When we last left off, Josh and I were three hours in to our Li River Cruise Tour. We were blindly following a group of Chinese people wearing matching lanyards through the Dong Village Museum until our meetup time of 12:30. We merged and unmerged with the group multiple times, but everywhere we went, we were able to find someone else with the same color lanyard as we had. This made us feel comfortable, since we couldn’t actually remember which bus the man in the blue jacket said was ours. We planned to just follow the group and see where we ended up.
12:30PM – The Big Bus
At the exit of the Dong village was a bucket to recycle the lanyards. The Chinese people we were following, and thought were part of our group, scattered to their various cars and buses, leaving us in the parking lot a little concerned and questioning our next move. Thankfully, one of the members of My Six was wearing a bright orange jacket. We spotted the jacket down the block, met up with her, and got on what we hoped was the correct bus.
We sat down, and were immediately shouted at by the bus driver. I didn’t catch everything he said, but the bit I did catch was “foreigners to the back”. I did not like being told I had to sit at the back of the bus because I was different, but the back looked just as comfortable, so we did as we were told. As more people piled onto the bus, and more of My Six got individually yelled at by other riders to move farther back, we came to understand that the Chinese group we were with had previously been riding the bus and had already picked out their seats.
The bus ride went smoothly enough, but the man who gave us the lanyards at the Dong village spent the entire ride standing at the front of the bus selling his wares (apparently he was going to be our tour guide for the day). He spent about 20 minutes talking over the loud speaker, then passed through handing out free samples. The samples were varied and strange, and of course labeled only in Chinese, leading us to eat something we probably shouldn’t have. Thankfully, the perfume he sprayed the entire length of the bus smelled quite nice, and no one had an allergic reaction. Then he walked up and down the aisle, taking orders. To our surprise, almost everyone on that bus bought at least one of his things, some people calling him back to buy more. It was very bizarre.
After an hour of non-stop sales pitches, we finally stopped… in the middle of nowhere, at a group of three nearly abandoned buildings. Now what?!
1:30PM – Lunch
We stopped in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere and were told to get off the bus. The Chinese tourists pushed their way off the bus in a frenzy of excitement. My Six calmly waited their turns, got off, then stood on the derelict sidewalk with a “for God’s sake” look on our faces. The tour guide, not finding us among the mob of excited Chinese, came back to us and told us we were to have lunch now. He showed us a menu and pushed us to the back of a run-down building.
The menu had no pictures on it and was written in Chinese, so we could only recognize a few of the options, and the prices were outrageous. Fried rice that we eat nearly every day for between ¥8 and ¥12 was being offered for ¥45. Again, the Chinese in our group were on cloud nine. They ordered food and beers, toasted each other, sang and joked, took selfies and pictures of their food. We, on the other hand, walked down the block to see if there was anything cheaper to eat, joined by our new German friends. We found another place just down the way with still-inflated, but significantly better prices. We ordered a dish of green beans, pork with green onions, rice, and a beer. We expected the price to be around ¥80, so we were surprised when it came out to ¥100! Looking over the bill, there were a few charges we didn’t recognize. Josh asked our waitress to explain. “It’s two apiece for the rice, two for the dishes, and two for the napkins.” The four of us looked at her in astonishment. We managed to argue our way out of paying for the napkins, since we hadn’t used them, but we ended up paying the rest. So lunch was a bit of a bust.
An hour later, we were ushered back onto the bus.
2:30PM – Nap Time
It was time for Chinese siesta, so the remainder of the bus ride went on without any sales pitches or interruptions. It was a beautiful drive with breathtaking views at every turn. As my window had a rather large gob of dried phlegm on it, I put on my mask and pretended like it wasn’t there and just enjoyed the scenery.
We drove past Yangshuo, over the river, then back North through some small farming villages. I got more and more excited with every turn. We were heading to Yangdi, passing the lovely village of Xingping along the way. Me eyes were glued to the window trying to catch a glimpse of Xingping. Then, way sooner than I was expecting, we stopped again.
4:00PM – “We Boat Now”
Again, the Chinese tourists were nearly bursting with excitement. The pure joy on their face was the only thing keeping me from hailing a cab to our next hotel. It was nice to take a step back and watch my fellow passengers have their adventure of a lifetime. They were tourists, too; they knew what to expect out of the trip they had booked, and were having the time of their lives.
We got off the bus and the tour guide said, “We boat now.” I asked the driver to get my backpack out of the trunk for me, but I got shooed away and beckoned to stick with the group. Well, that is why I keep my passport and valuables in my Go Bag. Who knows if I will get to see my backpack ever again. Who needs clothes anyway?
We walked through a hole in a metal fence, surrounded by garbage and what I’m pretending wasn’t sewage. Then, along a “sidewalk” lined with shopping stalls filled with craft items. Again, they were alarmingly over priced and the touts were fairly aggressive. We bee-lined for the nearest bathroom to relieve ourselves of the unintentional free sample ingestion, lost our group, and once again just kept going straight in hopes that we would know where we were going once we saw it. We didn’t find the group, but I did spot an amazing view.
Besides for the heavy smell of gasoline and sewage, it was one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever seen. The river was shallow enough that I could see the bottom, the boats were rusted and in great need of repair, but beautiful in their own way. The mountains… the mountains… I wish I were a better writer and could explain how almost alarmingly stunning they were. I’m not sure every thesaurus in the world could help explain the beauty before me. I kept catching myself forgetting to breathe.
The tour guide wakened me from my trance, beckoning us to come join the group a little farther ahead. He spoke to the group of Chinese who, again, ran off with school girl excitement to the boat. Then he collected My Six and told us “You, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6” looked please with himself and walked away. Thank you? We followed the others down the pier to our waiting boat and, once again, hoped everything would make sense soon.
TO BE CONTINUED…