The first afternoon we rode rickety bamboo rafts down the river, passing tombs built into the hill and facing the river for optimal feng shui. Each raft accommodated two people and was poled along the river by a poleman (?), the river’s current tugging us leisurely downstream. A light drizzle forced me to tuck my Nikon in my bosom but I snuck in the above shots between raindrips [sic]. Peaceful, unpolluted, pleasant, heavenly. PAL shared the ride and we chatted the whole way down. Enterprising locals sold beer, smoked fish on a stick, and photos from mid-river rafts, a Chinese Xochimilco minus the color and tequila.
Nestled in our “rustic” mountain retreat, we awoke to rain the next morning. PAL successfully reformatted our touring for the day and we ended up at Assembling Dragon Cave, where , after a short boat ride we saw stalactites and stalagmites galore. Unlike the caves I have been to in Brazil, it was downright spacious. So spacious, in fact, that they sold tchotchke mid-cave. With Mr. Understanding egging me on, I made my first cave purchase ever, a glow-in-the-dark rock in the shape of a crystal ball. How many people can say they’ve shopped in a cave??? Precious few, I am telling you.
In the afternoon, Mr. U and Thing 2 took a hike in the rain and Thing 3 and I toured a local market and attended a cooking class at the Yangshuo Cooking School. (Thing 1 stayed in to do homework). I have been to a lot of markets in my day but nothing prepared me for the dog hanging on a hook in the market or the furry jackrabbits being weighed and purchased for the evening meal. Herewith, the following surreal conversation with Tour Guide after leaving market, traumatized:
Me: So what kind of dog is used?
Tour Guide: Guard dog.
Me: Guard dog? What kind of guard dog? German shepherd?
Tour Guide: No, regular guard dog. Short-haired.
Me: So long-haired dog not for cooking?
Tour Guide: Right. Just guard dog.
Me: Hunh. You mean like the kind of dog over there, running alongside the road?
Tour Guide: Yes.
Thing 3 was thrilled to finally be able to wield a cleaver, under the watchful eyes of “Sally” the Cooking Instructor. Sallys worldwide run the kitchen it seems. This Sally had been using a cleaver since age 6 and had all of her digits. An avid learner, I must brag that Thing 3 showed a natural coordination in the kitchen, swishing the oil in the wok, chopping the veg, and keeping her area tidy. Much better than her mother. In the evening, Mr. U mixed it up, talking politics with a friendly bunch of Dutch tourists, while I nursed a cold in bed.
The weather cleared and the next morning we hiked up Moon Hill, each of us with a water carrying attendant. My personal Sherpa, as I liked to call her, was 51 years old and spry as a goat. She fairly pulled me up the mountain. To be fair, I had a bad cold but the huffing and puffing belied my slovenly physical state. More importantly, she held my hand all the way down the mountain so I would not fall. The love vanished, however, when we negotiated for postcards. Sigh…. My children and Mr. U clambered up the side of rock formations in the afternoon while I rested my lungs and sinuses at the hotel.
After bidding my family farewell on Sunday morning at the airport, PAL, her friend Swiss Miss (I say “her” friend because PAL likes to “compartmentalize her friends”) and I headed to the mountain village of Ping An to see the Longshen (Dragonback) rice paddy terraces. Our tour guide “Pill” failed to mention that it was a thirty minute hike to the “guest house” situated almost at the peak of the village (but not the mountain). For the second time in two days my feeble lung capacity was tested and found lacking.
I am going to leave you, dear reader, on the edge of your seat and next to our luggage before I take you up the mountain into God’s country. You are probably bored reading anyhow, and need to answer the phone or empty the dishwasher. I will leave you to these things. I promise to finish my travelogue this weekend. Adieu.