Friday, June 13, 2008

Water Adventures

Thursday was the start of the Guilin portion of our trip as we packed up a day pack and boarded the bus. Our first stop was the tour boat on the Li river. I wasn't sure about the views we would get since it was raining so heavily, but once we started down the river I was happily surprised. The area around Guilin is full of limestone deposits that have eroded over the years leaving massive karst hills that reach up into the sky like fingers. The rain clouds added to the atmosphere as they drifted between the tree covered hills.

After a few hours of drifting and a nice lunch, we reached the town of Yangshuo which was dominated by West street and its many vendors selling tourist goods. My friends and I enjoyed an inexpensive Gin & Tonic as most of the group bought pictures and bootleg DVDs. It wasn't long before we were back on the bus with the rain pouring down.

It wasn't until about 30 minutes into the ride when we came to our first adventure. A levy had broken and the street we were on was knee deep with brown flood water. After a slight traffic delay, our excellent bus driver was able to push through and get us on our way. The second adventure took much longer as we reached an even larger traffic jam. As we sat in rush hour traffic and the pouring rain our tour guide realized we were near a great noodle place. The guides asked for volunteers to go get noodles for the entire bus since we were way past our schedule and wouldn't arrive at our destination until late at night.

Me and nine others volunteered to go out in the rain and bring back noodles for the class. It was only after we had gotten out and down the street a ways when we noticed the cause of the traffic jam; an even larger flood then we had seen before. As we waded in, first to our ankles and then to our knees, we saw how all the rain had turned the street into a brown river with people in cars, trucks, buses, scooters, bikes, and on foot try to make their way through. Each time a truck with drive through quickly it would cause waves that would go up above our knees. We were relieved to get to the noodle place and enjoyed a meal before making our way back to the bus. We even joked that maybe the bus would catch up to us so we wouldn't have to go back through the flooded streets.

The traffic was not so forgiving and we soon found ourselves trekking back through the water and onto the bus. After spending an hour or two in traffic, we were moving again; up to a mountain retreat. Along the way we encountered our third adventure as we switched from one large bus to two smaller ones. Apparently the road up to the retreat was too small for the big bus. As we bounced and jostled along the way, there were several instances when we came face to face with vehicles coming down on the narrow road. After an hour and a half of this broken, bumpy road, we finally made it to our destination: a spa retreat right above one of the rivers.

After checking in and having a very late dinner we went out to the spas in the pouring rain. There were four spas in a row that got progressively hotter (with a bar down by the first one). After making my way up to spa after spa, I was still only able to stay in the top, hottest spa for only the briefest of moments. It was so hot, my skin couldn't tell if it was hot or cold, just that it was uncomfortable. After that I went to a pool that had little fish in it. Called, “Doctor Fish”, they would come up to you if you lay very still and suck away dead skin and debris. It was one of the weirdest things I've felt this trip. At first, it's hard to keep from jerking away as they tickle. Then, as more come my arms and legs felt like they were in a giant pool of soda. After a brief rinse off, I was definitely ready to call it a night.
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