Pingan guangxi today (sept 12) is tonya's ...

Trip Start Apr 01, 2001
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, September 15, 2001


Today (Sept 12) is Tonya's birthday and as a special treat we will be spending the entire day on Chinese buses!

On the minibus to Guilin there was a man with two sacks which kept wriggling. At first we thought he might be transporting snakes, but he kept opening the bags and putting his hands inside, so it had to be something less dangerous. They turned out to be full of harmless little bunny rabbits.

The minibus dumped us at an unknown location somewhere south of Guilin train station. Luckily we chose to walk in the correct direction and managed to find the long distance bus station. We went to the ticket office and showed the woman the Chinese characters for "Longshen". She gave us two tickets, but they didn't say Longhsen on them. We tried to double check that she had understood our destination, but she just got stroppy and grabbed the money from Tonya's hand. Here's hoping we are on the right bus.

We had to put our backpacks in the luggage compartment under the bus. When the driver opened it, it looked as if he had been carrying a bag of cement dust that had split. We could hardly see for dust. Anyway, we threw our packs in and got onboard.

The bus was rather smart with air-conditioning and a TV. As soon as the engine started the TV came on with VCD Karaoke... "Please, No! Not four hours of Chinese karaoke!"

As soon as we got outside of Guilin town we hit some roadworks. The road just disappeared and we started driving on a temporary unpaved raod. There were people cracking boulders with pick-axes at the side of the "road" and piles of gravel in the middle of the "road". Perhaps these were lane markings, but, if so, no one was paying any attention to them.
This "road" continued in its under-construction state all the way to Longshen. Instead of using cones to mark which areas to avoid, the Chinese rest bamboo poles across the road which we assumed meant "Road Closed". Apparently it didn't mean this at all, because our bus just drove around the side of the obstruction and continued its route to Longshen.

At one point the road was blocked by a huge landslide, and we had to wait for the workers to clear a path wide enough for our bus to sqeeze through. We thought the bus was going to tip over, since we were tilted at such a steep angle because of the mounds of earth and rocks that we were driving over.

Becasue of the landslide delay, we didn't arrive in Longshen until after dark. We were praying the entire journey, but after it got dark we were both convinced that the end was nigh!

By some miracle we made it to Longshen without so much as a flat tire! We spent the night at the Riverside Hotel, which was a complete dump. It's selling point is that "you can watch the comorant fishing from your balcony" but, by the time we got there, the fishermen were long gone... only the mosquitos remained.

Next morning the lady at the hotel was kind enough to flag down the Pingan bus for us. This is a new bus service which isn't mentioned in any of the guidebooks. It leaves Longshen at 9:20am and goes directly to the village of Pingan, at the top of the Rice Terraces, thereby avoiding the one hour uphill climb. Since we had our backpacks with us we didn't fancy that climb.

At least the road from Longshen to Pingan is paved, but it is a typical mountain road... 2 hours... 108 bends and very steep drop-offs. The views were incredible - stepped rice terraces for miles and miles.

Thirty minutes before we arrived in Pingan we started seeing villages of large wooden houses on stilts, and Yao women by the side of the road. These women wear brightly coloured clothes - fuschia tops and black skirts with lots of colourful embroidery on. They have incredibly long hair - to the floor - which is all piled up on top of their heads and tied with an embroidered scarf.

At the Li Qing Guest House in Pingan village were 6 Australians all chatting away excitedly. They have been travelling the world by bicycle and performing puppet shows at local schools. We watched the Aussies rehearse a show. The idea is to teach the kids a little bit of English... the alphabet, counting to 10 etc. It was quite amusing, especially watching the faces of the local women who gathered to watch. They didn't know what had hit them - crazy Australians doing impressions of dogs and sheep. There was also a hyperactive Chinese man called Mr Wong. He speaks good English and chose this hotel for his month's holiday because it is listed in several Western guidebooks and has a constant stream of English speaking backpackers for Mr Wong to practise his English on. Mr Wong speaks really fast, and screws his eyes up with excitement. He never shuts up and speaks very loudly. He is also an authority on English languge guide books and can quote pages by heart. He also takes great delight in identifying mistakes in these books.

