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20051219_P_0034
Limestone rocks around Yangshuo
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Old (Ming dynasty) streets of Xingping

I woke today feeling pretty foul and full of cold so we had a slow start and a Chinese breakfast in the hotel café downstairs – dumplings, tea, soya bean milk and a kind of doughnuty type bread. Across the street was an agency offering tours so we went to find out about boat trips on the river to enjoy the karst landscape and the possibility of getting out and about into the local villages. Both of course are possible for a fee. The chap behind the desk spoke good English and was friendly enough but I think we were both wondering if we had been suckered and whether we would get value for money.

We opted to do the Li River trip this afternoon and were bundled down to the little local bus station for a bus to Xingping, about forty minutes away. AS in South America, the bus quickly left the station but then spent tem minutes crawling through town trying to pick up extra passengers before it finally picked up steam and headed off. People came on board with big sacks of shopping, I would have loved to have a peak inside, and babies strapped to their backs.

The route to Xingping went through a flat agricultural plan with limestone karsts in the background as far as you could see. The villages along the way were smaller gatherings of brick houses with brand new white painted three storey buildings standing out oddly a few times along the way. For villages that are so dusty and dirty I am always surprised that the local people seem to have a knack for keeping dust free.

Compared to the villages Xingping was large. It had a wide central street, lined with shops, leading up to a square where the bus depot is. We were met off the bus by a lady who only spoke Chinese and were taken around the backstreet to a little café and here the fun began. The first plug was to try and get us to buy lunch. Even if we had been hungry the answer would have been “no” as it did not look like the most hygienic of places.

We were then told that there were more people coming on the next bus out of Yangshuo and that we would have to wait for thirty minutes before the boat would leave, unless we wanted to pay an extra Y40 (we paid Y100 in total for the trip) to go now and have the boat to ourselves. We decided to wait which prompted the lady to come back every five minutes or so with a different story. The four people who were definitely on the next bus dwindled to two and they were then just coming to have a look and may not even go on the boat trip.

All in all it was just a scam to get more money out of us. We bargained them down to Y20 and said we would go now. We were then marched through the village and out the other side to where there was actually some water, as the levels in the river were very low. A few stalls lined the riverbank selling drinks and the inevitable stuff for tourists. The boat was a flat bottomed affair that looked like it was probably a cargo or fishing boat in an earlier life. Inside there were some tiny fold up chairs, all folded away, and no attempts were mad to get any out for us. As we handed over our extra Y20, a young lady asked if she and her father could join us. We were happy fro them to do so but our boat was pushed away before they could get on board or we could retrieved our Y20. It is obviously a well rehearsed ploy.

We cruised up and down for about ninety minutes taking in the scenery. The whole area is simply surrounded by limestone karsts and each bend in the river we went round yielded more stretching out into the distance ahead of us. Water buffalo were grazing along the river banks and on our way back we had to stop to let them cross in front of us. Here too the tour groups were out and about in force and we passed other boats packed with Chinese people. A little motor boat with four Westerners on board had ground to a halt in the river but had managed to get going again by the time we had turned around to head back. The trip was stunningly beautiful but it was marred by the noise of the diesel engine below us rattling away.

Back at the village there was another attempt by the “guide” to get us to eat in he café but again we declined. We were marched back through the village by a different route through some of the old parts of town. Here people lived in small dark houses, cooking on a small stove outside the door and with various bits of animals hung out to dry on the balconies overhead. The place almost had a medieval feel to it.