Monday, 28 October 2013

Saturday 19th - Pubotang, Xingping, Guilin. Take me to the River! (don't drop me in the water)

I spent the night in an unfamiliar and very hard bed, just slats, a thin blanket, and a mosquito net, loaned to me by this family who's names I will never learn. Not much sleep had, a large part of the night I spent rebuking myself for imposing my reckless ignorance of Chinese cartographic practise on them. Being a traditional rural family, I knew we'd be rising early, so I'd set my alarm for 6.30. At 4.30am, the lights next door went on, doors opened and slammed closed, and I heard voices chatting away. Who gets up at 4.30? Even here? Were they monks, or dairy farmers, bakers or breakfast DJs?

Not nearly as comfortable as it looks, but a bed nevertheless:
None of the above fortunately. A few minutes later, all was and dark again, I fell asleep listening to the rain dripping off the roof into a trough outside.

I stayed in bed until I heard mum and dad rising at 7am, then got up and dressed quickly. All the tea from last and I still hadn't figured out why they'd put bricks in the latrine, so went outside in the rain and peed in the bushes. 

It was light, and my bike was still inside where I'd left it, it hadn't been sold on the sly to a neighbour at 4.30am, so it was time for me to get back on the road. But not yet. Not before breakfast.

Mum put some rice in the cooker, sliced some meat, and chopped some leaves and put them in the wok on the electric stove on the low table. At 8.30am the rice was cooked and breakfast was ready so Dad cracked open a bottle of lager and poured half in my glass. Tea at night and beer at breakfast, this is a little tipsy-turvy.

Mum was a little more conscientious and stopped Dad from giving me the rest of his beer, making wobbly wavey signs and pointing at the bike and me, laughing. Fair enough I thought. And with that, we packed up and I said thanks and goodbyes, as I left with Dad and eldest son. We walked the hundred yards back down to the river and jumped into one of the bamboo rafts that belonged to Dad. 

I handed over a newly inflated amount of cash for their troubles, and five minutes later reached a tiny jetty slightly to the north. Leading from the jetty was a narrow overgrown muddy path. There is no way in hell I would have found this in the dark last night, even if I had secured a crossing. 

Ahead of me though was not the flat road back to Xingping I'd been hoping for though. First I had to slog my way up a couple of mountain paths and negotiate through the uncertainty of pixelated google maps. 

An hour later a smile came to my face as I realised I was back in terra cognita.

One final bit of excitement on this journey remained. Cycling through a small village well off the main road, I noticed a lot of red tape lying in the gutter and a few people standing around.

On closer inspection, I saw the tape was actually thousands of firecrackers, probably for use later that night. Just as I passed the last house in the village I saw a guy lean down and ignite the first one, just as a decorated car and bus rolled slowly into the village. I was at a wedding.

All hell broke lose, it was like being in an ambush. Extremely loud bangers were going off right beside me at a rate of four or five a second. I was getting covered in bits of red debris and the air was thick with smoke, and reeking of cordite. Just praying that I wouldn't get swabbed at the airport the next day, because after two or three minutes of this I was covered in firecracker shrapnel.

This ceremony was to welcome the happy couple to their new home.

After all that fun, I made it back to the hostel in time for lunch. Read some pages of a rather shocking Mao biography, then jumped on the bus back to the metropolis of Guilin for a final night there before the flight to shanghai the following morning. 

What an adventure!

(Detail of one of the maps that started this whole debacle. Note well, that is definitely not a bridge to the  northeast of Pubutang.)

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