Day 7: BENEVOLENT DAY?
Unlike yesterday’s fair skies, we awoke this morning to pouring rain. After getting packed and ready to go, we had ourselves a genuinely Chinese breakfast before leaving at 9am.
I wondered whether we’d be walking in this type of pouring weather and I anticipated a replenished Detian Waterfall, which was the goal for today.
At first, the drive was on expressway as we made our way out of the city limits of Nanning. It was still raining cats and dogs, but as time passed we gradually made our way into the countryside and then into the mountains, the weather seemed to gradually improve.
I had asked Xiao Feng how the weather system worked here, and he explained that warm moist air from the South China Sea tends to go north and meet cool dry air from Northwestern China. This meeting point tended to be the Nanning area in the Spring, which was why it gets a lot of rain during the season.
During the even hotter and muggier Summer months, they get monsoonal thunderstorms as well as the odd typhoon. Then things start drying out in the Autumn and especially in the cooler Winter months. This pattern seemed to echo a little bit of Thailand, we thought.
Since we were in the middle of a four-hour drive from Nanning to Detian Waterfall, I had plenty of time to check out the scenery as well as some of noticeable decorations in the van – presumably belonging to the driver.
The driver wasn’t the real talkative type but he looked quite young and even authoritative. His car seat donned what looked like a military uniform. Hanging from his rear-view mirror was a charm or badge bearing the countenance of Chairman Mao surrounded in some kind of gold-colored frame.
That kind of got my attention since I had read a little bit about the Cultural Revolution and sure enough, this charm had Mao looking older with blue skies and rosy cheeks on one side while the other side had a younger looking Mao in uniform again with blue, cloudless skies behind him. Obviously, we could tell where this guy’s allegiance was, but I wondered if he was strict and impatient as a result since it seemed like his driving and his demeanor demonstrated it.
As our driver was zooming along honking and passing anybody and everybody from other cars and trucks to farmers walking cattle to people on bicycles and lawnmower-engine tuk tuk-like rides, I couldn’t help but notice the incredibly idyllic scenery with farms and fields backed by dramatic karst landscapes that could be arguably more dramatic than even Yangshuo.
It was certainly less developed than the well-touristed counterparts of Yangshuo and Guilin.
But it was too bad that I didn’t know where would be a good place to stop and take photos, and it was certainly difficult taking photos from the car considering how fast we were going.
By 11:30am, we passed through Daxin (the “Big New”?) town, which contrasted the very rural landscapes we had been coming across on our way here due to the quantity of people and buildings. Still, this town was nowhere near as busy as Nanning.
The driver continued to zoom out of the town limits and then swerve left to right on the mountain roads leading to the Detian Waterfall area.
By 12pm, the driver stopped the van right in front of a road tunnel. There wasn’t any formal pullouts so he had to put on the emergency blinkers and try to get as far out of the way as possible next to the tunnel.
Meanwhile, Julie, Xiao Feng, and I got out of the car and walked down the road to an overlook. This overlook revealed a tremendously gorgeous scene with steep cliffs dropping off right into the river system in which the Shatundie Waterfall was in.
But with this waterfall, it was more about the surrounding landscape than the falls itself, which was a wide rectangular shape (though segmented with its current waterflow) followed by scattered cascades and colorful greenish pools further downstream.
As we were about to board the van, I noticed a concrete walking path leading closer to the main Shatundie Waterfall. Even though it was thoroughly steamy and the path was slippery, we quickly made our way alongside the river for about 10 minutes before getting ourselves a much closer and better view of the main falls considering the waterflow.
After this brief excursion, we returned to the van and shortly thereafter, we made a stop at some local restaurant eating some local Chinese food (again, much of which seemed like homestyle stuff we used to grow up on). The meal consisted of bamboo, scrambled eggs in some kind of vegetable, tofu, and some beef with celery stir fry. All of this was combined with white rice. We appreciated being seated in a banquet room with air conditioning as it was quite humid in these parts.
