Finding Nemo

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Yangshuo: Karst-opolis
A zillion years ago, the Earth decided to have a full on party in Guilin in Southern China.  It raised up a million limestone karsts, then invited Dali to come and melt them into a billion bizarrely contorted shapes.  The result is closer to Pandora than this planet.  As I arrived into the region by train, they first appeared off in the misty distance.  On and on they went, endlessly, I had no idea that there could be so many.  I put the camera away and just watched the movie play in the window.

View from Moon Hill
The strangest thing about them is that the surrounding landscape is completely flat, and yet these hills sprout up straight out of the ground like freakish alien mushrooms.  Some sport immense sheer rock cliffs that drop directly into the ground like they were planted by a rogue giant.  Most are around 200m high, covered in green trees with soft rounded tops.  You feel a bit like a smurf wandering through your mushroom village.  But others are contorted and twisted like a child's Play-dough.  The tops might funnel upwards over 500m into a narrow peak that flops lazily over to the side, or sport cut-out see-through moon-holes, or perhaps twist into whimsical cloud-like shapes.

 Rollin' down the riv-ah

Misty Li
In fact, a fun game in Guilin and Yangshuo is to imagine what shapes the hills look like.  As you cruise down the Li River on your fake bamboo raft (strangely resembling PCB tubing), you come across Reed Flute Rock, Seven Star Peak, Mountain of Splendid Hues, and 9 Dragon Hill.  The cliffs hulk closely around the river and rise straight out of the water, at times blocking the sun.  Sometimes a view of endless misty peaks appears faraway in the distance.

The insides are even more fun
But the fun doesn't stop rafting down the river, wandering the hills or climbing the mountains.  Inside many are huge limestone caves filled with underground rivers and viewing chambers.  Armies of stalagmites (broken by careless Chinese tourists) march along the floors and waterfalls tinkle down the paths.  The best part by far are the mud pools.  The Chinese have enlarged and deepened these natural wonders to the point where you can slide right in and float around!  This is followed by a dunk in the freezing river to clean off, then a soak in the heated pools.  It is truly an underground spa.

There is world-class rock-climbing, mopeds to cruise around on, endless hiking trails.  Of all the wonders of Yangshuo, my favorite day was when we grabbed some inner tubes and just plunked ourselves down in the middle of the Li River, in front of a bunch of startled Chinese.  But that is another story.

Underground mud party

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