Yangshuo: Don't Look Down

10:03 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

We spent our first day cycling and getting lost. The following morning we took a two hour bamboo raft tour along the Dragon river. We were busy negotiating our price whilst most other tourists were still eating their hotel breakfast. The river was quiet and peaceful. With no motor engines around, the only sound louder than the chattering frogs was the singing of the boatmen.

We drifted along unhurried, soaking in the scenery. The shallow water was crystal clear and smooth except from the occasional ripple from the boatmen's bamboo poles. There were occasional floating restaurants and photographers along the route but they weren't too intrusive. Eventually we arrived at our destination and left the bamboo raft behind  for our trusty mountain bikes. We had a quick lunch and visited an overly commercial temple and then cycled back up along the river. This time we stuck to paved, well travelled roads. We didn't get lost this time but we couldn't stop ourselves from talking about the previous day's journey.

 During one of our bike rides through the Yangshuo countryside we spotted an advert for an outdoor activity centre. The 'Yangshuo Base Camp' offered everything from climbing and abseiling to farming experiences. I made a quick call and arranged a course of abseiling and zip-lining for our final day.

Our guide, Afa, picked us up from the main bridge crossing the Dragon river. He introduced himself then immediately offered me his motorcycle to ride for the rest of the day.  We knew straight away we were going to be in for a good day. I can't ride a motorcycle so Afa road ahead in-front of our bicycles and gave us a tour through his village. 

I was expecting some sort of commercial activity centre but when we finally arrived at 'Base Camp' it appeared to be nothing more than a small grove to park our bikes and nothing else. We'd arrived just as Afa's brother, Atan, was unloading a bag of ropes and helmets off his motorcycle. We were out climbing alone with two brothers and it didn't feel like business - just family. 

We hiked for about 15 minutes to reach our site. Afa told us about his family and the history of his village.  Eventually the path became steeper until we were scrambling up loose rocks along a deteriorated path. Above us loomed a huge, open-ended cave on top of a mountain.

During the Second World War, Afa's village had to shelter in the cave whilst the Japanese invaded the region. There were several old stone walls dotted about and huge caves for the villagers to hide in. With such beautiful landscape all around it was hard to imagine the place being anything other than idyllic. For the past few years, the cave has been used by Afa and his company  to offer tourists the chance to climb, zip-line and abseil. The two brothers had obviously worked hard to set up the necessary bolts and cables. Despite being a tiny family operation, they provided all the gear, refreshments and eve somewhere comfortable to sit. They were not your average businessmen who set out to fleece tourists. Together we set up the gear and then I was first to cross the 40m zip-line and then abseil down the 60m wall opposite.

 I was like a kid at Christmas and I couldn't wait to get started. I took a running jump and flew across the zip-line. It was exciting but over far too soon. My girlfriend, Amanda, quickly followed behind. Next up was the abseil.
 I had never abseiled down a rock face before and as I stepped onto the edge, I felt nervous. Afa kept the conversation flowing and my nerves were nothing more than a few butterflies in my stomach. I made my way down slowly. By the time I reached the bottom I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I looked up as Amanda began her decent. She was nervous at first but made it down safely. We'd completed the route and it was time to start again. We had the place to ourselves and and we each completed the route four times. We'd both improved so much that by our final lap we were trowing in tricks and concentrating more about the ongoing conversation than the plummet beneath us. 
Amanda showing off
In the two hours we spent in the cave we felt like we got to know Afa really well. He'd told us about his sister in Pittsburgh, his Canadian ex-girlfriend and his hard working Mum. After we finished in the cave, he took us to see the rest of 'Base camp' and invited us to his home for lunch. We jumped at the chance. 

The Base Camp set up is great. There were lots of little sites dotted across a valley. Afa showed us a toilet building he had built with his own hands. He couldn't hide his pride. We were equally impressed. His camp site is in a dry paddy field surrounded by mountains and a slumbering tributary to the Dragon river. It was beautiful. Afa even provided a vegetable garden where tourists could learnt to plant, grow and harvest crops.  Somehow this guy from a tiny village in rural China had his finger firmly on the pulse that drives adventurous, western tourists.

We went to Afa's home for lunch, where he introduced us to his mother and invited us to wash our hands at the household well. Then he cracked open some beers and took us into the kitchen. We ate a meal of shallow fried green vegetables, pork and rice. The food was all grown and raised in the fields right outside of the window. Afa told us that to earn enough money he also helped farm the fields and work at a friend's business. His home had no running water and the nearest internet connection was in the town centre but he was excited because he'd just bought a new ceramic cooker off Taobao (Chinese Ebay). The food was simple but delicious. I commented how fresh the greens tasted and Afa looked at me like I was stupid. "Of course they are fresh," he said to me "they are vegetables." The  thought of vacuum-sealed, plastic packaged cucumbers were as bizarre to him as chicken feet are to me.

Eventually it was time to leave. Afa was the most hospitable person I've met so far in China. As we left his village, all Amanda and I could talk about was how we could help promote Afa's company. Afa guided us back to the main road. We said goodbye shook hands and said that we hope to meet again to climb and explore some more. I might have emptily said that in the past, but I really hope to meet Afa again soon.
Afa and Paul
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You can find details of all the activities at the Yangshuo Base Camp at the link below

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