18 June 2008
This One Time, On A Pedal Bike In China…
I love bikes. Had one as kid. Went on “bike rides” with the fam. Launched myself over the handle bars and cracked my chin open…In Yangshuo it seemed that bikes were the “way” to see the countryside so Lianne and I bought into it and rented a bike each. At $1.25 for the day it was a fairly good deal. We also hired a guide, mainly because the woman running our hostel convinced us that we needed one. I would later discover that there was really nothing I could not have done without her. Still, at $13 for the day it was, yet again, a fairly good deal.
The weather was still a concern but the woman running the hostel assured us that “maybe it won’t rain all day. Maybe not until the evening. So we set out (with our new umbrellas) on a biking adventure. The first 10 minutes were amazing! No rain, bikes-only paths and landscape like nothing I have ever seen. Then the rain started. And it rained nonstop for the rest of the day. We perfected the one-handed ride while holding an umbrella at a strategic angle so as not to get wet maneuver early on, leading our guide to complement us on our “non-foreigner skills,” telling us we “must be pretty good because usually the foreigners can’t ride with one hand.” Insert girlish giggle here.
Fortunately, biking was only part of the day. Our plan was to ride upstream a solid 40 minutes then float down the river on a bamboo raft before climbing 900 steps to the top of Moon Hill. Our guide Maria would drop us at the raft then take a took took downstream with our bikes. Lianne had to of course stop and purchase a flowered headband, which led her to refer to herself as the “Beautiful Flower Princess of Yanghsuo” for the rest of the day. She is, of course, all of those things.
The first hour of our bamboo journey was spent in complete solitude and, for the first time in China, we welcomed into our lives total silence, interrupted only by the splashing sound of our sampan man’s pole entering the water and pushing off of the river bottom. It was calm. It was peaceful. It was perfect. Then we reached tourist land.
Marked by an onslaught of rainbow beach umbrellas, yelling, screaming and the occasional man taking a swim, the tourist land portion of the journey, while not as quiet, was equally entertaining. Every 100 yards there was a floating 7-Eleven selling water, juice, soda, beer and a collection of meat-on-a-stick options. After each rapid (yes, there was the occasional whitewater) there was a floating internet café where you could pull in and purchase the photo just snapped of you making a ridiculous face you hope that your boat does not split into a dozen pieces.
The rain stopped just as we pulled into our overpriced lunch spot. An hour later we were prepping ourselves to scale Moon Hill. Moments after taking the first of 900 steps it started pouring rain again. Perfect. Around step 427 or so (but who’s counting) Lianne and I were joined by Elsa (at least, that’s what I decided her English name would be). She followed us the rest of the way up the mountain, shouting “watch your step” and “be careful” and “it’s very slippery” the entire way.
We reached the summit and were completely drenched in both rain water and sweat. I plopped my bag down on the ground, only to watch Elsa walk right up to Lianne and start fanning her. Elsa was, of course, not breathing hard at all. We started chatting her up and it turns out old Elsa is REALLY old. At 85 she climbs the 900 steps two and three times a day following tourists with postcards, water and yes, beer.
She pulled from her fanny pack (gotta love the fanny pack) a small journal that was filled with notes from people all the around the World who had visited Moon Hill and met Elsa. We gladly added to the collection and now, feeling rather guilty, asked Elsa if we could buy a water. “10 kuai,” she told us. Now, water usual costs 1.5 kuai so I was little perturbed. I started to try and bargain only to be told, in perfect English, that these waters had a “delivery surcharge,” as they were available ice cold at the top of 900 steps. Riddle with guilt (how can you not feel guilty when an 85 year old woman who climbs 900 steps 3 times a day and has no teeth stands in front of you asking to just spent $1.50 on a water) we bought one. She offered to snap our picture (first person I’ve ever met who knew exactly how to work my camera. I attempted to explain the shutter and she slapped my hands away shouting “I know. I know. I know. Gosh!”) and we started our descent.
Twenty minutes and one ice cold water later we were back on our bikes, umbrellas up and angled to battle the fierce rain. The only issue was, we had been riding all day and my seat was none too comfortable. Two minutes in my butt was asleep and my tail bone was thoroughly bruised, leading to the opening of what can only be described as the second most uncomfortable experience of my life (after that ride down the mountain from the coffee farm in Guaemala). Pedal. Coast. Push butt off seat using right leg. Ease pain. Balance umbrella. Pedal. Coast. Push butt off seat using left leg. Ease pain. Balance umbrella. Repeat. This carried on for the entire hour of our ride back and I was none to happy to hand that two-wheeled horror right over to the rental man, vowing to never again rent a bike in a rain. Or in the sun. Ever.