Sunday, August 25, 2013

Following Someone Else's Dream: Down the Yulong River

Vol. II, No. 6

The Yulong River in Yangshuo, China
A woman picked us up from the Guilin airport, and I breathed a sigh of relief. You don't often find women driving taxis, but when you do, they seem to be the cream of the crop, gender and ethnic stereotypes notwithstanding. At the very least, they tend to be more understanding than their male counterparts, and that's just what my husband and I needed. Our baby had decided she was no longer interested in being restrained; she was loudly and tearfully making this point particularly clear. Luckily for her, there was nothing to restrain her.

'Auntie,' as we called the driver, helped us heave our luggage into the trunk of her car, locked us in the backseat, and without further adieu, put her foot straight down to the medal. At 120km/hr, we sped out of the Guilin airport and onto the highway. The baby was still crying, and occasionally Auntie would observe her through the rearview mirror. Whenever she did this, she sped up. Without a carseat or seatbelts, and at this speed, I figured we'd either get to our destination quickly, or die trying. Forty-five minutes later, and a half hour less than it could've been, we arrived in the little town of Yangshuo.

The Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, China
Yangshuo is very unusual. It's physically breathtaking, the site of such beauty that some claim it's the site of the mythical Shangri-la. Lush farmland surrounds skyscrapers of limestone peaks, called "karst." The peaks were formed over many, many years, as the bedrock washed away and the limestone stuck around. What's left is a shrunken, boutique-y version of a majestic mountain range. If you put the Himalayas in a dryer on the highest setting, out would tumble Yangshuo. Naturally, it's the rock-climbing capital of the world. Bound by the Li River and many other idyllic little tributaries, it's also a destination for thrill seekers. (Cue in some parental naiveté; details to come.)

So, in not very much time at all, the three of us arrived in Yangshuo. Auntie screeched to a halt, emptied her trunk of our contents, and sped off as quickly as she came. Our first order of business, after checking into a hotel, was to book up some adventure. We'd just spent the better part of a fortnight exploring Shanghai; now it was time for some green, some mud, and some sweat.

The raft dock waits for passengers
Our hotel was set on the banks of the Yulong River, the "Dragon" River. Standing on the northern bank of this Dragon, we observed as wiry men in straw hats navigated long, flat bamboo rafts downstream. Each raft had a couple passengers; each passenger had a giant water gun. Obviously, our decision was made; we would go Venetian rafting, Chinese style!

Upstream at the dock where dozens of rafts lay waiting for their next passenger, we hired a tanned and muscular middle-aged man who offered us two life jackets, rather than three, and waved off our requests for a water gun, as well as a third life jacket. There were other babies going on this rafting adventure, but not many. I mean, there was just one other one. And that baby was not squirming.

Uncertain yet boarding the bamboo raft
Anyway, we boarded the raft, took turns holding the baby as tightly as we could, and immediately wished we had done anything but take a squirming baby rafting. What we had thought was just a gentle cruise down the Dragon River was actually a gentle cruise peppered with the occasional rapid. Now these rapids were far from dangerous, but each time we hit one, our raft listed from side to side, just enough that we were sure we'd tip over. Our navigator, to his credit, did not allow this to happen, but he did seem to take great pleasure in assisting the raft's dramatic list to the right, and then to the left.
Straw-hatted Venetian-style Chinese rafters

Up ahead were dozens more of these rapids, and about two more hours of rafting. I had to get off. The baby had begun to cry, and I wasn't far behind.

"Here. Stop? Please?" I said.

"No," he replied. "Snakes."

We'd been warned about snakes in the surrounding farmland, but at that particular moment, I was more concerned with drowning than with snakes, so I insisted. He insisted back while manning another rapid, and eventually dropped us off on the banks of a nearby township. We'd have to make our own way back the two or three miles to our hotel, but that was just fine by us. It never felt so good to be on two feet, even if we had anguine companions. A few days later, we'd raft again, but alone, taking turns without the baby.

And herein a word about adventuring with a child. There were many times my husband and I struggled to get the balance right: the balance of giving our baby an extraordinary experience, or putting her in a potentially bad situation. As you'll discover in the coming posts, we do finally manage to strike that balance. Incredibly, an unusual iPhone app helped, as well as toning down our 冒险, our "adventure," to accommodate a little one. More to come!

- Patricia Sexton is the author of "LIVE from Mongolia!", the true story of a woman chucking in her Wall Street career to become anchor of the Mongolian news. She's also the host of Sinovision's WE Talk, a talk show exploring how celebs and artists have overcome big obstacles to pursue extraordinary dreams. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook. Her book is available now for pre-order on Amazon. Click here to pre-order. 

1 comment:

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