We were groggy and tired when we met at the school at 7:10 am. Katrina and Tatiana never showed up, but Andy had beaten us there.
A crazy energy filled boy flung himself around the corner and straight at Aaron. It was Lulu’s son, Alex. Two other boys around his age were coming along as well to keep him company. Muffin and his girlfriend were there, as well as Mary and her friend Lila, who showed up wearing matching hats that both said boy, as well as matching shoes and matching back packs.
Our first stop was what Muffin kept calling “drafting”. We were very confused. It turned out to be a water ride on rafts through caves lit up with florescent lights to show of their magnificent stalagmite and stalactite formations. It took two hours, but most of that was waiting through a long line that twisted back and forth through a maze of poles. We bought 2 RMB rain ponchos and were given plastic boots to wear. We put them on too soon, and the bottoms of the boots were warn out before we made it to the rafts!
We did our best to keep ourselves from getting bored in line. We had fun bugging the wide eyed kids that we kept weaving back and forth past. Some of them would call hello every time they came near us, while others would hide behind their parent’s legs.
The cave we were waiting in was covered in blinking Christmas lights that made me feel like I was having a seizure after a while.
The seat I had on our raft was not properly attached. This was fine for most of the trip, except for the end when we plummeted over a small water fall and I was worried I’d bounce out of the boat!
A lot of the ride involved skinny tunnels with man made walls that would open up into these massive spectacular caverns. In one tunnel we could hear the hoots and hollers of Alex and his three friends who were riding with Andy, echoing behind us. At another cavern the river looped around and we watched the boys passing on the other side, and then sploosh the reason for all the plastic became obvious as cold water pouring down from the rocks above, splashed on our heads and taking us unaware.
We got off the ride dripping wet and laughing. We stripped our only partially effective garbage bags off and dumped them in the trash can. Next came a tour of the rock formations. The steps were slippery and Nate fell on one set. Fortunately he was ok, “It’s these confusing signs,” I said referring to the warning that read be careful steps. “Nate thought it was the steps that had to be careful!”
It was hot and sunny when we left the caves. We followed our companions to a spot to eat lunch, enjoying the chance to begin drying off. Alex’s dad stopped partway down the path to cut a branch of bamboo from one of the trees. Pulling the bark from the wood he bent it and cut it making a kazoo type whistle! Later at lunch he twined branches together and sat with bamboo crown on his head and a kazoo in his mouth, earning himself the nickname “the bamboo king” to me and Nate.
We ate lunch by a clear blue river, it’s far side covered in geese. Unfortunately the ground below our feet was all dirt, and there was a smell drifting from an unknown place. We just had to focus on the good things.
It was interesting to see how our Chinese friends did picnics. Mostly with massive bags of packaged food: spicy tofu, sausages, spicy dough that tasted like meat. Nate and I had brought nuts with us. The shells served as great ammunition for the battle that soon got started with Alex.
On our way out of the park Alex’s father kept stopping to look at the flowers, which were bright and colourful, and everywhere.
Our second stop was the rapeseed flower fields. We were booted off the bus and told to wander for 45 minutes. Behind the rows and rows of yellow flowers terraced mountains created a backdrop.
I was soon lost in the buzz of honey bees. Walking through the fields on my own, after leaving Nate and Andy to chat. I had the urge to lie down in one of the rows, and just let the sound of the bees surround me as the flowers shaded me from the worst heat of the sun. The closest I came to that was squatting. Still it was satisfying.
There was supposed to be a third stop, but traffic had put us behind schedule so we headed back to Jinan instead.