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Yangshou and our friends the Tyrrells
November 8th, 2009 by Kate
One of a million beautiful vistas along the Li

One of a million beautiful vistas along the Li

After reuniting with Jeff and the girls in Guilin (and for the record – my tooth is still fine, and I expect that it will be the last tooth left in my head when I die of old age!) we bid farewell to our new couchsurfing friends Jonathan & Jenny and hit the road again – our last week in China! 

Our plan was to travel south along the Li River to a place called Yangshou, and meet up with a family that we met on a train seven weeks earlier on our way to Hiroshima, Japan.  The Tyrrell’s (Bass, Julie, Sheila-11 & Elsa-8) are from Ireland and have been on the road for just about a year.  They sold their house, put all their stuff in storage, and headed to Argentina for eight months – and were spending the remainder of their year of traveling throughout the Americas and Asia.  Sheila and Elsa, like Tess & Phoebe, are great sports and are up for whatever adventures their parents stick them into.  However, they were also terribly missing their friends, and when the four of them met on the train they bonded immediately.  Bass, Julie, Jeff and I also became fast friends – Bass and Julie are an awesome couple, and we could really relate to many things about them and their outlooks on life.  Although we had only spent a few hours with them in Japan, seeing them pull up in the van was like seeing old long lost friends.  I think some of that feeling might have been because we have no real friends on the road, but I think a better part of it was that travelers like us are kindred spirits, and the Tyrrell clan are just plain cool folk!

 Our trip to Yangshou was quite a riot, our friend Tom suggested that we take the Chinese river boat instead of the foreigner boat – it would save us a bunch of money and also let us mix with the locals instead of the tourists like us.  We boarded a jam-packed small bus (with no shocks) and bounced our way for a good hour through the countryside until we reached a mud trail that led down to the riverbank.  When we saw the boat I almost DIED!  We didn’t have time to question or object – the whole bus of us piled on this rusty pile of crap boat (I am being overly generous!) and took off at about 1 mile per hour down the river.  All we could do was laugh.  Jeff and I couldn’t even look at eachother without cracking up – Tessa had the look of “what the heck have you gotten us into THIS time” and Phoebe, forever the optimist, stuck her head out between the plywood planks and sang a lovely song entitled “We are on the junkiest boat on the river but at least if it sinks the shore isn’t far.” 

Literally, our "junk" - smelly, rusty and slow!

Literally, our "junk" - smelly, rusty and slow!

Phoebe, as usual, making the best out of any situation - she kept the whole boat entertained with her songs, even though no one could understand but us!

Phoebe, as usual, making the best out of any situation - she kept the whole boat entertained with her songs, even though no one could understand but us!

 We had just settled in and resigned ourselves to four hours of carbon monoxide poisoning when our little “junk” sped up along side a big river cruise boat and we were all but pushed off onto the big boat – YEAH!  The big boat seemed like the QE2 after the little boat, and the crew, unsure with what to do with us Americans that were causing a small riot of Chinese passengers trying to take our pictures, were ushered up to the small private dining room on the top deck where we spent the day with the Chinese passengers who had paid for first class passage.  We had a fabulous day cruising the river, eating, and obliging all 200 other passengers to photos with the cute American children.  

Happily on our "real" Li River cruise boat

Happily on our "real" Li River cruise boat

We finally landed in Yangshou.  When you ask any Chinese person what part of their country we shouldn’t miss, Yangshou is almost always the unanimous answer.  The area is full of these awesome limestone “karsts” that jut up out of the ground all over.  The valleys they create are filled with picturesque rivers and small farms – rice and citrus are the main crops here but every farm also has planted the staples that make up the farmer’s diets – grain, corn, potatoes, radishes and onions, garlic and some miscellaneous root veggies that are a mystery to me.

 Besides beautiful scenery, this is an adventure sports mecca.  Mountain biking, rock climbing, and caving get top billing, but there is also white water rafting, trekking, and hot air ballooning galore.  We were really ready for some R&R after our hectic month in giant Chinese cities, so our routine in Yangshou consisted of waking up as late as possible, yoga on the patio overlooking the karsts (with the resort’s puppies and the owner’s toddlers nipping at our heels), a 2-3 hour breakfast that led right into lunch, and then an adventure sport in the afternoon.  After we returned each day from our afternoon excursion, we sat around with the other hotel guest and drank beer until it was time for a 2-3 hour long dinner. 

 The kids kept themselves busy (while the parents lounged) reading, gameboying, and playing with the puppies – but mostly took off and cruised around the little village that we were staying in, called Moon Hill.  There they got to see what life is like in a rural village in southern China – people cooking their dinner on open fires in the fields, pigs and chickens in the bottom floor of a house and a family of 10 in the upstairs (with no windows or running water), water buffalo taking up the entire street (and having to climb a wall and tree to get out of their way!) and chicken and stray dogs everywhere you looked.  By the end of our week in Moon Hill village the girls knew every road and path and all the shortcuts through the citrus groves.  I really enjoyed seeing them embrace their temporary surrounding – and while they are SO different than back home – make them theirs – warts and all. 

 The Tyrrells were totally game to our leisurely schedule (Bass and Julie helped reinforce our slacking – or maybe it was us reinforcing their slacking).  Either way, our week in Yangshou/Moon Hill was great.  We had great food, great company, lots of beer and fresh squeezed orange juice, lots of laughs, only a little blood-letting (be sure to read Tessa’s post about our mountain biking/river crossing adventure), a bit of shopping, successful rock climbs, a dazzling river light show (by the guy who choreographed the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing), and even managed to get some school work in. 

Our Moon Hill Resort crew:  Derek, Tessa, Jeff, Phoebe, Kate, Elsa, Sheila, Julie, Bass, WeiWei, Derek's Dad & Mom holding William

Our Moon Hill Resort crew: Derek, Tessa, Jeff, Phoebe, Kate, Elsa, Sheila, Julie, Bass, WeiWei, Derek's Dad & Mom holding William

 We were sad to bid farewell to the Tyrrell’s, but as become our habit on the road – we never say “goodbye”, only “see you later”.  (Look out Cork, Ireland – the Wells’ may just be on the way!).


2 Responses  
Cricket Bourget writes:
November 14th, 2009 at 10:21 am

Your chosen pics of the dramatically lovely countryside are so evocative, especially combined with your descriptions. Your R&R time sounds idyllic–and mightn’t have been as colorful a memory if it hadn’t started out with the “river junk cruise!”

Tom writes:
November 24th, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Your “junk” boat was a little lower class than i had in mind, but fortunately it all worked out well!

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