The second day we were in Yangshuo, our guide, Gary, picked us up at 7.30 (!!!) so we could go to rice terraces at Longji Terraced Scenic Area. We knew it would be a long day, taking three and a half hours just to get there, but we didn’t expect it to be such hard work. This speaks to our fitness level a bit, which could be, and should be, higher than it is right now.
One of our biggest concerns was how Arlo would take to the long day, but we made sure to tell Gary that she was the priority and if we had to stop for her to have a drink or a nappy change or just a crawl around, then that’s what we’d do. The car was comfortable and the roads not too bad most of the way (just fairly winding right at the end) so Arlo was able to feed and sleep on me for a lot of the way.
We first got to the ticket office of Longji Scenic Area. The sign above a building saying “Tourist Central” was not a comforting sign, but it was pretty accurate. There were tourist buses everywhere and tourists milling around, buying souvenirs and trinkets from local people. We stayed in the car with the windows rolled up – and the souvenir sellers eventually got bored of standing outside our car with floral wreaths and other junk they wanted to sell to us at ridiculous prices. Eventually we left and headed to Dazhai Yao Terraced Fields – a place a bit further away but with far less tourists than at the nearer Ping’an Zhuang Terraced Fields.
The rice terraces have been in place for hundreds of years. They are spectacular at almost any time of the year – we were there probably at the worst time (though it still looked amazing), just before planting the years crop. In later spring, early summer, you can see the ploughing and planting, in summer the crops are a deep green, in autumn, just before harvesting, the hillsides are bathed in gold, and in winter there is often a blanket of snow on the ground. Unfortunately it was a bit hazy on the day we went, but still amazing to see.
When we arrived, Gary told us to leave the stroller in the car. So we took a sling and set off. It wasn’t long before we realised why the stroller would be useless. And when I think about it, I should have expected steps at rice terraces. But four hours worth of steps? Two hours up and two hours down. With the occasional stretch of flat walking trails. Now and then there would be a nice breeze to cool us down and we appreciated it whenever we felt it on our skin. We took a lot of breaks and drank a lot of water. And watched as people hired sherpas – often 30 year olds hiring 70 year old women to carry their backpacks. And those 30 year olds were lagging quite away behind the old women that would power along, wearing their traditional clothes and their hair neatly tied on top of their heads and covered in a traditional headdress. In this area, women cut their hair once, when they are eighteen, then let it grow for the rest of their lives. I couldn’t imagine having such a hot, sweaty, dusty home for insects on top of my scalp – but I’m not one of these women. Few of whom have any grey hair at all – Gary suggested it was their lifestyle or genetics that contributed to them having dark hair for their entire lives. I think it may be a combination of those things – and hair dye.
Half way up we came across the oldest man I have ever seen up close. I think that’s true anyway. He was 98. For a small fee (a couple of kuai), he allowed me to take his picture. I snapped away, thinking to myself that I should start charging all Chinese people a couple of kuai to take Arlo’s picture. I’d be rich – in RMB, not dollars.
Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. Actually, Gary told us that a good place for food was just fifteen minutes away. Ten minutes later it was ten minutes away. And another ten minutes later it was five minutes away. Somebody can’t count. Actually, that’s not true, but it seemed like an eternity before we arrived at the hotel Gary recommended. The view from the hotel was spectacular and it was accompanied by a wonderful breeze, so we sat out the front for a while and cooled down while Arlo got to stretch her legs. She was fascinated by the puppy that was scampering around and kept babbling to it, though it ignored her.
I was feeding Arlo when we decided to have lunch, so I told Geoff that I trusted his selection from the menu. He had to go into the kitchen to choose what to eat. Gary recommended the chicken and a bitter spinach-type vegetable – all with rice, of course – and we sat back with a beer and chatted. I was regaling Geoff with a riveting tale from when I traveled through Mexico when I was interrupted by a “bok, bok bok BAWWWK, bo…”. Geoff said, “I think that’s our lunch.” Gary appeared then and I confirmed with him that yes, lunch was being prepared. Geoff headed back to the kitchen, camera in hand to see for himself. He returned a while later saying that I probably wanted to wait until after lunch before I looked at the photos!!
Lunch, the freshest chicken I’ve ever eaten, wasn’t too bad. The chicken was hacked up (as is so often the way in China – every part of the chicken is used, though they didn’t give us the head or any offal) and put into a broth with mushrooms, ginger, Chinese plums and I’m not sure what else. It really wasn’t too bad. A bit tough, but there isn’t much meat on these chickens anyway. I couldn’t have eaten it when we first got here because I couldn’t use chopsticks quite so well then – and chopstick dexterity was necessary here. The spinach stuff was quite bitter, but not too bad. And the rice was – rice. We knew that we had never had fresher food, or more local – everything was grown right there. However later we spoke to friends who had gone to Ping’an and said they had had the best meal they had ever eaten during their whole time (three years) in China and I felt a brief pang of envy.
Once we were fed and refreshed, we headed back down the mountainside. Arlo, who had fallen asleep during lunch, woke up as I put her into Geoff’s sling. And she wasn’t too happy about it, crying for a lot of the way down the hill. The steps were uneven and occasionally loose rock, so there wasn’t much we could do about her ire – the safest place for her was in the sling. But as soon as Geoff took her out of the sling at the bottom of the hill she was all smiles. As were we – but we were happy because there were no more stairs to deal with.
There’s more pictures over on Flickr, and more Yangshuo stories to come in a few days.