After the lunch, we got to the Detian Village, which looked awfully busy at this time. Our hotel was at the very end of the driving part of the road. And after checking in, we saw that we got a nice view of both the esteemed Detian Pubu (Waterfall) as well as the Ban Goc Waterfall on the Vietnam side (the opposite side of the river).
We briefly dropped off our stuff in the room (already starting to wonder if the lack of mosquito nets here would be a problem when it became bed time), and then proceeded to go back outside and check out the falls finally.
Indeed, this was a transnational waterfall so that meant that we could get in serious trouble if we tried to cross the border illegally. But with that said, there were rafts that took you to the other side of the river where you might be able to get right up to the Ban Gioc Waterfall. There were also walking paths on the Chinese side leading you closer to the base of the main waterfall.
As I had feared and as the Shatundie Waterfall indicated, this waterfall was also in low flow, but it was certainly pretty impressive. I could only imagine what a scene this place would be had both Ban Goc and the main Detian Waterfall both been at average to full flow.
At around 2:30pm, we went for a walk with Xiao Feng. Indeed it was hot and muggy and all of us were soaking wet in our own sweat. Still, that didn’t deter us from taking numerous photographs of the falls from any angle we could find at the time.
The walkways were all paved, but even with that said, it was amusing to see people riding scooters, horses, or even motorized trams along the sidewalks to get further into the pedestrian area. And as we were figuring out, the pecking order where motorized vehicles (including scooters) took precedence over pedestrians so we had to get out of the way as people zoomed by honking their horns to let us know they’re coming.
Sheesh. It definitely takes getting used to yielding to vehicular traffic on what should be pedestrian walkways. Imagine scooters being allowed to scoot all the way to Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Lodge.
I guess this was consistent with what we observed in Guilin and Yangshuo as well as Thailand. I guess many Asians seem to detest walking.
Apparently a hundred years ago, there was war between the two countries. There was evidence in the form of a walking path up to a cannon platform high up on the cliffs as well as an old-school stone written in both Chinese and French (since Vietnam was a French colony back in those days).
Even though the stone tablet was on the Chinese side of the river, I wondered whether that stone technically meant that we had actually stepped foot in Vietnam for a few minutes.
The very last lookout we checked out (by this time, the heat and humidity had gotten to Julie and she retreated back to the hotel room, which thankfully had AC) involved climbing a bunch of steps (some of which had loose pieces of concrete) to some sheltered lookout allowing you a view of both the Ban Goc and Detian Waterfalls as well as the mountains beyond in a top-down manner.
At 6:30pm, we had dinner at the local hotel restaurant. We weren’t sure what the local food was here, but with the help of Xiao Feng reading the menu for us (it was completely in Chinese which was common in many restaurants we’ve been to on this trip), we learned that a lot of the local stuff involved snakes as well as insects in noodles.
That was a bit too radical for us so we were invited into their kitchen and pick out the live fish swimming in the tank that we wanted to eat as we learned the fish came from the river here. I don’t think we had ever done that before.
While we had Xiao Feng helping us out ordering food here, I was trying to figure out what the De in Detian meant. All my guesses about it were wrong and he ultimately said something to the effect that it meant “benevolent.”
I thought this was strange because “benevolent” and “day” (tian) normally don’t go together. I guess we could chalk this up to yet another Chinese word combo that just doesn’t translate very well in English. Or it was another case of me not knowing the meaning even despite Xiao’s best attempts at explaining its meaning to me. So I guess the meaning of the name of this falls remained elusive.
Anyways, the meal was simple though expensive thanks to that fish. Still, we were full and it was just in time.
That was because the dining hall was flooded with loud Northern Chinese tourists at the time. Making matters worse was that many of the males decided to light up and fill our lungs with second hand smoke.
And so ended the day at the falls. Now, it was time to get to sleep, and it was time to figure out what to do without the mosquito nets in the presence of mosquitoes. This was disconcerting considering that malaria and yellow fever were a possibility in these parts. Plus, the later the evening went on, the more mosquitoes we noticed were buzzing around on the white ceiling in our room. I’m guessing they got through the openings on the non-weatherproof door or crevaces in the windows.
In any case, we were sleeping with Jungle Juice on this night…