Today was easily one of the best days of my life.
We woke up early to grab breakfast and coffee before we were on our way in a bus with eight other people for a two-hour drive to the famous rice terraces outside of Guilin. The ride, through the snow-capped mountains surrounding Guilin, was absolutely gorgeous and reminded me a lot of the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway near my home in Asheville only with a much less maintained road. As we zoomed up the mountain we were jolted and slung about as our driver took us through potholes and over rocks in the skilled way only someone who drives this path every day could manage confidently. In what seemed like a little too long of a journey (probably because of the back-seat jostling), we arrived suddenly on the top of the mountain and were told, go wherever you want, just be back by four so you can catch the bus back to the hostel. What can I say? Music to our ears.
And we did exactly that. At the base of the mountain we were closest to there was a forked path – the left path leading to area 1 and area 2; the right leading to area 3. One of the girls that works at the hostel had given Duncan the insider scoop to follow path 3 first, and so we began our adventure by splitting from the rest of the group and making our way towards path 3. It really couldn’t have been a better decision. We spent the next hour or so completely alone, silently soaking in the increasing beauty of the terraced rice fields as we hiked our way higher and higher up the mountain. The only people we saw on our way up to the 3rd scenic area were four local men leading donkeys along the path. They, like all the other locals, wished us a merry “hello!” in impeccable English (they must get a lot of practice).
After we found the scenic area we were looking for we spent the next two hours following hand-lain stone paths up and around the mountain and through various small villages. Everywhere we went we were greeted by extremely friendly locals who (after traipsing around for a while and genuinely getting lost in a sea of mud because of the distinctively Chinese lack of helpful maps or directional signs), we’re pretty confident, decide to “go for walks” in which they end up steering wayward tourists back in the right direction. But getting lost was really one of the best things that could have happened because we ended up wandering through these tiny villages, talking with the locals, seeing extraordinary views without any other people, and being able to take as long as we wanted with admiring the beauty of what is easily one of the most beautiful places in the world.
It’s hard to explain with words the magic of our wandering through the rice terraces without worrying about other people except for the extremely friendly locals and with only the sound of the wind moving through the trees on what turned out to be a very pleasantly warm day. There was no smog, no traffic, and no inclination that a major city is as close as two hours down the mountain. To be honest, it was hard to stop myself from stopping every ten steps up the trail just to admire the surrounding beauty. But, because we wanted to see more than just path 3 and had only four hours, we had to keep moving.
Eventually, though, we made our way down the mountain and into Dazhai (Big Village) and were beckoned by a middle-aged woman waving, smiling, and miming eating at us into a small restaurant. Like everywhere else, the smells inside the restaurant were delicious and the pork fried rice we ordered was even better.
In the middle of our meal a Chinese man walked in with his wife and son and started talking to us while he waited for his food. You’ll never guess where he was from – Baoding! He asked us where we were from and when he responded that he too is from Hebei Baoding we actually didn’t believe him until he asked what street our school is on. We responded and he said, (all of this in Chinese) “oh the one over by the bus station?” He actually is from Baoding and knows exactly where the Shuang Yu Xue Xiao is located in Baoding! What a small world (exactly what his wife said)! We spent the rest of our meal talking to him about Baoding and our travels (I did surprisingly well with my Chinese) and as we departed we all said, “kan ni zai Baoding” (see you in Baoding)!
As we finished our exploring for the day we chatted about how we would absolutely live here if we could. I started half-jokingly plotting a way to do some kind of anthropological field work during grad school that would “force” me to have to live in one of these tiny villages with the happiest people on Earth in (even in it’s off season) one of the most beautiful places on Earth (along with the numerous chickens, horses, donkeys, dogs, and pigs and despite the mud). I’d more than happily go back tomorrow, and the day after that (and the day after that).
But tomorrow we are going on a river cruise down to another local village and famous site – Yangshuo and we’re thrilled.
Thank you for reading,