After months of anticipation, we said farewell to the pandas after our two days of voluntary work and headed for Chengdu airport. On the flight we were re-living our experiences with the pandas, which we shall never, never forgot. We caught an evening flight to Guilin and spent the night in a very comfortable hotel.
In the morning, we took a half day boat trip on the Li (Lijiang) River from Guilin to Yangshuo, where we had a two night stop. The cruise on the Li River is a state AAAAA tourist attraction. There is staggeringly beautiful scenery, including limestone mountains, with jagged peaks that are hollow inside. This area is known for its Karst topography, limestone caves and many mountains, often shrouded in magical mist. We saw many pretty waterfront villages and lots of activity on the river, with its floating markets and fishermen. On the banks there were many water buffalo and everywhere lush green scenery abounded.
This beauty in the Li River is much more delicate than the rugged beauty that we saw on our Yangtze River trip. The film The Painted Veil was made on location here. This area is also well-known for the Osmethsos tree which originate in Guilin, and is wonderfully scented. Our boat passed through Xingping, which provides the backdrop for the picture on the back of China’s twenty Yuan note. As we passed this on the river, we compared it to the bank note and everybody was holding up Yuan 20 notes for photos.
Our two nights were in a rustic hotel with a stunning view overlooking a lake. After arriving at our hotel, we went on a bamboo raft with a local boatman on the Yulong River – this was a lot of fun, especially getting wet through shooting the rapids. At night we saw Cormorant fishing, where a rope is tied to the bird’s neck – the wings are clipped and the bird is trained to dive for fish which become stuck in the bird’s neck, until relieved by the fisherman. As animal lovers, we were not really comfortable with this thousand-year old practice.
Next morning, we visited a local farm that grows rice and watched the workers manually fertilizing their land. Afterwards, We went to a retired farmer’s home that has been passed down for seven generations. We saw the antique Chinese furniture and a big glass vessel containing prized liquid, a poisonous snake, scorpions and other delights – this was his cure for rheumatism! We were offered some but declined politely and just accepted some peanuts instead. He also had a bird in a cage that did acrobats as he counted from one to ten in Chinese and then in English. There was one room in the house that was the coffin room – the children prepare the coffins for their parents and they stand side by side until one dies.
We saw many villages including sadly many homes that were damaged during the Cultural Revolution.
Later, we visited the Big Banyon Tree that is said to be over a thousand years old and is now a holy shrine. The locals leave their messages for longevity tied to the tree. China has three historic beliefs, Buddism (imported from India in Ancient times), Confusionism, and Taoism, yet we were told about people worship their ancestors, as well as the Big Banyon Tree.
However, funny as it may seem, in our quieter moments, it was always a delight to reflect on the pandas…..