China Travelogue-16: More than staying fit

Posted in Travel at 6:00 by RjZ

Keeping fit while traveling is only a problem if “fit” means a regular schedule of cycling, running, swimming, or whatever it is that you do to stay trim. Budget travelers don’t usually stay in hotels with fitness equipment, and I wouldn’t have enough space in my diminutive pack for an extra pair of running shoes, let alone any specialized gear for other activities. Diet, too, can be a bit of a challenge to maintain while backpacking across a foreign country. Eating is a big part of what I experience, but doing so, but even that often takes second place to sightseeing and experiencing what the destination has to show me.

None of this means that you’ll have to grow fat and lazy during travel to China. After yesterday’s ten or fifteen kilometers, of cycling on heavy, single speed lady bikes, we decided we were ready for greater distances and vaster views. Getting away from the cluster of tourist sites along the main road, we took our trusty lady bikes on a thirty or more kilometer tour and ended up having the best day of the whole trip, while seeing almost no “sights” to speak of.

We weaved along roads and through towns, somewhere between lost and found the whole ride. We stopped at a souvenir vendor’s stand outside of town and looked over hundreds of dusty fake antiques; easily able to resist buying more than a few because we had to carry everything in our small day packs. We made it through village traffic (remember, in China, even a village may not be small at all. Yangshuo itself is called a village and it’s home to over 300,000 people) and past rice patties and persimmon trees. Looking lost, or not, it doesn’t matter either way, we were approached by a few hawkers trying to guide us along the way or encourage us to board a bamboo raft for a quiet float down the river.

Golden Dragon Bridge, Yangshuo

We joined some cattle as we crossed over the Golden Dragon bridge built over 1000 years ago, it is one of the oldest single arch stone bridges in Guangxi, but there was no sign and no busloads of tourists to let us know that this was it. Beautiful, but grown over with vines, it was little different than less distinguished bridges along the river. Coasting and bouncing along the narrow dirt farm roads we saw where the tour busses must drop off their Chinese tourists for a short cruise down the river. The floating traffic jam on one inconspicuous part of the river was a draw for locals and tourists alike.

We pedaled through fields of vegetables and rice and spied on harvesting farmers doing all the work without the help of tractors or really, any thing power beyond their own muscles. The weather was white and overcast, but these were still the views of limestone cliffs that sells this part of the world to tourists far and wide. Finally, we pedaled back to town, well over 30 km on our pink and blue bikes, we were proud of our efforts.

Unlike many seasoned travelers, I enjoy tours. I feel sure I’ve missed something important or fascinating when I tried to guide myself. I would have enjoyed hearing silly stories about the Ming dynasty nobles who built that bridge, or being actually introduced to one of the farmer families we spied working for 15 quiet minutes. (A friend who went on a packaged tour enjoyed just that in the same area.) And yet, this day, with all it’s effort and so little actually achieved, was the best day of the entire journey. Quiet, lonely, and beautiful, a part of China one expects before ever visiting and forgets it could even exist upon arrival; the farmland outside of Yangshuo is fruitful enough that poor farmers don’t seem so desperate, but still rural enough that busses and hawkers have failed to spoil it. This is why you’ve come to this part of the world. Get a bike and just go.

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