Of Monkeys and Mosquitoes

Aside from telling us Guangzhou was a wash, most locals advised that Jeff and I travel to Guilin. So we did. Guilin has some of the most beautiful and captivating scenery in China, think The Painted Veil or traditional misty-mountained paintings of China. But it also has more than its fair share of tourists and the accompanying crooks.

Our train got in at around 7:30 a.m. Once outside the train station, we were immediately greeted by several people trying to sell us on their hotels and tours. Even though I vigorously fended them off, they followed us for about a block. Luckily, our hostel was only about a block away, so it really wasn’t a problem.

Once we checked in, we decided to treat ourselves to western breakfast at the hostel. Of course you can guess that I ordered pancakes. After eating pretty much all of it, I discovered a little bug cooked into the pancake, but oddly enough didn’t freak out. I guess I’m just getting used to China.

That afternoon we took a little trek around the city, which as it turns out is pretty small and highly walkable. First we went to a park called Elephant Hill.

It had silly signs:

The park is named after a small mountain shaped like an elephant dipping its trunk into the lake. I guess I could see that.

We took a hike up and all around the mountain, exploring a small cave and secret passageways. This is the view from the “elephant’s trunk.” There were ancient poems inscribed on the walls, which was really neat. Unfortunately this group of possibly drunk officials was really loud and sort of destroyed the mystique of the area.

After visiting the park, we continued on to the supposed highlight of the town, Seven Stars Park. The park has been in existence since the Sui Dynasty and was a tourist attraction even then. The park borders the Li River, which runs through Guilin.

Once inside the gates, you cross over a bridge to the main part of the park, where a large slogan reading “Long live the thoughts of Mao” is carved into a rock wall.

The park has a “forest” of stelae, which are ancient stone carvings of poetry and history. Since I’ve been studying classical Chinese, I was instantly attracted, and dragged Jeff on a hike out to the stone stelae forest.

Along the way, we discovered a pomello tree:

From China: Moreventures

Anyway, the stelae were in a grotto by the river, where a man was playing his erhu. It felt like the place hasn’t changed since people were first captivated by it 1500 years ago, and it was easy to imagine noblemen and women taking strolls through the park and stopping in the grotto for a picnic.

The stalae were really amazing. Some of them seemed to be historical in nature, telling of the families that came to the region. Others were lovely and poetic descriptions of the river. Sadly many were hard to make out, and without hours and a dictionary or two I didn’t make too much out.

From China: Moreventures

The stelae ranged in size greatly. Some of them had only a few two-foot square characters, others had hundreds of characters about 3/4 of an inch tall.

After boring Jeff with the stelae, we wandered around the back side of the park. There was some construction going on, so there weren’t really many tourists and it was shady and quiet. Just as we were coming around the side of the mountain toward the park opening, we began bickering because we hadn’t eaten lunch and both were getting grumpy. In the middle of our grump, I looked up and realized that on the path about 15 feet in front of us sat a strange little brown lump, which took me a good 20 seconds to recognize and believe was real.

So, in the middle of our little grump, I yelled out: “That’s a monkey!” And it was. Both of us froze in our tracks, because frankly we’ve never come across an uncaged colony of monkeys, and you never know when they might bike/scratch/throw feces at you. To add to that, the monkey blocking our path was a 40-pound male, and he seemed capable of doing some damage. Near the path was a little hut where a Chinese caretaker and his family were lounging outside, and once they noticed our uncertainty, the man yelled something at the monkey. Looking a little disgruntled and disdainful, the monkey clambered off the path and sat to the side, watching us pass.

From China: Moreventures

There were also little tiny baby monkeys that could hardly climb branches! Once we felt safe that the monkeys wouldn’t attack, we took some pictures and hung out with the monkeys for a while. I guess our guidebook somehow missed the monkeys, because it didn’t say anything about them. It’s also possible that nobody told the travel writer, because all the Chinese tourists showed no interest in the monkeys. If you ask me, getting to see a colony of monkeys is way better than a mountain that supposedly looks like a camel or whatever. But there’s no accounting for taste.

We had a great time hanging around the monkey colony, watching all the little baby monkeys try to learn to climb, and the adult monkeys foraging for food. But you know who else likes to hang out with monkeys? Mosquitoes. And guess who forgot bug spray? Yeah, that’s us.

So at any rate, stay tuned for our Malaria-infused delirium in about a week, because sources say mosquitoes down here have it, and boy did we ever get bitten.