Day 3: Guilin and Surrounds

What a city! A city the size of Adelaide. A city in which we stopped only 3 times in the traffic on the way to the hotel from the airport. A city that does not stop. The traffic doesn’t stop. The locals drive on the side of the road that they want, there are no traffic lights (or very few of them) no one gives way, no one looks before walking across a 5 lane main street and amazingly I saw one one injured, killed or abused! Road rage on Adelaide level simply does not exist here. It is a constant ballet of lawn mower engine powered rickshaws, double decker buses, pedal powered trikes, families on scooters, bikes and pedestrians without a care in the world. Amazing!

First stop Li River Cruise. We got onto a boat full of Chinese Tourists ready to travel down the river and lakes that surround Guilin City. Unbelievably the Chinese people are avid travelers within their own country and are equally delighted with the sights and sounds as we are. After motoring through the chain of lakes and manicured gardens we made our way back to the original mooring upon which we were set upon by several giggling school girls who had never seen westerners before. Very well dressed and polite they asked us, through our guide if they could have their picture taken with us. I only wished now, that we had out picture taken whilst they had theirs. In all it’s splendor, 2 x 6ft + fair haired, fair skinned westerners posing with two 5ft school girls from a far away province on a family holiday. Priceless. Surreal couldn’t cover the feeling of our first day in China.

After our cruise it was onto the Pearl Museum and Silk Factory for the obligatory tours of some of Gulins more famous exports. After an interesting guided tour of the silk worm and their skills – we were ushered into, yet again, another souvenir trap that seemed to extricate Yuan from the westerners pocket in a blink of an eye. Narrowly avoiding a Silk Quilt purchase I made my way to the tea canteen and delighted the locals with a 2 beer can purchase before 12 noon. Not in keeping with Eastern tradition, but necessary on holidays.

The Reed Flute caves were the largest caves I have encountered, lit as only the Chinese can – fluorescent white and blue lights, garish green signs giving rock formations such names as “Looking through window curtains at cloudy mountains”, “bumper harvest of vegetables”, “forest of stone”, “mushroom mountain”. The hour long tour culminating in a visit to several cave tortoises, the oldest being 1000 years old (true!!). He was positioned on a yellow silk throne, blinking myopically, waiting for visitors to wet a 5 Yuan note and adhere it to his granite like shell. At night he gets carried from his throne and placed back in the shallow pool – his home from the past eon.

Lunch was at the Super Guilin Restaurant. On first appearances a cheesy tourist trap but with authentic Guilin food and private rooms we were kings amongst men. Our first dish was Cave Fish (no doubt relieved from his subterranean dwellings during our previous tour). Now with the hero ingredient chosen, we were escorted to a private room, plied with local beer, and brought a sumptuous meal of whole baked fish, sizzling beef, Rice Hot Pot with spare ribs and a saucer of leafy greens. After eating it was back downstairs to inspect the pens for tonight’s banquet. Guinea Pigs? Rabbit? Chicken or Duck? Wild Pheasant, Snake? We selected mountain cobra and the pheasant from the collection of wire cages and boxes. The snake combined with the wings, head and feet of the pheasant were to be made into Dragon phoenix soup for our dinner. Once the serpent was swiftly dispatched by a pair of scissors we were on our way.

The afternoon was spent at Yaoshan Mountain – the tallest in Guillin at 909m. A chairlift ride up, some photos, and a toboggan ride down again – weeeeeeeee! Then an educational visit to the Guilin Government Tea Science and Rsearch Institute for compressed tea, oolong tea and green tea. Very informative 🙂

Cormorant fishing
Amongst the darkened concrete terraces and seedy stairways we accepted the invitation to view a cormorant fishing trip along the Li River. We hopped onto the ferry with 100 chinese tourists and cruised along side the men and their rafts. Within no time the sizable black birds, necks tied with packing twine had hopped into the water and were under the waves searching for their fishy quarry. Amazingly the water was very clear and with the help from the lanterns attached to the bow of the rafts we could see the cormorants at work. Darting amongst the river pebbles the first bird earned his keep. Back onto the raft the handler grabbed him by the neck flipped him upside and shook loose the fish from his tied throat. A couple quick commands and the bird was back in the water looking for more prey. At the day the birds are relieved from of their garrottes and fed a portion of their catch as a reward.

Once the head has been removed from the snake, it is bled into a tea cup mixed with a pure spirit and presented to the diner.

In this case the diner being me – chickened out and gave the concoction to our hapless guide, Steve to drink.