Bamboo Rafting & Hiking among Teeth of the Dragon

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
Trip End Aug 12, 2011

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Where I stayed
What I did
Early morning on Li River near Xingping
Xingping Town
Hiking along Dragon/Yulong River
Great Light Show

Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Thursday, August 4, 2011


The map of the Li River between Xingping Town and Yangdi Town has karst peaks with names that trigger my imagination: Yellow Cloth in the Water, Nine-horse Fresco Hill, Eight Supernaturals Crossing The River, Fish Tail Peak, Tortoise Climbing Up The Hill, Chicken Cage Hill, Lion Ascending The Five-Finger Hill, Grandpa Watching Apple, Wave Stone View, Pen Holder Peak, White Tiger Hill.   Collectively, they are called the Teeth of the Dragon because of their shapes.  I wonder if I will be able to recognize each one when I see them.  Before I learned these names, I saw Michael Kenna's photographic images of the Li River, where he has featured the simple dramatic shapes of these karsts with the calm Li River (he is one of my favorite landscape photographers).   Like on an animal safari this morning, Jack has planned our route via motorized bamboo raft so we can be in position at sunrise and the early morning to capture these karst shapes and the Li River before it is busy with tourist rafts.  

As our raft pulls up to a rock for viewing the sunrise, there is already a group of about eight Chinese photographers, set up with their tripods and big digital SLR cameras.  That would have been me if my camera had not died in the Huanglong rain.  So there I am with my iphone 4 with the TrueHDR app doing my thing and hoping for the best.   It’s a high drama landscape at this time in the morning, especially when a man on a bamboo skiff paddles across the water in the foreground of my image.  How absolutely cool!  I am so hoping that these images come out well!

We proceed along the Li River with the karsts revealing themselves as the river twists and turns.  In this morning calm we saw water buffalo soaking, ducks, horses being cleaned and women washing clothes in the river.  We try to identify the nine horses on the Fresco Hill and I conclude that one needs to use your imagination & if I didn’t know the name, I wouldn’t have a clue what I was looking at.   But maybe that’s the whole point, one needs to spend time sitting, gazing and observing and then perhaps the names reveal themselves.  And that’s the fun in peacefully exploring a place.  We stop and get off our raft and catch the reflection of a particular karst that was among Michael Kennas images.  Based on our light and water conditions, I choose my own composition.  Jack has done a great job of getting us to photogenic places at the best time of day and I really appreciate that he remembered our email discussion and made this happen.  By the time our raft returns to our starting location, many rafts are starting to launch.  Jack says there are over 1,000 rafts in this section of the river, but this morning we only saw about six. 

After a stop for a western style breakfast at a youth hostel in Xingping Town, we walk through the old town that is peaceful and charming.  A group of children are in a drawing class, all looking at a line drawing of perspective that the teacher had drawn.  Harvey points out that the drawings all look the same and that they are copying what the teacher has drawn.  It is propped against the end of a wall that has marks of the flood lines over the years.  We see a painter of fans and scrolls and learn that this is the family business – we will see more of this tomorrow in Fuli.  The doors to the homes are open and as we walk I gaze in and see Chairman Mao pictures prominently displayed.  I wonder after the hardships of his period in power that caused so much death and famine why he is revered in this manner in the countryside.  A shop is selling embroidered shoes similar to the pair we bought for me in Jiuzhaigou in various styles and colors; we question whether they are a really good price, if we overpaid or got better quality.  Who knows?  I do know that I will enjoy wearing mine.  Just as we are leaving old town, a tour group is entering.  Our timing is perfect!

Since we got such an early morning start, there is still hours to go before lunch.  Yesterday we rafted upstream of the Dragon Bridge and today we hike downstream along the Dragon/Yulong river on paths used by the locals.   We walk in the downstream direction so the sun is on our backs as this is better for photos.  The landscape through farm fields is a feast for my eyes and it is a real joy to explore.  In the peacefulness of this hike among the karsts reflecting in the rice fields, I had the time to reflect a bit on our life in contrast to the farmers, a life of solitude versus lots of interaction, living in the countryside versus the city, the strength of the mountains and the bounty of the land which is bursting with fruits, vegetables and rice.  I love to be in places where the land is like sculpture.  I wonder what it would be like to choose a physically beautiful landscape and stay for an extended time to experience it fully.  Maybe I should put that on my bucket list?

The variety of fruits and vegetables is amazing and it’s really fun to see crops that we eat as plants or trees growing in the ground.  I’m curious, so Jack points out a virtual cornucopia of produce including yellow corn, osmander flower, sesame, Chinese potato, lotus, eggplant, cotton, taro, peanut, green beans, persimmon, kumquat, loquat, pumpkin, cucumber, orange groves, pumello, chili peppers and a yellow skin fruit.  This walk triggers memories.   For a moment, I am back as a kid eating kumquats at our Sunday Chinese dinners with my parents – my father loved them for dessert.  We recall a farm stand that sold local produce outside of Boston that had freshly picked corn and vegetables from their farmland; it was the sweetest corn we had ever had.  We speculate whether we have ever had a persimmon, loquat, pumello or a yellow skin fruit.  Maybe we will have an opportunity while we are here in China.

After an afternoon nap, Jack and our driver pick us up for the Great Light Show in Yangshuo that highlights the minority culture (dress, dance, costumes), fishing and lights on the mountains.  The "Great" in the title must come from that there are 600 local people in the show. Or maybe that it has “great” audiences; there are 2 nightly shows and tonight there will be a total of 8,000 customers.  Let’s put this in perspective.  At the Summer Palace in Beijing there were 42,000 people the day we visited, Jiuzhaigou there were 22,000, so really this isn’t that crowded you might say.  About 95% of the tourists are Chinese.  Many of them come by bus from Guilin for the show and touring the area.  It is a testament to Jack’s planning that up until this evening we didn’t even have a clue that there were so many tourists in the area since he kept us on backroads or least visited times of the day at certain locations.  Thank goodness! 

Jack took care of our tickets and got us to our seat.  Jack told us to stand in a line in the parking lot.  I have no idea how he knew which line because there were so many.  Each one had a number, but since we did not have tickets yet we had no way of knowing where to go.  After a while someone starts leading the line into the theatre grounds.  As with everything in China this is on a huge scale.  You walk along a path until the group suddenly stops.  Someone goes off to pick up the tickets.  When he returns he hands you your tickets.  Again, I have no idea how he knows who gets which tickets.  The seats are reserved and Jack has arranged for us to get really good seats.  He guides us to the seats and we settle in.  Gradually people arrive and fill every seat in this enormous area.  We are at a bend in the river and look out at the river and Karsts in the distance. 

The entire economy of the city has been changed by this show.  There are 600 performers, mostly local farmers and fishermen.  The coordination of this many people is fantastic.  They have installed lights that shine on karsts in the distance.  They build and remove floating docks during the show.  They have lights on the costumes.  They have lights on the boats that are used.  The sound system is great.  This is a spectacle.

It ends exactly on time because there are only about 30 or 45 minutes before the next show starts.  This means that they need to get 4000 people out and then another 4000 people into the seats very efficiently.  Somehow this is accomplished, but we never did understand how anyone knew where they were going.

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