“Bu Yao!” A phrase that we have come to know, and frequently use, by our second day in Yangshuo, a beautiful resort town downriver from Guilin. It means “Don’t Want!”, and, as you can imagine, something we have said a lot to the swarms of local vendors who seem to latch onto us as soon as we make eye contact. Today, we had a “free day”, although we already had planned yesterday to find the fabled “Uncle Sam”, and view the surrounding area of Yangshuo by mo-ped. After a great sleep-in and a surprisingly tasty breakfast of eggs and bacon, we headed down the crowded West Street to find some hint of Uncle Sam’s shop. After some awkward questioning and about 20 minutes of hard searching, we found “Uncle Sam’s Travel” shop wedged between two much larger shops.
A friendly middle aged man who identified himself as Sam warmly greeted us and asked us how he could help. Although we introduced ourselves as friends of Team China (last years group), Sam sadly did not remember last years group. He did, however, quickly run us through the options for the day trip, ranging from raft trips, bikes, mopeds, and, my favorite, hot air balloons. We ultimately decided, however, to do the traditional moped trip with a guide to Moon Hill and back. After meandering for about an hour while Sam prepared the mo-peds, we returned to meet our tiny but extremely lively guide Annie. After what seemed like no time at all Sam was ushering us down West Street on these foreign vehicles to pick up my larger “Big-Westerner” moped. All of us were slightly apprehensive at the prospect of navigating Yangshuo’s wild traffic on these little electrical bikes, and neither Annie nor Sam seemed to be picking up on it. With a far-too-calm “Ready?”, Annie whisked away amongst the whizzing traffic, leaving us slightly at a loss. After a quick glance Mark, Li, Allison and I reluctantly followed.
The city traffic was terrifying. Trucks, bikes, and cars in varying degrees of disrepair zoomed past us on both sides, the concept of street signs and laws seemingly lost to the Chinese drivers, who passed across the center of the road with complete disregard for their own safety and that of those around them. Honking was abundant. Finally, after many close calls, we navigated the hectic streets to come out into the main road leading to the country side, where the view was far more scenic, but the street no less dangerous. The white-knuckled ride to Moon Hill will be one I am sure I will never forget.
Arriving at the impressive formation, some of us decided they weren’t up to the hike (I’ll give you a hint, they're dating.) Allison and I however, headed straight up the stairs provided to the summit. We did not count, however, on divergent paths, and after climbing up the wrong path on a very steep incline for the better part of 20 minutes, we came to realize that we had actually gone up the wrong path. Yeah. So after much frustration we made our way back to the bottom and hiked our way up to the summit of Moon Hill, only to discover that, had we continued down the “wrong way” we would have eventually came back around the right way anyhow. Much frustration and exasperation ensued. But, Allison and I both agree that the view from the summit was well worth any consternation that we endured. (Look for pictures when I find a fast enough connection!)
On our return journey down the mountain, we ran into a very talkative but very friendly Brit who had been traveling out of his backpack in China since 2007 (!). He offered us loads of helpful information about most of the places we will be traveling, and was a great inspiration for us to experience China without any inhibitions. Meeting Annie, Li, and Mark at the bottom, we were informed that we would be taking a much more scenic trip back, going along many of the back roads instead. It was, quite simply, amazing. We took a road that led amongst many of the rice farms, passing farmers and small huts and houses along the way. It was an amazing eye-opener for me, especially in the sense that even amongst so much accelerated development that we had witnessed, there were still so many places in China in which its citizens lived in relative poverty. The sharp dichotomy between the overly developed and over-crowded city of Yangshuo and its surrounding rural community was simultaneously stunning and thought provoking. However, this lack of development did not seem to diminish the quality of life of these farmers, who wore ever-present smiles and cheerfully approached us and returned greetings of “Ni hao!” whenever we waved or pointed. I truly felt for the first time that I was experiencing the real China that only a trip such as this could provide. By being able to fully insert ourselves in the rural community in ways that the average tourist could not, we were able to get a small taste of what the true essence of China might be. The moped ride back was without question the highlight of the trip so far.
Finally returning to Yang-shuo almost 5 hours after we had left, we were overcome by an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and exhaustion. Lianna, however, still had her heart set upon taking a bamboo raft up the Li River, and although we ultimately decided against it today, she still plans to wake up early with Mark and try her luck by the docks. After a little more wandering and haggling along West Street, we were completely spent and decided to take some personal time and meet back up at dinner. I wandered the streets some more and struck up a conversation with one of the street artists, who actually was an art teacher at the University of Beijing but was in Yangshuo for New Years to provide instruction to younger artists. We chatted for about an hour about the trip, China, Politics, and America. It was a very cool conversation and great night. Meeting the guys again by the hotel, we decided to try a quaint little restaurant off of West Street called Lucy’s, where we met Lucy and were served some of the best spicy beef I have ever had.
And that brings us pretty much up to speed. It has been exactly a week since we left the States, which sometimes seems like an eternity, and yet the time has flown by. Even only a week into this trip, and I have had some of the greatest traveling experiences of my life. I miss you guys, and hope everything’s well. Shout out to Mr. Bourque, Mr. Kors, Mrs. Koppeis, and Mrs. Cheverie and all my classmates! Talk to you later.