Just back to Nanning after 6 plus hours of bus rides. Already I've spent more than 40 hours in buses and planes and I still have 21 more to go.
In Yangshou we got to float down the Li river on a bamboo raft. One of the coolest things I've ever done just for the sheer novelty. How many people do you know who can say they have travelled by bamboo raft in china? (Well at least one now).
The day started hot and humid, yeah big surprise. After having a breakfast of rice porridge and hot water, you have to boil the tap water before drinking it as I found out from Vivien as I was about to down a glass at the hotel (Good safety tip doh) we were off.
After breakfast we found a sort of hybrid shuttle bus. Think pint size minivan with the sides cut off. The paved roads weren't bad. Even the unpaved roads were ok. The unpaved goat paths were a different story. Just before we turned on to one of these the lady behind me dropped my safety bar in place. Then she laughed as we made the turn and I bounced around like a ping pong ball.
Made it to the launch point mostly intact and as I hopped off the shuttle I was mobbed by 4 foot tall old grandmothers (145 cm) trying to sell me god knows what. There sales pitch consisted of shouting "hello, hello" over and over and sticking whatever item in front of me. Vivien was negotiating for the raft so I was on my own to fend off the killer sales grannies. When she struck a deal the raft guy came and chased them away.
Now when they said bamboo raft I had images of tom sawyer type rafts cruising down the river. Or at least some floatation devices attached. Boy was I wrong. The "raft”, was about half a dozen bamboo poles lashed together with bailing wire. If this thing was 120 cm’s wide, then I'm Yao Ming. The deck was two metal chairs tied down with more bailing wire. I seriously doubt if Vivien and the boatman weighed as much as me so there were some definite concerns on my part. All the other boatmen laughing as I scampered across 3 or 4 rafts to get to ours didn't help.
Finally set off for our 2 hour cruise with minor incident (didn't Gilligan’s island start as a 2 hour cruise also?). Things seemed ok until at about 100 meters out we hit a type of low water dam with spillways for the boat to careen down. Oh crap. I told the boatman that if he tipped us over I wanted my money back. Fortunately this one was only a couple of feet of drop (yes I said this one). So, some minor splashing and on our way.
Occasionally we would pass a larger anchored raft that was kind of a floating convenience store. Their sales pitch was a little more polished than the killer grannies as they could say "hello, beer, water, hello". Not long until we come to the second dam and apparently the boatman mid judged as we ended up hung up on the dam, halfway in the spillway. After a moment I hope out onto the algae covered rock but no luck getting free. Vivien hops out and the boatman manages to get loose. He manages so well that he leaves us standing ok the dam trying not to get washed away. The next raft comes by and all I can do is shrug and stick my thumb out trying to hitch a ride.
The raft finally comes back for us and we’re off again. The next couple of spillways we managed with no problem but each one is a little bit higher so we go from little splash to big splash to half the raft submerged. After the biggest of these we pulled up next to another anchored raft. After we piled out I realized they were taking digital pictures and they had a computer, printer and laminator in the middle of the river on a bamboo raft!!!! I can just imagine the support c calls.
Back on the raft and we caught up with a couple of other boats and one of the boatman starts singing ""liu san jio", which is apparently the unofficial song of Guangxi province (there's a movie of the same name). Soon the other boatmen are singing along and the passengers joining in. Too cool.
Now on the shuttle bus we passed a lot of bicycles and it seems as an alternative to the lazy route we took you can ride a bike to the start then pile this on to the raft. Of course they don't tie it down so if it falls off going over the spillway you’re going swimming to fish it out which we saw more than once. Another advantage of taking a shuttle :-)