Huangshan to Yangshuo – Friday, November 23

Up again before dawn and a short hike up to a sunrise viewing spot. The headlamp was much more effective when not reflecting against mist in the air. A promising start! I found a comfortable sitting rock in a less crowded area and settled in. As the sun began to rise, it wasn’t the camera chirps, cellphone chimes, or constant chatter that interrupted my moment of zen, but rather the loud phlegmy throat clearing followed by someone hocking a loogie. In the near-dark. In a crowded place. With multiple tiers of viewing areas. And I wasn’t on the highest. I think I now understand why people are so set on climbing to the absolute top, and it’s not necessarily all about better views!

Anyway, I escaped un-rained-upon and on my way back down to breakfast, my knees told me that hiking down the mountain would be a bad idea. There’s no fallback plan of using Uber (or the Chinese version, DiDi) if I got tired, since there are no roads. And I didn’t want to be the person being hauled down in a bright yellow chair after being unable to make it out under my own steam. So, the gondola it was. And even the small hike from my hotel to the top of the gondola was enough to confirm I’d made a good decision. It wasn’t the uphill that was hard, it was the going down. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Since it was morning, everyone was going up the gondola. I could tell I was going the right way as much because of the mass of tour group people coming towards me as because of any signage. One girl stopped and wanted to have her picture taken with me. Yeah, sure, I guess. Why not?

I felt like I was swimming upstream, and I had to just stand my ground on the far edge of the trail at times, because the mass of people coming at me were taking the full width of the path. But, since everyone was coming up when I was going down, I had a gondola all to myself.

At the bottom, I walked and caught the blue bus back to Tangkou town. I had a few hours to kill before I needed to be at the Tunxi airport, so I walked very slowly around Tangkou.

There wasn’t much going on (aside from it being a good day to air out the bedding!) I stopped to enquire about some small pastries for sale. Using google translate, I asked “what’s inside?” (Confusion). Tried again. “What is the filling?” (First attempt, google thought I said “feeling.” Argh. Second attempt got it right). “Dried plum”. Ooh, okay. She then gave me one to eat. It was alright. Kind of dry. I wanted to pay her, but maybe they weren’t sold individually? I walked a bit and then came back and tried the app again. “I’d like to buy a small portion” confusion again. While I was standing there, a man came up, reached into the bin and picked one up with his fingers, sniffed it, said something, and threw it back in. I try not to let my germophobic side win while traveling, but between the language barrier and that, I decided it was best to just move on. Sheepish smiles and apologies/thanks, and I left the poor lady alone.

I moseyed some more, eventually ate lunch, and then figured that since I’d walked every street (some more than once) in the dense area of Tangkou, I’d head on towards the airport. I was ready to sit down for awhile.

I showed my slip of paper with “Tunxi Airport” written in Chinese and after some brow furrowing, was pointed towards a bus. The driver wasn’t on board yet, so I showed the slip of paper to some fellow passengers, just to confirm I was on the right bus. A bunch of chatter in Chinese ensued. Hmm. Not the simple head nod or thumbs up or smile that I’d been hoping for. I thought perhaps the handwriting was bad or something, so after hand motions indicating an airplane taking off failed to elicit the desired reaction, I pulled up Tunxi Airport on my phone’s map app, which included a picture of airplanes. More chatter and gesticulating. An older woman showed me a picture of a building which might’ve been an airport terminal. Eventually a younger girl who seemed fed up with the situation pulled out her phone and using a translation app communicated that this bus goes to the train station, and that I’d have to get a taxi to the airport from there. Not ideal, but I guess it’d work. (Also: thank you!) The consensus seemed to be that there was no direct bus to the airport. Maybe because it’s low season? Not sure. Anyway, I still had plenty of time, and I figured I could look for a tea shop around there or something where I might sit and people watch (there had been no such places in Tangkou, that I could find). So, onward.

As we got into town, the driver started calling out various stops. At one point, the girl indicated that he should stop so I could get out. My maps app showed that we were in fact near(ish) the airport, but this wasn’t the train station. It was literally just a bus stop on the side of a busy road with nothing around it.

Someone else had gotten off with a small suitcase, so I asked if he was going to the airport. Nope – or else he didn’t want to talk with me. Not someone to tag along with, either way. I pulled up the DiDi app and checked to see if there were cars around, and there were, but I wasn’t sure if it was pinpointing my location correctly, since it said something about a bus station (not a bus stop). So, when a taxi came by, I hailed it, climbed in, and handed the driver the slip of paper with the destination. Ok. And he used the meter, and the price was in line with what I expected based on the DiDi app (around 17cny), and he was able to make change for my 100cny note. Phew!

At the airport too early to check in, I wandered over to the only restaurant and looked at the menu. All in Chinese, with only one picture per page suggesting to me that the items might be beverages or food or dessert. Using our translation apps, I told the worker at the counter that I wanted something a little sweet. He asked if fresh juice was okay. Sure (my throat’s getting a little scratchy and maybe that’d help). The next translation made me giggle, as the options he listed were whether I wanted to quit my job or apple or orange juice. Maybe giggling wasn’t the best response, but he then said something about winter pear, and that sounded interesting, so I went with that.

Check-in, security, and then more waiting at the gate. They had fancy chairs that I think maybe were massage chairs you could activate with your phone. There are QR codes EVERYWHERE here, and I’ve seen people using their phones to scan QR codes to pay for food, and the taxi had one, as well. Someone sitting next to me was snacking on a whole cucumber.

The flight itself was on time and uneventful, and provided some good people watching. The lady sitting next to me had taken up the entire row with her stuff and was eating some kind of flakey food that looked like multiple layers of folded paper, when I boarded. I had to ask her to move her things out of my seat so I could sit there. Her husband was across the aisle, and gestured to ask if he could take a picture of the wife and I, together. Alright, sure. Eventually he had to move to sit next to her (apparently he’d been trying to stake claim to the row on the other side of the aisle, and wasn’t in his assigned seat). Tray table down, massive grocery bag full of food. Eating a loaf of bread and a sausage before takeoff. Flight attendant eventually came by and had him put the table up.

Got to Guilin, found my driver waiting where planned (holding the sign with my name upside down) and settled in for the long drive to Yangshuo. The moon rising over Guilin was full and orange. Maybe I’ll be able to get a picture of it in Yangshuo.

The silhouettes of karsts at night look really cool. Some look like giant anthills or termite mounds. Some of them are perfectly triangular.

Getting into Yangshuo, I noticed a number of scooters with umbrellas mounted on them. I can’t imagine they’d provide much protection against rain while moving, so maybe they’re mostly for shade?

Finally at my hotel, it was a relief to find the receptionist spoke good English. Talk about a day of being a bumbling idiot in a foreign land. I’m so grateful that people are friendly and patient with me. And that there hasn’t been a mass of people behind me that I’m holding up, in these situations.

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