First stop of my day in Guilin was the train station to pick up my ticket for the evening train. That was pretty straightforward but I was still a little apprehensive handing everything over to the person behind the counter. Guilin is a tourist destination for domestic travellers as well as foreigners, most of whom seem to be stopping there to catch a bamboo raft to a town further down the river. I certainly didn’t have time to do that, I probably wouldn’t have made it back from a rice terrace tour in time for my train and by the time I got going in the morning I wasn’t even sure I had time to go to the local cave all lit up as a theme park, as the German travellers from the night before described it. Instead I wandered around town along the route suggested by the person at reception at the hostel. But the markets were night markets and the view of the elephant shaped rock is deliberately obscured by bamboo and conifer to force you to pay for entry. I decided to aim for a museum and if I couldn’t find it, the park near it.
I stopped at a supermarket to stock up on food for the trains and tested out the new translation for vegetarian at a steamed dumpling shop. The girl serving me tried to say what my options were but I haven’t magically picked up the language so I just asked for one, any one. It turned out to be cabbage, a little like spring roll fillings. I crossed a large square with an abstract map of the world and checked out how far I’d come and how far I still had to go. There were fake Louvre type buildings, and a man having a very loud argument on his mobile pacing around the hot square. I peered in the window of a Dahon folding bike shop and after that saw folding bikes everywhere. I found the parking lot for the museum, but not the museum itself, so into West Mountain Park it was, for a hefty fee of $13.
Part way along on the trip I realised that we were doing an accidental tour of karst formations of South East Asia. That’s all those steep jutting out hills. We went round them in the ferries to and from Langkawi, into them via the caves at Vang Vieng and Ninh Binh, under them in the boat at Ninh Binh, and now I’d gone through them in the trains in China. I’d tried on that muddy climb outside of Ninh Binh, but didn’t get to the top. Guilin was another stop on the karst tour, and since I wasn’t going to that cave, what else was there to do at this park but make another attempt at going over? It was hot. There were big dark butterflies with iridescent patches on their wings. Cool air flowed out of a little cave.
Near a fork in the path I recognised the Chinese man behind me as one I’d seen going the other way earlier. The couple ahead had taken the right hand fork and I thought I wanted to see what was up the left hand fork. The man followed. I decided I wasn’t comfortable with that and backtracked to the path the couple had taken, though they were well out of sight now. The man didn’t follow again. The little pavilion part way up was easy enough to reach, I checked the time and figured I still had enough to attempt the rest of the peak. A tight turn in the stairs, up past some Buddha carvings, round to another side of the peak and a view of a little mountain jutting out of a pool of blue-roofed buildings along with my first sense of vertigo. The steps narrowed and got steeper. I pushed on for another quarter turn of the peak before it beat me again. The steps were just too narrow and steep and polished smooth in places and there was no bottom rail to catch you if you slipped. More than the logic of it though, my hands and legs were shaking and my heart was going out of control. So I turned around and gingerly climbed back to the little pavilion. I don’t think I stopped shaking till I got all the way to the bottom.
On my way out of the park a couple of Chinese men were feeding the carp in the little lake near the entrance. They were throwing in heaps at a time and the fish were in a frenzy for it, slithering up over each other, buoyed up out of the water by those beneath them. I suddenly understood a relief on a wall near the hostel that had abstract carp twisting above churning water. (Hence the photo above instead of more karst.) Then a tour guide came and told the men to only feed them a bit at a time, or at least the outcome suggested that’s what she said.
A brisk walk back to the hostel, a ten minute sit to cool down, and off to catch another train. After the expensive water on the high speed train I wanted to make sure I had a decent amount of water and some fruit to add to my supplies but my bags were already heavy enough and I was running low on cash. I found an ATM at the station but it didn’t do overseas transactions. I ended up accidently talking down the price for a mango at the station by saying I didn’t have enough money, and as I was about to get on the train a fellow on the platform had a big bottle of water which left me with 2 yuan.
The section of the train waiting room for my train was already full when I got to it. Then it got fuller. People squeezed through with bags and children to get to other waiting areas. I was pretty well pushed against the wall. The light turned green for us to go through the gates to the platform but nothing happened. I checked with the people next to me and one of them was catching the same train so all good. We waited. Movement, and the rush was on. It was all pretty orderly though and an amazing number of people got on in a relatively short amount of time. We left on time.
A little way into the trip a young Chinese woman woke up from her nap and plonked herself down next to me to talk. We had a great conversation, using our respective translation apps for words when we got stuck, covering topics such as our studies, my trip, whether her parents were peasants or farmers. I tried a piece of fruit that she offered me that looked like a cross between a lime and mandarine, and tasted the same. I translated mandarine, and she said that’s what it was. Was it weird that Chinese people eat them when they’re green, or that Australians only eat them when they’re orange?
On this train I was in a lower class. There were three levels of beds on each of the two sides of the compartment and no door to close to the hallway. People were noisey till pretty late but the lights went out at about 10 and it was quiet after that. I didn’t sleep much. I wasn’t feeling well, really needed to drink that big bottle of water. Also, the beds on the Chinese trains run across the tracks instead of along as on the Thai trains. And because the train’s going faster it must get some serious banking happening so the two things together meant there were points where I actually slid down the bed and then back up. When we arrived in Beijing my new friend helped me get to the bus stop to get to the hostel and very kindly made sure I had enough money to get to the hostel. The bus was only 1 yuan but the random Chinese stranger she passed me over to even paid that for me! Oh wow, time to find an ATM.
(I’ve now had a night and a day in Beijing but have to go catch my 6 day train to Moscow so it might be a while before I can load that post. You’ll all just have to wait.)