Day 4: A THOUSAND GRANDMAS
After waking up and having a quick Western-style breakfast, we met up with Linda and Mr. Deng (the driver) at 8am and made our way out of Guilin City. Of course, getting out the city wasn’t easy because there were lots of cars, scooters (not so many bicycles), and people everywhere.
Linda was lamenting that of the four major bridges in the city, at least three of them have some kind of construction being done to them which was further adding to the gridlock.
Now this was the Guilin that sold both Julie and I on coming here as opposed to the urban chaos from last night and this morning. Further adding to the allure of the scenery was that today was a beautifully clear and sunny day.
Linda said that today we were getting the north wind so that kept the mist away. There were also several consecutive days of heavy rains before we arrived so we noticed lots of water in those rice paddies and street gutters.
It wasn’t until around 9:30am that we arrived at the car park for the Crown Jewel Cave. While there, we could see across the Li River more karst peaks backing the scenery as well as the many tourist boats making the obligatory journey from Guilin to Yangshuo. Apparently, that’s going to be us on one of those cruises tomorrow.
At first, we walked along a paved walkway that was flanked by some kind of Disneyland Autopia-like self-driving “rollercoaster” tracks. We thought that was a bit of a strange juxtaposition, but I guess different strokes for different folks.
After getting to the end of this straight walk, we took an entrance that required a real quick boat ride into a quiet entrance after climbing up a few stairs. Apparently, Linda wanted us to take this entrance and walk in a direction opposite the ubiquitous big group tours, which we knew the Chinese are notorious for.
Just before we entered the cave, we looked back at the karstic scene one last time as we simply couldn’t get enough of that stark juxtaposition of sharply rising bush-clad peaks with a wide river fronting it all. This all whetted our appetite for the Lijiang River Cruise we were to do tomorrow so we were hoping the weather would stay cooperative.
Inside the dark cave, it was immediately apparent that there were lots of “bells and whistles” per se inside to add a little spice to the tourist experience. I guess you could argue that any cave with lighting has to have some unnatural manmade element (e.g. the artificial lighting) to it or else you couldn’t see a thing.
The thing with this cave was that this “necessary evil” was taken another step further given that the lighting scheme used was of the rather fancy colored lighting variety complemented with sound effects accentuating some of the stories and signs being pitched within.
Deep inside the cave, there was even a row boat ride through some real dark parts of the cave. It definitely lasted longer than our Waitomo Caves experience in New Zealand a long time ago. Too bad this cave didn’t have any of those glowworms though.
On the other side of the boat ride, we immediately started to hear the loud roar of a waterfall. So we descended down even more ramps and stairs until we eventually got to an apparent ticket stand right in front of the entranceway to the underground waterfall. I guess our entrance admission didn’t include the waterfall and we had to pay another 5 yuan each to go further and experience the very reason why we went to the Crown Jewel Cave in the first place.
I guess getting nickeled and dimed wasn’t new as we saw how there were condoms, extra toothbrushes, and other amenities for a fee in our hotel bathroom in Universal Guilin Hotel in Guilin City.
Anyways, we took what photos we can with the tripod without getting too much mist on the camera lens. But when Julie and I tried to take couple shots of ourselves before the falls, a large group of Chinese tourists came in and a pair of women walked right in front of our photo and insisted on staying there.
Even after Linda and later Julie tried to get them to move (and this was after we let them take their photos), they seemingly weren’t very responsive to their requests so we just took what compromised photos we could and continued on with our tour.
We’ve come across rude Chinese tourists before even in Yellowstone, but I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, when you have 1.25 billion people, sometimes survival requires a little bit of insistence at the expense of courtesy.
I recalled how my grandma (coming from a poor rural area in Sichuan province) exhibited similar behavior, and my mom warned me that China was like a thousand grandmas where we had better expect this kind of behavior and act accordingly, or else… So we considered ourselves warned.
Next, we drove towards the Gudong Waterfall not far from here.
The plan was to beat the tour groups and have our lunch first. We’d visit the waterfall later.
After arriving at the car park, we walked further into the area, where we crossed a bridge and continued walking alongside some kind of “lake”. The walk was entertaining because there was a lady on a raft singing some Chinese songs (sounding somewhat like some of those Chinese operas) to anyone who’d listen on the walking path. Some Chinese tourists even recognized some of the songs and sang along.
The lunch consisted of catfish with some familiar cooked green spinach-like vegetables, some kind of Chinese egg omelette, soup, and white rice. It really reminded us of the types of home cooked meals we had growing up. And after overeating in Hong Kong, we didn’t mind this more “organic” homey meal while limiting our portions.
After the lunch, Linda, Julie, and I proceeded to walk to the Gudong Waterfall. The well-developed concrete path went right through some pretty dense jungle. It definitely felt pretty naturesque so far with the exception of the concrete beneath our feet, but then when we got to the first waterfall, we could see that bolts were put in to facilitate climbing from paying customers for the waterfall climb with their gear.
In actuality, this waterfall was more like a series of limestone waterfalls. It was very reminiscent of our Erawan Waterfall experience in Thailand as there was one waterfall after another the higher up you go.
The difference with this waterfall was that there was a waterway path where you actually walk in the creek and up the waterfalls all the way through. We took the dry path since we’re more interested in getting a flavor of the place and we didn’t want to risk damaging our camera as well as other valuables. Besides, we had a busy day today.
