Monday, June 26, 2006

He Jes' Keeps Rollin' Along...

Al Green hit the nail on the head. While wrestling with the tempting evils of a vile seductress he called for the cleansing promise of the river to heal his tattered soul.

After a year of flirting insanity through employment and the nasty adventus interruptus in Hong Kong my soul had a few tatters. And then I found my river.

I was raised close to the rough beaches of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, setting for yarns like "The Perfect Storm" and many a Lovecraftian tale. The proximity to the cold Atlantic instilled an awe towards the beauty and power of the mystic water and I'm never truly happy when I'm too far landlocked. If I needed to join the armed forces I'd bee-line to my nearest Navy office because I know that no matter what else is happening around me that I can find calm staring out over moving water.

And on that day in March I found the most beautiful stretch of river I have been lucky to roll down to this day.

It was an unforgettable experience, and a pillar of my China experience. Despite any complaint I have or ever will file against anything in the Middle Kingdom, memories of the Li River will quickly distract me to forget them.

Signing up for a day-long tour package I met an early morning bus to go out to the docks. The Li River tour is incredibly popular, and the local tourist board has prepared itself to meet high demands. Dozens of large cruise boats awaited throngs of passengers, rows of ships four deep stacked as far down the banks as I cared to look. I shuffled aboard what resembled a giant goldfish, found a window seat, and patiently awaited to disembark.

Despite the large number of ships heading downriver that day (though not the max, as it wasn't peak season) there was never a crowd as we puttered through the day. In fact, at many a time I couldn't see another vessel of our size. Sure, there were tons of small craft making their way this way and that, but it only added to the majesty of the travel. They also added some delicious snacks, as many of the gondoliers would push up alongside and hawk fresh fruits and sugar cane.

The weather wasn't quite as clear and blue as one might have wished, in fact, it was quite foggy. But much as with my time in Xi'An, this only added a mystery to the landscape that jumpstarted my imagination. So making my way to the top deck I found a corner to lean into, plugged into the ol' 40G, and opened my face to the wind and the beauty.

The green of the foliage rollede down the steep karst formations, falling pellmell into the green of the water that cut amongst it all. Along the banks we past a few huts, some quite large, but none too crowded or threatening. At night, with the proper score, proper lighting, and proper drugs, you might think you were cruising deep into Coppola's darkest Apocaplypse. But in the wet chill of my day, it was a calm refresher.

Now and then some private boats pulled into caves carved into the rockside, but our ship had no time for such frivolity. We just kept pushing down river, sending out horn blasts to oncoming tour boats (no others seemed to benefit from our own's carp-like appearance) and weaving through the shallows till we reached Yang Shuo.

I'll let the pictures fill you in on the rest of the details.


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