Ni hao true believers! And welcome back. After an extended break from blogging (due to blog overload) I'm back to finish off the 'Spring festival' Series of blogs. These next two blogs will be rather short and show the highlights of my last two destinations, Guilin and Xi'an, as we did rather little in both of these places due to travel fatigue. I won't hold back any longer, here we go....
Train journey length: 22 hours Total: 73 hours traveling
Distance: 930 miles Total: 5200 miles
We woke up in Suzhou and made our way across the town to the train station. Once there we all bustled into the waiting area and grabbed so,e food. It was a magic moment; a baguette (erie?) was to be found in the center of the station so I grabbed then most delicious baguette I'd ever had (in hindsight, mediocre but I had not eaten no sweet bread, or a sandwich, since arrival). And then came another sad moment in our journey; 再见to Nick and Claire. They had decided, for their own reasons, not to join us on the next leg of the journey so we said our goodbyes and awaited for the train; Me, Stephen Rowland, Jacob, Alex ,Tim and Anya. When it was time to board the train we were excited. This was no normal train though; this was one of the fabled bullet trains. We all climbed aboard in awe of the thing. There were seats with plugs, internet connection, trays, seats that recline and are actually comfortable. The train that took us 2 1/2 hours on the way there took us 20 minutes on the way back. It was an amazing experience but back handed; it really was a kick in the crown jewels considering what we had to experience next.
Once we got off the bullet train, in no time at all really, we hopped onto the subway and shuttled across town to our next destination; another train station. Once there we boarded the next train for our 21 hour journey in hard seats. In all honesty it was not that bad at all. We had a group of seats (8 of them) to ourselves and it allowed me to stretch my legs out a lot. As ever time dripped past. I managed to get a fare bit sleep on this one though and eventually we arrived in Guilin. We checked into our hostel (Guilin Wada hostel, I cannot recommend it more, read on..) and settled into our rooms, all separate. Later on in the evening our partners in crime Mr Daniel Shawn Donald Sherwood-Clarke (he was named for great things) and my companion of old Stephen Erhorn arrived at the hostel. We ate a banquet type meal and split the costs before kicking back in the hostel
Here are the highlights of Guilin; the hostel. Wada hostel has become holy ground for the members of project that spent time there. Most of us (not me though) took up a wonderful challenge; drink 12 beers, get a hostel t-shirt. Game on. The staff were an absolute delight (all female, I must mention), the drinks we're completely reasonable and the atmosphere was really friendly. I ate some amazing western style food over 6the course of that week including, but not limited to; one American breakfast, one English breakfast, pancakes... more than I had the money for in all honesty. There was a TV room with a huge selection of movies, a fantastic reading room, free clothes washing facilities, a great lounge area and a pool table. Not only that but they had things to do on evenings; one evening we all made dumplings and ate far too many of them. Another night was BBQ and, again, it was too much food but also included a 'homemade China shot' which turned out to be some pretty smooth 白酒and we met a lot of people through these events. Finally were the rooms; bliss. A heated blanket for everyone as it was cold, personal light, curtains for your bed and the bed itself was extremely soft. I love that place and if I ever get the chance again I shall be staying there. If only all hostels were like heaven.
Another highlight was almost certainly the people. We met several incredibly lovely people. Two German girls arrived one day and stayed the duration of the week and we got chatting. They were both studying Chinese in Beijing; one was a Chinese/ German girl called Sisi who had moved to Germany at birth and couldn't speak much Chinese so decided to come learn in China. We had a lot of fun with those two girls talking, drinking and one night we all crammed into the small movie room, 8 of us in a room for 4, and watched district 9 which was really nice. They also were experiencing similar problems to us with China so it was nice to talk. Another night a host of Americans arrived who were doing short, 2-3 day trips in countries across all of Asia via a boat, provided by their universities. They were all extremely lovely people and most had not left the US before so it was, again, great to get a new perspective on China from people who knew so little about it. The last two to mention (we met many more wonderful people in this place) was an Australian chap and a Slovenian gentlemen. They were traveling together on business and gave us a lot of praise for what we are doing in China, were very in awe and did buy us a few drinks (always a bonus). To those who stood by us in Guilin; I salute you. You helped shape me more than I will ever know.
