Southern China - April 2015 travel blog

entrance to West St mkt nr our hotel

park across from hotel

happy shadows

young vendors on West St

Noodle stand

reverse painted snuff bottle

view from table at River Beach Cafe

fisherman's raft

cormorants drying their wings

cormorant and fisherman

Glorious morning, sunny and cool. Breakfast in the hotel's rooftop garden overlooking Yangshuo and the surrounding karst mountains. I went to the Seven Stars Tearoom while Tom and Steve spent their last morning together at a Haufbrau house eating apfelkihle(?). After Steve left for Hainan, Tom and I went through the shops and cafes of West Street and the waterfront. Found everything from batiks to sesame sweets to South China Sea pearls. There are a fair number of western visitors here, especially backpackers, and a young man shouted "go green" when he saw Tom's MSU shirt. Ate a wonderful dinner at "River Beach Coffee & Restaurant" right on the bank of the Li River. Spectacular view of karst mountains, water buffaloes on the far bank, cattle egrets and magpies in the late afternoon sunlight. Magical.

Decided to stick around for a boat ride to watch cormorant fishermen at work. At 7:25, a young woman motioned us to follow and we joined a group of tourists (mostly Australians/New Zealanders) being led at a brisk pace down the full length of the waterfront. By this time it was dark and, as usual, broken and missing pavement stones and unexpected drops made walking hazardous. We did our best but fell behind the group. With nothing but moonlight, we saw them disappear down dark stone steps and had to feel our way along, hollering for them to hold the boat for us. Found the raft-type motor boat bobbing at a four foot drop from the stone sea wall. I sat down flat, swinging my legs over the boat, and felt strangers' arms help me down in the darkness. Tom jumped and the boat dipped down six inches, swamping his shoes and socks. He said it was his first "soaker" in 50 years. Boat was packed with western tourists but someone found two kid's folding chairs and passed them to us. Tom asked if we could please have SMALLER chairs?!? (everyone laughed.) Our Chinese boatman hollered and motioned for us to get back out of the boat so it was "all hands on deck" to hoist me up onto the stone wall, then into a second boat but we finally got settled. Still nothing but moonlight. Set off toward the middle of the river in total darkness--no running lights on the boat. After a while we saw a beam of light bobbing in the water and our boatman pulled up alongside a fisherman standing on a raft with five cormorants swimming in the water next to him. There was a single light on a metal rod at the front of the raft and a small motor at the back. Each bird had a loop around its neck that prevented it from swallowing larger fish. To western eyes it looked cruel but we tried to remember that this is a traditional technique and these birds live with the fishermen as pets. It was amazing to see them at work, diving and swimming alongside the raft like dolphins. When it surfaced with a fish, the fisherman would bring the cormorant onto the raft with a pole and pull the fish from its mouth. Then it dove back in and did it again, over and over. Beautiful, cool night with the moon and the Big Dipper (the famous "Seven Stars") overhead. No lights except the single light on the fisherman's raft, no sound but the small motor and the fisherman calling to his birds. Finally, we turned toward the far shore and the fisherman untied the loops so the birds could swallow. It was another world altogether.

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