Day 17 – 10/31/2011

Yangshuo – Zhaoqing

The route through the mountainous landscape is like a panorama tour with something new always on the horizon. It leads from Middle Earth to a distant galaxy - were it not for the luminescent, unmistakably terrestrial rice paddies.

Pictures day 17

Ahead of the tour participants today is the longest stage of the fourth wave – 412 kilometers lie between Yangshuo and Zhaoqing, 412 exciting kilometers through two very different landscapes. Like yesterday, the amazing conical hills are shrouded in atmospheric morning mist and deliver the kind of backdrop that would befit just about every kind of drama movie – but naturally science fiction movies best of all. You could easily imagine Frodo from “Lord of the Rings” journeying through these veritable forests of conical karst hills, or perhaps Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Part 36 on his search for the “force”. Kilometer after kilometer, the scenery is changing constantly – what appear to be the teeth of a mighty monster loom on the horizon, followed by the spines from the back of an as-yet undiscovered dinosaur. The fantasy images can never be colorful enough in this place.

The drivers of the Audi Q3s can also allow their gazes to drift a little. This morning’s program features another highway, with virtually no traffic. As crazy as the traffic in the cities and on the national roads often seems, the highways are, even for Europeans, incredibly relaxing roads to drive. One should not, of course, forget the speed limit of 120 km/h – even though some tour participants no longer seem to feel particularly threatened by the armada of flashing lights and speed cameras (are they really all traps?).

After around 150 kilometers, the pointed hills gradually seem to merge back into the ground; the landscape becomes flatter and the temperature rises rapidly. While the thermometer in the cockpit of the Audi Q3 had barely reached 18 degrees Celsius this morning, the display is quickly reading 27 degrees. And the one participant who optimistically appeared in shorts this morning, earning surprised looks all round, is completely vindicated.

Still to the right and left of the route are the rice paddies. Recent days in this region were marked repeatedly by the vista of warmly luminescent rice paddies. Today, too, locals are hard at work on many small plots – usually the whole family. The rice is cut, tied in bundles, arranged in sheaves to dry and then threshed in small machines - all of this done by hand and foot on the narrow terraces.

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Even though rice, which is one of the world’s seven most important grains, is not eaten nearly as much in China any more as we westerners always assume, it remains a widely consumed basic foodstuff. The valleys of the Yangtze and Huai Rivers are considered is origin as a crop. The oldest rice remains ever found date back as far as the period around 5,000 B.C. Although rice is originally not a water plant, thousands of years of cultivation have seen it come to terms with the flooding of the fields where it is grown. The main reason for this water intensive approach is to simplify the battle against weeds and pests. Aside from China, the cultivation of rice in flooded terraces is also practiced in Japan and Indonesia.

The area north of Guilin is traditional rice farming territory. These so-called dragon-bone terraces are the most beautiful in the world and represent one of the man-made wonders. The view at any time of year is stunning – now in fall the fields are golden yellow, in winter covered in snow and in spring the setting sun is reflected on the accumulated water. Scattered among the rice terraces are tiny villages made up of picturesque wooden houses that are home to the minorities rooted in this region. There are, of course, areas in China where large fields and factory farming are the norm – otherwise this nation’s appetite would be pretty tough to satisfy.

Just about anything can be bound together by sticky rice and wrapped in bamboo leaves. And that is exactly what people like to do in Zhaoqing, the destination of today’s stage – spiced meat, dry sausage, roasted peanuts or lotus seeds, not to mention salted duck egg yolk are all turned into nourishing rice dumplings. The specialty, which used to be reserved for the dragon boat festival, is now available at any time of year.

Around halfway through today’s stage, the cars reach Wuzhou. More than three million people live in the city on the banks of the Xun Jiang. On the national road, the Tour then crosses the provincial border into Guangdong (also known as Canton). Although the coastline is still several kilometers away, the cosmopolitan nature of the people here is tangible. The highly varied Cantonese cuisine is the best example. Whether it is baked, fried, roasted or braised – they like to eat. A culinary experience is guaranteed – although not necessarily to everyone’s taste. Frog with cashew nuts and turtle in hot sauce both feature on the lunch menu.

The route this afternoon continues farther along the Xi Jang, the mighty and much-traveled West River, toward the southeast. The national road may have four lanes, but it is frequented by herds of cattle and entire school classes on their way home. All-in-all, this day offers yet another intensive portion of China.

Day 17

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