Grace was feeling well enough the next day to take a bike ride. That really means that she felt terrible but didn’t want me to sit around for another day. Bike rental was very inexpensive and easy, and we were determined to not get them stolen this time. There were two options for our ride. We could have gone to Moon Hill, a karst mountain with an arch in it with excellent views, or up a small river to a thousand-year-old bridge. The decision was made to go up the river.
It took just under an hour to ride to the river. We turned off of the asphalt road onto a yellow dirt road. The turn off the road was the furthest I traveled in China. I felt like I stumbled into the Jungle Book; this China was completely different from the China I knew from Harbin. Surreal mountains framed tropical vegetation, rice paddies, exotic pools, and the river. Houses were made from yellow mud bricks, and the yellow walls sharply contrasted their black roofs. Electric blue man-made lagoons allowed the locals to practice aquaculture. Old women formed right angles from years of manual labor and calcium deficiency.
Despite the feeling of being removed from the China I had known to that point, clearly life was changing rapidly for the people along the river. Tourism from Yangshuo had prompted the construction of new hotels that were still in progress. Power lines ran along the road from village to village. Along the river, men sat and waited for the chance to give tourists bamboo raft rides.
The ride was long and hard. The road was bumpy and muddy, so riding fast was nearly impossible. Grace tired quickly after being incapacitated for a couple days and began to get sore. It took three to four hours to get to the bridge. As a feat of engineering from a thousand years ago, the bridge was impressive, but aesthetically, it was lacking. We took turns walking up the bridge and looking over the river while the other one looked after the bikes. Just a couple of minutes was satisfactory for perusing the site, and our interests turned to lunch. A woman who was just hanging out near the bridge offered us lunch at a reasonable price. We ate the fried noodles she cooked for us in a tiny gazebo outside of her home by the river.
For the ride back, I proposed taking short cuts through the fields rather than staying on the dirt road. The narrow trails through the fields were raised above the rice paddies and were difficult to ride and navigate. They ultimately proved to not be anything close to shortcuts. There was very little margin of error riding on the trails, and several times our back tires would slide off the trail and into the ride paddies, bring you to an uncomfortable halt against the handle bars. Trails would dead end, be cut off by a fence, and become impassible. We stopped to take a break on a small stone bridge over a creek. Grace broke down into tears from physical stress. She accused me of pushing her too hard. Certainly the route we took was too difficult for her in that condition, but I had no way of knowing that it would be that way.
We worked our way back to the main path along the river after resting, and eventually came to a short cut on an asphalt road. It had us back to Yangshuo in a matter of minutes, cutting an hour or two off of our ride back. We returned our bikes without any hassle.
As we walked back to our hostel, we saw an unusual street performer. There was a little girl resting her chin on a swiveling tripod. He held herself up on the tripod by her chin and spun around with her legs and body bent back so they were parallel to the ground in Cirque du Soleil fashion. The girl was five or six by my estimation and had certainly been trained starting at an age where she had no volition. Grace and I went back for a night’s rest to prepare for another day of travel.