What did we do in Guilin itself? It has to be said, less than we should have. One of the days we decided to grab bikes, as it had been so much fun in Suzhou, and head out into the city to explore, map in hand. We ended up following the river all the way along to the outskirts of the town and saw some incredible sights along the way; on the river we saw a man using a boat made of plastic tubing use a crane to catch fish, which was pretty special (did feel more like a tourist attraction though). On our route we got to see a lot of the older parts of Guilin were the roads were somewhat lacking in stability and sometimes the roads lacked road at all and were simply dirt tracks. Once we started heading back our route took us to one of the spectacular and fabled mountains situated in the center of Guilin. Guilin is a city built around these awesome mounds of dense greenery, caves and rugged black rocks. We decided to ascend one of them and got an amazing view of the whole city (see the photo attached to this blog). It felt very much like another moment not long gone in Shanghai; that feeling of pure awesome disbelief that I was standing there overlooking a whole city. It felt like being A giant amongst the little people. Simply amazing. We descended shortly after that photo was taken and made our way back into town, the hostel and relaxation.
Another highlight, for much unexpected reasons, was the Guilin Reed flute cave. This is a cave thousands of years old and full of amazing stone structures; stalagmites, stalagmites, some stalaghighs, stalaglows. It was something I looked forward to greatly. On the way there we missed our bus stop by one ended got dropped off a half mile down the road but I am so glad we were. The walk back along took us along around surrounded by rice pasture land and two of the great, green mountains as described earlier loomed ominously over us giving a sense that we were walking in a land once great but now lost to history. This feeling was broken by the constant slow of traffic hammering there horns at us. This was no ancient, mythical land. Still just China. We walked back along and paid the ridiculous fee to go into the caves and boy were we surprised; it was like walking into disney land on LSD. The place was lit up with multicoloured lights here, there and everywhere. There were light shows, places to stop to have pictures taken with this like 'lost treasure', 'the ancient sword of old' and 'some dosser in a monkey costume'. It was all rather beautiful, the rock structures, not the light show, and I was willing to over look all the Chinese touristy stuff in favor of the amazing natural beauty of the place. That was until the projection show. I was standing looking with a glaze in my eye only of which can be produced be a perfect mirror image of yourself on gleaming, clear expanse of water when I noticed the reflection of a rather unruly Tyrannosaurus rex sharing the moment with me. They essentially played Jurassic park meets the 'beginnings of man' via a giant projector on the roof of the cave. What a load of
As we left we did have a lovely tea ceremony in the tourist village out back. They excepted us to buy some tea in return but little did they know were all poor. The teas were all rather delicious but I could not help but be cynical about the sanitary conditions of the tea waterfall which appeared to be housing fish but were lumps of grime. After this darling, free, ceremony we headed back to the hostel and, once more, had a great time amongst friends.
The food in Guilin was fairly varied but still to a good standard. We spent a lot of time roaming between very nice coffee shops with good western food but, again, nothing out standing come to mind. No meals stood out particularly really except the last one; on our last night we decided to all have a banquet together as, after this, we would all be going our separate ways, which was rather sad. Gathered round that table eating dishes of food which we didn't quite know what was in them I felt very at home in the Project Trust community. Such a wonderful collection of individuals who have all contributed, some a little, others a lot, to making China a special experience. Chin Chin. Cheers. Thank you lady Anya and the gentlemen. You're all wonderful.
The last day in Guilin we were out of the hostel just in time to head to the train station were Me, Tim, the Stephens and Dan would be heading to Xi'an leaving Alex, Anya and Jacob behind. Good bye my friends (not quite, Alex is going to Newcastle Uni so I think I will be seeing a lot of him).
And there we have Guilin. Another leg on what has been an absolutely incredible journey. I will admit there's more of Guilin we could have seen; we could have gone out to the rice paddies, sailed down the river or seen the elephant leg rock structure but you know what? I'm more than happy I did not. I met a lot of wonderful people in Guilin, shared some great times with friends and even made some new ones along the way. The hostel was also a fantastic part of Guilin and really did make it special for us. Goodbye Guilin. You helped build my character up to aid the next part of my journey which marks the subtitle 'The end of what has been the best few weeks of my life' but to read about that be sure to checkout the final part of my Spring festival blogs 'Xi'an: return of the drunken jedi',
Until next time beloved readers,