Road, river and rail
24 Sep 2004
|Last night I was having a very yummy duck and mushroom stir fry, and got talking to this local woman who offered to be my guide round the countryside today (for less than four quid for the whole day). Her name (in English, I can't remember it in Chinese) is Phoenix, which I thought was a really cool name. She is also rather good-looking. But before you get any ideas, we had the usual discussions about family, etc, and as I think I said before, it just couldn't happen here anyway.
Anyway, she was very nice, and I wouldn't have easily been able to do what we did today without her help, partly as there are no decent maps! Also because they speak some language round here (about 60,000,000 of them do), but many don't speak Mandarin, so I would have had problems in these rural bits we spent the day in.
So we hired these two mountain bikes (just over a quid for both of us for the day). And proper bikes too, Both brakes working, no rattling, and mudguards. But best of all, gears! 18 of them! And shocks front and back! Brilliant! And I had such a lot of fun on that bike today, great feeling whizzing along, a real feeling of adventure, freedom, and being in control of my destiny. Amazing what a few gears can do.
We rode out into the countryside, on quieter and quieter lanes, amongst paddy fields and these fabulaous karst peaks, the best I have ever seen, the place is just so packed and crowded with them. We rode to this spot on a smaller river, and then transferred ourselves and the bikes to this largish, but very wobbly bamboo raft, and headed off downstream. This was a very mellow and pleasant experience, punctuated by the periodic excitement of going straight over the weirs without stopping, causing the raft to go right under, and water to wash along it (while we climbed up on our chairs and hung on).
Then some more riding through ace countryside, lunch, and Phoenix left me at this cave while she went back to town. She wanted to stay in order to see me back safely, but I didn't see the point. I think she must be used to pretty pathetic foreigners. Anyway, perhaps she was right to worry about my safety, though I don't know what she could have done anyway.
Being a lone person, I was attached to a group of young urban Chinese tourists, who were worried I must be lonely (they all worry about this, bless them). So first of all we had to swop our shoes for those nasty plastic sandals they give you in cheap hotels in your room. Then we all piled into these hugely overloaded punts, that nearly capsized with each new person - making all the Chinese girls shriek - though in fairness, like all Chinese, they don't really seem to fear either hardship or danger. Next was really the best bit, as we punted into this low roofed flooded cave system.
And then we explored this huge system for a couple of hours. It wasn't at all developed, and there were huge drops, deep pools, slippy paths, etc. Everyone slipped or fell at least once, including me, though no real mishaps. It was all rather good fun, except when people kept pulling me away from awesome cave formations to look at piles of rock that maybe looked like something if you shone your torch right - a bit of an obsession with the Chinese. As far as I could work out this is mostly what the guides were doing, no history or geology, etc.
And then a really nice ride back to town at high speed on my fab 18 gear bike, dodging water buffalo, every type of vehicle coming from every direction, and the usual accident still in the middle of the road.
Outside my hotel in the daytime is a local's market, and in the evening is this fantastic scene very like that in the cental aquare in Marrakesh, where there are hundreds of stalls selling food chosen and cooked there, though mostly it is stuff I don't want to see, never mind eat. A bit of a drink with Peter later, and then an earlyish night.