Today is the day of our tour that began with a frantic bike ride through buzzy city streets, “climaxed” with a pair of very bright, and all too small men’s swim trunks, and ended with a lunch on a floating raft looking out at a backdrop of karst mountains.
We were to meet tour guide Paul at 9:00 am, so we got up early to look for the breakfast places he had mentioned. We couldn’t find them, and were just about to resign and go somewhere else, when there was Paul! We’re starting to think he has a talent for popping up out of no where. He led us to the place he had told us about. Our meal came with fresh orange juice and a little bowl of fruit.
Soon we were attempting to survive the bike ride out of the city on old rusty machines. It took a little while to find a bike that was big enough for my 6’4″ husband Nate to ride, but eventually he had to settle with a mountain bike, because at least the seat went up higher then the others. Honk honk the roads were less packed then our home base, Jinan’s streets, but it seemed like the extra space only added for more room for chaos. I wobbled as I attempted to get used to the feel of my bike and I watched the tour guide cross the road without hesitation. After him went Nate and then my best friend, Meiqi. And then the gap they had used to slip through the traffic closed.
Zoom, zoom, zoom, I was left standing one footed on the far side of the road trying to balance my bike and looking for a new opportunity to cross as my companions looked back over their shoulders, probably trying to figure out what was taking me so long. I’m always the klutzy one who gets left behind, so I’m sure none of them (other then the tour guide who hadn’t had the time to figure this out yet) were that surprised, though I knew I’d get teased plenty for it later.
Once I finally made it safely to the other side of the road, we were able to put the traffic and the tourists behind us. The bike ride included a gorgeous 40 min stretch of road with the mountains all around us.
Taking pictures in the fields of rapeseed flowers was one of the “things to do” recommended in our travel guide book, so when we found a bright yellow field in full bloom we left our bikes on the side of the road and followed a foot path left behind from whoever had come before us.
Our first stop on our guided tour was to a spot along the river where we would get to ride authentic bamboo rafts. The place where we got on our rafts was kind of dirty and smelly. A big fire of rubble was blazing between half torn down buildings.
Once we got on the river, with no motors and just the sound of the poles in the water, the raft ride was very relaxing. There was a narrow bridge that we had to cross under, and here a conveyer belt had to pull us up a small waterfall. The person poling us through the water threw a token of some sort into a net that some boys hung off the side of the bridge. I assume it was some sort of tole. On our way back down we free flowed down the same little waterfall, and we had to lift our legs as sploosh we slid back over.
We had to cross over that narrow bridge on our bikes, careful not to wobble off into the water! Safely over the bridge we biked down a bumpy dirt path, and I tucked my camera into my pocket knowing whatever pictures I captured on the move would be too blurry to be any good.
Paul led us passed orange groves and more fields of rape seed flowers, some yellow, some white. The seeds had spread beyond the fields and the flowers grew wild on the hills and in the orchards. Paul yelled over his shoulder to Nate, who was closest to him, every time we biked passed anything significant. Nate yelled the message back to me, and I at least tried to pass them on to Meiqi, who was focused on a video she was attempting to shoot from moving bicycle.
When we came upon a bee hive with farmers walking among the boxes collecting honey we stopped to purchase some. They had no containers so we chugged a water bottle and passed it to them to fill. We each took a sip of the fresh, sweet rape seed honey that had come straight from the hive. Delicious!
The trail got bumpier and muddy. We were forced to get off our bikes and walk part of it. We passed alongside a graveyard on the side of a hill.
Finally we were back on smooth road, and from there it wasn’t long until we could see the famous “moon hill” a cliff with a moon shaped hole in it.
Though the view was spectacular my heart went out to the two monkeys that sat below dressed like Se Wukong, the monkey king. We were told that they had been wild monkeys, caught and trained for tourists photos.
The mud cave, our final and perhaps most anticipated stop of our day trip, was our next stop. Nate hadn’t brought swim wear with him, so he bought a pair of super small, brightly colours swim trunks from outside the cave near the lockers. I was a little worried that not all of him would stay inside. We left our valuables behind, and Paul rushed us on after a tour group that had just gone in before us, not that we could understand the language anyways. Paul would stay outside and meet us after we were done. I wished we’d brought at least one camera. We had not realized that there was a long extensive stretch of cave with incredible stalactites and stalagmites.
We were the only ones from our tour group who braved the mud baths. Maybe the name of the place, “Gold Water Cave” scared some of them off, but presumedly the Chinese name has a better meaning then it’s English translation. The water was cold, but the mud was thick and gooey. Once we coated ourselves in the stuff, it insulated our skin and we weren’t too uncomfortable. There was a slide in the corner which we each tried out. There were showers to rinse in and then there were shallow hot pools fed by hot springs to bask in. They felt amazing after the cold mud bath, and again we had them all to ourselves. We stayed until we got too hungry for lunch, and reluctantly left the cave to find Paul.
Paul brought us to a beautiful restaurant on the side of the river, whose’s dining tables were located on tied up bamboo rafts.
We finished the day exhausted but still fit in some shopping, and bought some drinks from Monkey bar at a hostel next to ours for happy hour. The three of us got a drinking game going at a beer pong table, and had a blast. Drinks were reasonably priced and delicious.