Day 16 – 10/30/2011

Guilin – Yangshuo

Perhaps this morning’s light shroud of mist actually adds a final touch to this remarkable backdrop – the first kilometers of landscape have a definite air of mystery with all these steep hill formations. The first stage of the fourth group of participants shows not just a rural, but also a surprisingly touristy China.

Pictures day 16

The white start ramp shines as if illuminated, even in this diffuse light. In the park it even looks like a sculpture – surrounded, as it is, by a host of large-format works by contemporary artists from China. The Yuzi Paradise in Guilin is a center for modern art with an integrated hotel, far more a museum than place to stay, and surely a work of art in itself. As elsewhere in the world – Rhy Chang Tsao, an obviously very wealthy businessman, has created this idyll for himself. He invites artists to work on the property, offering them a studio and a commission. The result is that the pieces on display were actually created here.

Shortly after 10.00 a.m. tour leader Florian Urbitsch waves the starting flag for today. The 13th stage of the Audi Q3 Trans China Tour begins with a slight delay. The advance team that re-checks the route about one hour ahead of the large group had reported a new piece of road construction. One of the villages was completely closed. A detour had to be found, which is not exactly easy in this area. The little country roads through the backwoods, mostly twisty concrete tracks, wind their way tightly between villages, rice paddies and karst hills. Although there are not many alternatives, a new route is quickly found and the show begins on this most unusual of stages. The karst hills stand in the landscape like soaring towers, with their sides made up from a mix of bare rock and thick, lush greenery.

But how were these conical hills created? The so-called tower karst that occurs in Guangxi Province is nothing more than carbonic acid weathering. The elevations are thus the result of erosion by carbonic acid created by the reaction of (rain)water with carbon dioxide in the air. Cracks in the limestone grow in size over time and develop into caverns. When, after some time, these caves collapse, all that is left is their side walls or even single pillars – each a few hundred meters high. For rock climbers, this region is sheer paradise.

Some of the hills still have large caves in their depths. In the past, they were places of refuge and today are well-developed attractions for legions of visitors. Yangshuo, the first destination for the fourth group, is one of China’s tourist centers, with a great many guests from within the country, but also from the West. Thanks to a particularly flattering mention in the legendary tour guide “Lonely Planet”, Yangshuo quickly became a Mecca for backpackers from the moment that free travel within China was permitted.

Video day 16

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But it is mostly Chinese who visit and overrun this small city of 300,000 inhabitants. You can’t help asking yourself where they all come from. Working people in China have extremely few days of annual leave. Today, however, is Sunday and one should also never forget the sheer scale at play here – more than 1.3 billion people live in this country. That can hardly be compared to just 80 million Germans.

In many ways, Yangshuo is the opposite of the boom cities in the East. There are no glass facades here, no 30-storey apartment blocks, no eight lane highways. The center of the city is West Street, a pedestrian zone with pleasant cafes, but primarily a shopping street for all imaginable kinds of odds-and-ends. You can, of course, choose to confirm all the preconceptions of Chinese rip-off artists and pricing tricks, but you also have the option of simply enjoying all the hectic activity.

Anybody who has seen the Li Jang that flows through Yangshuo and found it stunningly beautiful will barely be able to contain themselves when they catch sight of the Yulong. The landscape to the right and left of this peaceful river, which flows around 4 kilometers southwest of Yangshuo and offers a host of bathing spots, is absolutely breathtaking. A popular visitor destination is the Dragon Bridge around 10 kilometers upriver. Its stone arch is 600 years old and is one of the largest in Guangxi Province.

Tomorrow, on the second day of the fourth wave, the karst hills will still be visible from along the route. However, the size of the places grows once again to the familiar format – from Yangshuo (300,000 inhabitants) via Wuzhou (three million inhabitants) to Zhaoqing (four million inhabitants).

Day 16

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