26 year old Canadian, Dutch resident travelling to every country in the world (111 so far) to become the first Canadian female to visit them all. Bestselling travel AUTHOR and founder of popular #TRLT Twitter chat.
The earth swelled up into monstrous snails that had lain petrified for so long that vegetation had found refuge on their backs.
I was unable to tell if I was awake or still dreaming as my previous world collided with what I saw through the eerie morning fog.
Mist swirled around the base of the lush mounds of earth, wandering magically and timelessly above the fields of rice and around the ankles of water buffalo hauling wooden ploughs.
The beauty of the scene before me caught me completely off guard, and goose bumps worked their way up and down my arms. Till now, I had assumed that my angst about this trip would manifest itself in the form of something terrible or shocking, like the sky falling down on me. Instead, in my half-asleep state, something within me awakened, and I felt the most calming form of peace imaginable.
Chapter #12 “Reality Check”
The majority of the buildings were concrete blocks with white tiled fronts and grey tile roofing. Wet, brick-strewn alleyways led us to our hotel at last.
Clothes danced above us on lines strung from the windows as we made our way down the small, dirt streets of the residential areas, causing Bree to wonder aloud at the apparent lack of dryers.
Chapter #13 “Eye to Eye”
The rumbling chokes of broken mufflers dissolved into powerful commands directed at water buffalo as we rode single file along dauntingly narrow, elevated dirt paths with ever-present mud on either side.
Farmers weeded and worked their land, stomping barefoot in the rich, wet soil that stretched as far as the eye could see.
Back roads led us deeper and deeper into the heart of the Yulong River Valley where we delighted in the river’s glistening waters.
The rafts were each only ten bamboo poles wide and tied tightly together with rough rope.
They were barely wide enough for the two bamboo chairs that were perched side-by-side on what served as the deck.
“The volcano-like figures towering over us reinforced the fairy-tale-like setting that surrounded us.” – Yangshuo
“Totally unprepared, we screamed in unison as the whole front half of the raft dipped completely under the churning foam, soaking our sandalled feet before popping back up with the frothy water sloshing through the cracks.”
I was elated by the dishes set before us, so full of new and exotic flavours, including my first taste of eggplant and that wonderful orange fruit, loquat, that is indigenous to Southeast China.
The blur began once more as we stepped out from the dark restaurant into the light and bicycled to the enchanted Moon Water Cave.
We floated into the darkness of the cave in a little wooden rowboat. The low, flowing river was too narrow for oars, so we relied on muscle power to pull ourselves through the entrance using a thick, wet rope attached to a rock somewhere in the cave’s inner shadows.
With no more light than what was provided by a dimly lit path and the headlamps on our hardhats, we approached the innards of the underworld.
“I can’t believe you’re going to swim in that. How disgusting!” was Ammon’s first comment, “Cowabunga!!!” was Bree’s, and Mom offered a persuasive remark or two as she attempted to convince us to reconsider.
“…we rinsed our new layer of red-chocolate skin in the unusually warm waters of the underground river we’d been following.”
We climbed for a long time towards the top of the cave where we could see a gaping opening into an endless blue sky.
Chapter #14 “Whet Your Appetite”
Cages upon cages stuffed with big-eyed creatures were stacked high and threatened to collapse at any moment. Snakes coiled together in rusted cages.
Turtles grown to be sold and made into delicious soups struggled in only inches of water.
Fish panicked in shallow tubs, only half covered by the minimal amount of water; one would occasionally spring out and bounce around on its side making a mud puddle under the wood stalls before a nearby granny would get up from her three-legged stool to toss the escapee back into the rubber tub with the rest.
Long lobster legs wiggled like spiders as they pinched each other in a desperate dance.
I watched as a woman examined a sack of four big frogs, put it back down, and then picked up the next one, comparing their relative size. Their springy feet hung awkwardly through the open spaces in the woven sacks.
“Careful what you wish for,” Mom cautioned wisely.
Chapter #15 “Back to School”
“This is my school!” he announced proudly once we’d walked a few blocks and turned the corner where a white, four-story building with bold Chinese writing stood.
“Asians and their table tennis!” Ammon laughed, recalling the many rambunctious matches he’d played with ESL students at home. But these were not the flimsy green tables with folding metal legs we were accustomed to using. Instead, theirs were just big blocks of concret. A line of stones gathered from the fields was piled across the middle and used as a net.
I began to get nervous and the butterflies in my stomach took flight. I didn’t like school presentations at the best of times, and that was in my own schools, where I would generally be forgotten and overlooked.
As we turned to leave, I heard “thank you, thank you, thank you” from all around me and I couldn’t help but smile and be glad we’d come. I knew there was nothing to be afraid of. Everyone was a new friend ready to meet and be made, with mutual learning experience for all.