LI RIVER

The Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo is a must-do for all tourists worth their name. Here there are the most beautiful karst peaks in the area. This time, though, I don't abide by the laws of mass tourism and I opt for something different: my Lonely Planet guide mentions a hike from Yangdi to Xingping, two villages on the Li River, so I decide to have a try.

Of course walking is a cheap activity, not well-regarded in Yangshuo where the tourist is an endless source of income for the locals. That explains why in the hotel, even before I had completed the check-in, I had this "pleasant" conversation:

- I advise you to take a bamboo rafting on the Li River
- No thanks, I'd rather walk
- But the landscape is better from the raft
- Well, the path goes along the river, so the landscape should be the same
- No, because very often the path goes around the peaks which are close to the river
- Well, by looking at the map this does not seem to be the case; however, should that happen, it means I'll have a different view of those peaks, which should not make a lot of difference
- To the contrary, it makes a lot of difference

Even in Yangdi, and later along the way, I have been approached countless times by people who offered me the boat or raft cruise.
In Yangdi I run into a couple from Hong Kong who is about to do the same hike. We'll do parts of the hike together, a great help for me because the people that I will meet in the villages on the way won't speak English - and I still know only two words of Chinese, and the numbers.

»Yangdi is a fishermen village:

but I am not in time to visit it because I have to hurry up: the hike is 24 km long and I have to get to Xingping in time to catch the last bus to Yangshuo (whose time I do not know).

The trail goes along the river, wide and easy most of the times:

Every now and then the trail ends, to go on on the other bank of the river; this makes it necessary to cross the river by ferry:

In theory the ferry service should be included in the hike ticket fare, but most of the times there is no ferry and so you need to resort to private rafts to cross the river.

There is more to see here than the river and the peaks: rice fields, orchards, villages. The rice comes in different colour shades:

A typical fruit of this area is the pomelo:

of which I am now a fan: as soon as I have the chance, I buy one. They are as large as grapefruits, but they taste like oranges (more or less). You need to remove both the outer skin and the inner skin which divides segments.

»Cormorant fishing is fairly common here. Cormorants, which are species of birds eating fish, are provided with collars which prevent them from swallowing their catches, the rest is easy to figure out: the fisherman gets the most out of very little strain, and the cormorant adapts itself, whether it agrees or not. Here is one along the river:

At some point the tiredness surfaces, but even then I don't regret the cruise on those boats which go relentlessly along the river:

because, by walking on the trail, I have the chance to see many more interesting things. At last, now that my journey to China is coming to an end, I manage to see a peasant resting:

Somehow, it is a comfort to me: Chinese peasants are humans too!

Right, but I came here to see karst peaks, didn't I? Here you are some:

The villages are small and poor, but "alive":

The most typical views from the trail have rice fields in the foreground and karst peaks in the background:

»While walking I have the chance to speak with my companions. In particular, after having seen the Chinese countryside in this last part of my travel, I am curious about an aspect which I can't explain: the Chinese industry is progressing at an impressive pace and China is by now considered the "factory of the world". But what about the countryside? I already mentioned that the current situation, where small plots of lands are farmed, mostly manually, by individual families, comes from historical reasons. But do they plan to change something? Are they going to introduce technology into the agricultural sector, to make it more efficient? Peasants are suffering more than others from the increasing inflation in China: in the towns prices increase, but salaries also increase so people complain[1] but get along. In the countryside, however, nothing changes, so the increasing costs of goods and services become more and more unaffordable for peasants: they cannot sell their house in the country in exchange for a flat in town, because the cost of the flat has increased in the meantime, study for children becomes increasingly unaffordable and even taking a train is a problem, not to mention a flight...

Then there is another issue: if there is no policy in support of peasants, more and more people will migrate from the countryside to the towns, in search of a better life. But Chinese towns are already huge, overpopulated and polluted, they cannot bear even more immigration, if not by further degrading the quality of life.

I don't receive clear answers to these questions. The problems are there - it would be silly to state otherwise - but there aren't easy solutions, probably: if you rationalize agriculture by introducing technology and making the plots of lands larger (the two things are intertwined), you'll have unemployment in the countryside and therefore migration to the towns. If you don't take those actions, the "wealth" coming from the countryside will have to be shared among an enormous number of people, so it will not be enough and again you'll have migration to the towns. And for the thousandth time I realize that the source of most of China's problems is overpopulation.

We are by now approaching Xingping, and the landscape continues to offer wonderful sights:

Once in Xingping, we are just in time to buy another pomelo before taking the bus to Yangshuo.

  1. ^They complain as long as this is allowed in China. Needless to say, strike is not an option.