Now as I was mentioning earlier about the initial part of the walk being somewhat quiet and naturesque, we could definitely see that the waterfalls were more for that thrill-seeking experience of climbing up the waterfalls directly with the aid of rope and the bolts.
Beyond this first waterfall, we were then starting to see one waterfall after another. Most of them were pretty tiny, and they really felt more like play waterfalls than the kind to look at. Pretty much all in pockets, we saw long queues of people in helmets waiting their turn to go up the next ascent.
So we meandered about getting decent exercise for ourselves as well as for the camera.
We also noticed that some modifications were made to waterfalls to facilitate the climbing. Typically the modifications involved putting in footholds and bolts to latch rope onto. We also couldn’t tell, but we swore that some of the walls appeared to be reinforced and not genuine walls though we couldn’t be sure.
Eventually, we got to the last waterfall, which had some burning incense sticks right in front of it. I don’t think I had ever seen a waterfall juxtaposed with incense sticks before. So that was kind of weird yet strangely appropriate.
Anyways, this quiet jaunt into the forest area was pretty soothing for the mind and body. We explained to Linda that this was why we like waterfalls so much.
But that relative peace and tranquility was quickly dashed on our way out as large Chinese tour groups with tour guides speaking through bullhorns once again invaded the premises (apparently they were done with lunch by now). And it got worse as we went closer to the entrance. In fact, that entrance area was totally crowded with people from multiple tour groups with multiple bullhorned tour guides blaring their lectures and instructions all at the same time. We were quite glad that we had our lunch first and then toured afterwards.
At this point, we headed back to Guilin City. Surrounded by karst peaks in the clear skies under the sunny weather, I wished we could take some time to try to take photographs showing the idyllic scenery. But we were supposed to be doing those kind of shots anyways on the Li River Cruise tomorrow – supposing the weather cooperates, knock on wood.
The shady spots at this place was quite cool and provided some welcome relief from the humidity. But the really cool thing about this place were the Buddha statues and other figurines either carved into alcoves in the caves or were figurines perched within the elevated alcoves.
When we looked out towards the river, we could see more of that classic karst scenery juxtaposed with the urban developments of the city. I guess if there had to be a scenic spot amongst the concrete jungle, then a place like this would fit the bill.
Not long thereafter, we drove to the Reed Flute Cave. We got there at a little after 3pm so it was getting a little late in the day and we had to make sure that we not only saw this place but also spent some time at the Elephant Trunk Hill as well before the day was over.
What made this particular cave stand out was that it felt more cavernous than the Crown Jewel Cave. However, it also featured some moody cool lighting as well, which added a bit to the atmosphere (even though we knew some of it was contrived).
We didn’t have to walk far to get from the entrance to where the path seemed to stop. All the while we were seeing colorful lighting feature the normal stalactites and stalagmites typical in just about all caves as well as some reflective ponds.
But the claim to fame of this particular cave was a particularly large amphitheater area where there was a pair of pools containing reflections of lit up stalactites and stalagmites while having periodic light and music shows in that very chamber.
We easily spent several minutes here as one tour group after another would go in and out of this area. The gasps of delight upon first seeing this place were definitely audibly on a periodic basis. I guess the reaction to this place was pretty common from one group to the next.
By 4pm, we got to the very busy attraction. The Elephant Trunk Hill was a pretty neat natural arch carved out by the Li River. But getting close to this attraction seemed to require a boat ride. We were content to just take photos of this attraction while listening to Linda tell some stories and tidbits about the natural arch.
A pleasant surprise of the area was a nice panoramic view near a distinctly Chinese arched footbridge towards the landscape behind Elephant Trunk Hill. What made this panorama a big deal was the presence of another giant natural arch called Tunnel Hill. Too bad I didn’t bring my telephoto lens to reel in the Tunnel Hill closer to us.
Afterwards, we made a brief walk along a canal surrounded by fragrant trees. I think Linda said something to the effect that these trees are more prevalent in Hong Kong, and I’m betting that this is the fragrance of the “Fragrant Harbor” which is what Hong Kong literally means (in Cantonese; Xianggang in Mandarin).
At 5pm, we returned to the Universal Guilin Hotel.
We turned down offers to go for reflexology treatments as well as pearls and silk factory visits (after experiencing Egypt, we knew we were getting the sell on, but at least she didn’t push any further). Instead, we just wanted to unwind a little bit before heading into the happening part of Guilin at night once again.
When 7pm rolled around, we walked into that happening part again and this time snacked on a handful of very spicy skewers of chicken, lamb, and squid, as well an interesting tiny Chinese version of the Sloppy Joe.
Julie and I opted not to go for a sit down restaurant.
After reading the best I could of some of the simplified Chinese signs from the restaurants within the happening district, I couldn’t help but notice this one place that was actually selling horsemeat! I guess learning to read Chinese prior to the trip had its benefits on this day. Of course I still had a long way to go on getting anywhere close to functional with the world’s oldest active written language.
It was interesting watching locals and nonlocals walking out and about in this happening part of town. Many of the Chinese women here were dressed as if they were going clubbing, but I couldn’t tell if they really were going clubbing or if that’s just the way Chinese women dress when going out. Of course, Linda warned us that it’s hard to tell who’s the local and who’s merely Chinese tourists from other parts of the country. And she was right!
Eventually at about 8:30pm, we were back at our room. And so ended a pretty eventful day in Guilin. We’re hoping for the best for tomorrow as the wind was forecast to shift from the North Wind to the South Wind, which was said to mean we might have to expect fog and overcast skies.
So we’ll see what comes next…
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