Our room (2 beds) is costing us Y10 ($1.25) each - a bargain! But then again, in this wooden "house on stilts" the doors don't have metal hinges, just wooden pegs which rotate in their sockets with an almighty groan whenever anyone opens or closes a door. Also the floorboards are really long - extending from under our beds, out into the corridoor - so everytime someone walks along the corridoor there is a kind of seasaw effect and our beds almost lift into the air!

In Pingan we saw some interesting things:-

- The villagers are building a new house on stilts. We watched the whole village working together to hoist the six supporting frames (stilts) into position. It was incredible. The whole frame is made from wood, and bound together with some kind of vine. There were two men at the top of the frame with it hooked around their necks. They basically walked up a vertical pole pulling the frame into place.

- A man passed us carrying a bamboo pole across his shoulders with two large pig's legs, one hanging from each end. He was followed by a woman with a similar pole but with one leg and the pig's head danging off her pole. Another man followed with a bucket of blood.

- At a bridge we saw a calf on the floor with all four feet bound together. Three villagers dragged the calf's head over the stream, and shoved a 15 inch knife into its neck, then caught the blood in a washing-up bowl. At least we know the stri-fried beef will be fresh tonight.

At the Li Qing we met an Australian called Dan and decided to walk with him to the next village called Longji. From there we would walk to Jinjiang where Mr. Wong informed us we could catch a bus to Hepin, then change for the Guilin bound bus.

At 10.30 am we set off, loaded up with all our gear; backpacks on the back, daypacks on the front. Our packs were extra heavy as we were carrying several litres of water for the hike.

We must have taken the wrong path out of Longji becuase we found ourselves high up on the rice terraces. We could see Jinjiang and the road where the bus runs miles below us. It was, by now, damn hot... 35 degrees and 100% humidity and we were hiking uphill in the mid-day sun... going the wrong way. We kept hoping to find a path that headed down, but we didn't.

We discussed, then dismissed, the idea of hiking across country... wading through the paddy fields, destroying the rice crops, and having to climb down the terraces. Tonya had already fallen over twice and we didn't want to increase the risks of having a broken leg to deal with. We had also seen two dead snakes on the path, and didn't fancy stepping on a live one in a paddy field.

Eventually a local man came walking towards us. He was barefoot and had a huge bundle of sticks on his shoulders. We asked for directions to Jinjiang and he pointed back in the direction we had just come from. We were going precisely the wrong direction, and wasting energy and water in the process. The man motioned for us to follow him, then headed off at a jog under his unlit bonfire. We, with our scientifically calculated wieght-distribution-system, ergonomically-designed backpacks and sturdy walking boots, stumbled along behind, exhausted!

After a while, the man stopped and pointed to a path which lead downhill. Finally we were on the right path, and we could see Jinjiang and the road ahead of us; and it was all downhill. We threw caution to the wind and drank what remained of our water and headed down the path. It wasn't long before we had to take a rest beak. Going down steps constantly, with an 80 litre pack on, fully loaded with heavy crap like guidebooks made our legs turn to jelly. Part of us was glad we'd drunk all the water - at least we didn't have to carry it , and part of us longed for a sip of water. We stopped near a bamboo pipe carrying water to a paddy field and Tonya stuck her head under the flow of water. There was a woman working in the field and we asked her the way to Jinjiang (just to check our directions) she pointed back uphill where we had just come from!

