Thursday, July 29, 2010

Floating on the Li River.

When my alarm went off early in the morning, a storm was raging outside and I went back to sleep, thinking in a haze what a shame it was that my original plans wouldn't work out that day. The plan was to see the two villages of Xingping and Yangdi on foot by hiking the 25 kilometers between them, following the Li River.

A few hours later it was no longer raining, and I started out anyway despite the ominous clouds. However, upon arrival at the starting point of Yangdi, I learned to my dismay that the hiking trail towards Xingping had been closed due to flooding. After a good deal of haggling, I decided to take a bamboo raft and float downstream to my destination instead.

This alternative was a good one. Having spent the last few days simmering in the humidity under a searing sun, it felt to me like the entire earth had cooled with the rain, and that the mountains had grown more lush, more green, now shrouded in white fog.

The peaks were giant men with their heads in the clouds, and I put-putted my way down the river, peering up at them towering over me, my jaw agape.

A few hours later, we reached Xingping. Not quite done soaking in the view yet, I walked through the villages surrounding Xingping for a few more hours.

Lush groves of bamboo.

Later that night, back in Yangshuo for dinner, I revisited the same Sichuan restaurant where I ate the previous night. The owners had clucked over me the night before like two old mothers, sat and talked with me, and had let me order two half-dishes for the price of one, extra spicy, pickled vegetables free. They had made me bitter melon stuffed with minced pork, the sauce loaded with enough Sichuan peppercorns to numb a person’s mouth for days. And now, hungrily, I was back for more.

This time, they invited me to dine with their kitchen staff. With the owners and the cooks, I had a small feast of fried river fish, spicy pig lung in garlic sauce, and raw cucumbers doused with vinegar and chili oil. My favorite dish was the button mushrooms stuffed with minced pork, each piece bite-sized and fiery. It was a memorable meal.

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