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A Day on the Li River

By | August 4, 2010

Monday, Aug. 2

I slept late, and Patti came back up to our room to tell me she was going on a boat ride in 15 minutes if I wanted to join the group. There was still much confusion about what kind of boat on which river, but I hopped out of bed. I had missed the agony of the group decision-making process, and now all I had to do was show up. Perfect!

Scenery along the Li

We had been hoping to get to a less populated area of the river to see more uninterrupted landscape. Apparently, we left a little late, so the van driver drove with a vengeance. We gripped the seats as he passed trucks on a bridge with visible oncoming traffic.  He honked furiously. Being in any vehicle in China has been an adventure pretty much every time, but this upped the ante. He did refrain from passing in a tunnel, but just barely.

The boat we were not on.

When we arrived, there was not actually a larger group waiting for us, wondering where we were. There seemed to be many available boats, though two boat drivers seemed to be expecting us. The boats were the style of the traditional bamboo rafts, but made of PVC. Instead of a pole, they were driven by small, noisy, moveable outboard motors. Each boat sat four, with two bamboo benches, which were not attached to the floor, as I found out when Patti leaned back at the same time I looked down to get something out of my purse. I still have a sore spot on my forehead. There was a little awning over the benches so we would be out of the sun. As we moved down the river, we passed a large tour boat that we thought we might have ended up on. With a big crowd standing on an uncovered top deck, we thought our set up was probably more comfortable.

Traffic on the river.

As we motored through the countryside, we were no longer in town, nor along a road, but we were not out of traffic. Boats like ours were coming and going with family after family out cruising for the day. Many waved, and some attacked with water guns. Heather and Melody, from our group but on the other boat, found the water gun on their boat (the kind that is basically a long pipe that suctions up water) and started shooting happily back. They got soaked, standing on the front of their raft. They quickly figured out the etiquette that you only shoot at armed boats, basically, and leave the others alone, especially if they are pointing a camera at you.


After a while, we anchored at a rocky sandbar with some pop up shelters on it. We had passed several, but I think your driver stops at the one he has a deal with. They’re basically all the same—someone with a cooler with cold drinks and ice cream, hooked up to a generator or a house across the shore, one or two ladies with small stoves frying fish or sweet potato pancakes on a stick, a few people selling souveniers, and a few racks of costumes to have your picture taken in.

Potato pops and river creatures on sticks fried in beer, a regional specialty.

See! We're not the only ones dressing up!

Patti and I went straight for the costumes. When we showed the pictures to our translators later, they said we had chosen garb from Inner Mongolia. This time we also got to pose with two cormorants. Cormorant fishing is a traditional method in this area of China. The cormorants wear a collar which prevents them from swallowing the fish that they catch, and then the fishermen take the fish from the bird. We heard you can also go on a tour to watch them do this.

Patti, Inner Mongolian princess, and the cormorants

Susan joins the fun. Patti and I are really starting to master the skirt holding pose.

After our little sandbar excursion, we turned around and headed back to our starting point. Once again, we would have liked to have a little more information about the mountains. On maps, many of them have very interesting names. But it was still a pleasant way to spend the day.

Of course, there were water buffalo.

The ride back to our hotel was only marginally less scary, since we were not hurrying. Some of our group of seven were all fired up to go to lunch together.
Another reason Patti and I make great roommates is that we are rather skeptical about going everywhere in such large groups, and we were also both starting to feel like it would be nice to have an actual rest on this vacation. That led to about a 4-hour nap for me. Lovely. Later, Patti and I went out for dinner and some shopping on West Street, the crazy main visitors area. We worked our way all the way down to the end of the street, where it seemed we could bargain the prices down lower.

On the way back to the hotel, we missed our turn and got lost. We kept thinking there would be a place to turn left to hook back in to the main street as we walked farther and farther down a dark and rather desolate street. There wasn’t. Eventually we reached the end of the road and turned around. Walking down a strange, dark street felt way safer than driving in a taxi in China. And, once again, though we had gone quite a ways out of our way to no avail, it made our navigating the next day much easier, as we had a better understanding of how the streets were organized. And it reminded us to pay better attention.

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