road until nearly 3:00.
Our route to the river took us through a few small villages like this. Passing through these rural ares had new meaning for me now, having witnessed how much history can be wrapped up in these communities through the oldest of mediums, collective human memory.
Yet my new-found connection to rural Chinese life did little to keep us from getting moderately lost. We ran into a couple from Virginia who were completely turned around, and I'm afraid my ability to very vaguely orient them instilled in me a false sense of knowing where I was.
Confident that within a ten minute ride we would reach the next village, the halfway point along the river between the rather large town of Baisha and Yangshuo, we pressed on. A good 45 minutes of riding later, we hit a suspiciously large town, with storefronts displaying signs like, "Baisha traditional restaurant," and "Baisha metalworks."
Realizing that I had mistakenly taken us twice as far as we wanted to go, and with the sun steadily dropping behind the surreal landscape, we decided to head for the nearby dragon vilage with the hope of catching a raft which would get us back to Yangshuo before sundown.
If you've ever spent more than ten minutes in Yangshuo as a tourist, you will have encountered someone approaching you aggressively with a handful of stock landscape photos, reciting the familiar mantra: "Hello, hello! Bamboo raft? You want? Hello! Very beautiful. Bamboo raft. I take you! Hello?"
After having spent over a week in Yangshuo, we had been conditioned to spot these people and move past them at full steam, vigorously shaking our heads. As we rolled up to the bank of the Yulong river on our rented bikes and surveyed the scene, my heart sunk - dozens of bamboo rafts, and not a single person in sight. Just as I began to envision our long ride back home along a dark rural highway, I heard a single voice from behind me. "Hello? Bamboo raft?"
"Yes," I said emphatically, "yes." Jesus Christ yes, bamboo raft. He threw our bikes on the back of his boat, rolled up his pant cuffs, and we were off. In the previous picture you can see the famous dragon bridge, which we did not intend to visit, and our savior with our bikes in the foreground.
The preceding picture is of the various bars and restaurants of dragon village, with their fleets of bamboo craft very wisely moored for the coming night.
Although the coming dusk brought a fresh chill to the river and new worries about how we were going to get home, it did provide the perfect conditions for some photos.
As we poled slowly along the glassy surface of the river, I casually asked our raftsman how far he could actually take us. It turns out he could only take us as far as Jiuxian, which turns out to be the actual halfway point between Baisha and Yangshuo, as well as the exact location from which I had insisted that we only had to go a little farther until we got to the halfway point.
We started to get a little worried about how we were going to get home. Our raft ride wouldn't be over until it was dark, and then we would only be halfway back. On top of this, we were hungry, under-dressed for the coming cold, and both really had to pee.
As we watched the breathtaking, unbelievable scenery drift slowly past, we paused between snapping pictures to tackle the problem in our own ways. Through Beth, I have learned that all New Yorkers are afraid of things like "nature," and "total darkness." While for me these things have often been my avenue of escape from things like "being grounded," for New Yorkers safety means brightly lit city streets and crowded areas.
While I struggled fruitlessly to figure out a way to get back to Yangshuo which wouldn't involve a very long, very cold, and generally very un-enjoyable ride through the countryside at night, Beth took on the important task of enumerating the various scenarios in which we would inevitably die in the barren Chinese countryside.
As night settled in, our raftsman, perhaps picking up on our anxiety, offered to call a driver to come and bring us back to Yangshuo for a reasonable price. For the second time that day, I emphatically accepted his services. Yet to our great dismay, after making numerous calls to his various acquaintances, he informed me that he was unable to convince anyone to come out so late.
It was completely dark when we reached our destination. I asked him if he knew what we should do, to which he said, "Don't worry, I'll go with you back into town in the 农车." I didn't know what a nong che was, but I knew that nong meant rural, and che meant car, and I figured the car part was all that mattered.
We stood around for a while, getting our hopes up as various cars and tractors passed by. A massive, dump truck-like vehicle rattled down the road towards us, making an incredible racket. "Uh, is that our ride?" Beth joked, laughing. "Yea, totally," I scoffed as the giant vehicle slowed to a halt in front of us, then began to back up to the edge of the dock.
"Hao!" Our new friend called out. "Come help with the raft!" The truck driver joined us in our struggle, and together we wrestled the bamboo raft onto the back of the nongche, all three of us getting soaked as the Yulong river streamed onto our heads from the hollows of the bamboo. We lashed our bikes on top, and Beth and I crammed into the front seat for our ride back to town.
Our dump truck ride was comically bumpy, made more so by the fact that the massive vehicle jumped around the exact same amount regardless of whether it was on a pothole-filled dirt road or a completely smooth paved surface.
We got dropped off at the edge of town, congratulated ourselves for being alive, and stopped at a vegetarian restaurant for deep-fried eggplant, soft egg tofu, and grilled broccoli covered in chili. The next day we would take an 18 hour train to Kunming.