Tonya sat on the floor on her pack... there was no way she was going to walk back up all those hundreds of steps - especialy without any water. Paul filled our water filter from the bamboo pipe, and Tonya filled a 1.5 litre water bottle. We really hoped we wouldn't have to resort to drinking this river water. We were downstream from Pingan and Longji, and there was nowhere else for the villages' waste to go. Tonya laid on the floor with her head on her pack wanting to sleep and we dicussed what to do. Our options were:

a) head back uphill as the peasant woman instructed us to.
b) continue downhill to our right.
c) continue downhill to our left.
d) erect our tent, filter stream water and wait until someone else comes along... hopefully with a helicopter to fly us all the way to Yangshuo!

Just as Dan and Paul voted to head downhill to the right (Tonya was voting for staying put and at least getting an hour's kip) two boys arrived. They said that Jinjiang was indeed downhill on the right hand path - Yes!

Somehow we found the energy to carry on. At the bottom of the steps was a shop selling cold bottles of water, cans of coca cola etc. We bought several each, guzzled them sitting outside the shop, and waited for a bus to Hepin.

At Hepin we caught the Guillin bus. We made the mistake of sitting at the back of the bus. This was a metal bench with a thin bamboo mat on it, and no cushion at the back. Every bump we went over made us fly off our bench, then slam back onto it. We had to sit leaning forwards to prevent slamming our coxyx into the metal bench. Each time the driver hit the brakes our backs hit the metal edge of the seat right under our shoulder blades... Ouch! The 4 hours to Guilin were again on the "road under construction" and we were beginning to appreciate some of the physical hardship and exhaustion that is part of daily life for so many Chinese people. Looking out of the window we reminded ourselves that what we were feeling was nothing by comparison... There were people the whole length of our 4 hour journey working barefoot and shirtless building this road with no machinery. Men and women were using pick-axes to break boulders into gravel, digging trenches with tiny gardening trowels or in some cases with their bare hands. We wondered if this was some kind of forced labour, or if these people volunteered to do this, and if so, what they get paid? Occasionally we passed people sleeping along the side of the unmade road. Was this Chinese shift work, or had they just expired in the oppressive heat, dust and humidity?

At Guilin we caught a sleeper bus to Yangshou. We had been thinking about taking a sleeper bus to Hong Kong (14 hours), so we were glad for the oppurtunity to experience the one hour trip to Yangshuo.

The bus has double bunk beds on both sides of a narrow aisle. The double beds are just under 3 feet wide, and four feet long. This means that you get a space 18 inches by 48 inches for you and all your luggage. That is assuming you squish right up close against your bed-fellow (who can, of course, be a chinese peasant who just spent all day smashing rocks with a pick-axe, and who has never even heard of deodorant!). We shared a bottom bunk which are alledgedly more comfortable than the upper bunks. Tonya could almost sit up on the bed, but only if she kept her head bowed. Paul had no chance... he couldn't sit or lay, or fold himself into the minute space. Now we understand why China produces some great contortionists... it is a requirement for sleeper-bus travel!

One bunk behind us and across the aisle was Dan who had somehow managed to sort of lay down. Two Chinese men got on and sat on his bed with him, facing into the aisle. The instant they sat down we heard the hacking and throat clearing that should, by rights, be the Chinese National Anthem. Then one guy spat a hefty lump of phlegm into the aisle. Tonya was feeling pretty sick from exhausion and bumpy bus rides already, and feared this might be the final straw. She opened her window as wide as it would go - at the risk of rolling out of it - and started popping Tic Tacs in an attempt to quell the waves of sickness. Then the Chinese man lent forward into the aisle, placed one finger over one nostril and blew violently - clearing the open airway and sending a delightfull globule of snot to join the phlegm already on the aisle floor. At this point Tonya emptied all the remaining Tic Tacs into her mouth and concentrated hard on not throwing up. The Chinese man continued blowing his nose onto the floor for 38 minutes straight... (Tonya timed him as something to occupy her mind!) and no one said anything to him. Imagine the abuse you would get from fellow passengers if you did that in London - you can't even drop a chewing gum wrapper without someone pointing it out to you.

Needless to say, we will NOT be traveling to Hong Kong by sleeper-bus!
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