Jerome Poulalier

Originally published on : Les Others

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Starting point of our journey, Guilin is still quite a while away from our goal. At the top of our bucket list, discovering quaint little villages of provincial China, but also the sculpted rice terraces, river Li and its whereabouts.

We meet up with our contact to head towards Yangshuo in a minivan, and off we are for an hour and a half’s drive. When we reach our destination, we leave the van and hop on to the raft that awaits us to cruise down the river Li and the breathtaking decor surrounding it, with the famous pointed mountains printed on the 20 yuan notes.

Bike, car, walk, taxi motorcycle… The modes of transportation change as often as the landscapes. The rice terraces that we read about in history books as children lie now in front of us, after many long hours hiking and as many wondrous encounters. This old lady, for instance, carrying a huge ballot of “god knows what” on her back, whilst the closest village is at least two and a half hours walk away. Or these basketball courts entirely covered in groundnuts drying in the sun.

Another moving experience was our passing through a tiny village, where a group of forty or more people were dancing and singing around what seemed like the main square. We put down our bikes to continue on foot. Trumpets, tables ladled with food, song and dance encouraged us to stop for a while, until we see a group of locals beckoning us to come closer and laughing. A figure approaches us, an Englishman, inviting us to join them.

We have no idea what the enormous cauldrons could hold, apart from a few distinguishable chicken feet. A little put back, I try to elude the meal by chatting, but the dialog quickly concludes by a few glasses of warm baijiu (rice wine) under the sun. After a few snapshots, I watch a child cover its head, wait for the exact right timing, close the shutter, and proudly show the picture to the Englishman. He points out that we are actually at a funeral, and that it may be a good idea not to take too many photos… Feeling a little deflated by the news, we get back on our bikes and on the tracks after a few last drinks, marveling at the sun setting behind the mountains.

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