A Couple of Monkeys


This blog entry about the events of Monday, September 06, 2004 was originally posted on September 13, 2004.

DAY 324:  I’ve racked my brain for two days trying to find an funny angle for this Blog entry, and why exactly I don’t know — there are monkeys in this entry!  I’ve always thought monkeys were funny ever since I met the orangutan from The Cannonball Run II (his name escapes my mind) who made a special guest appearance at one of my Cub Scout meetings.  (He was already a washed out simian actor by that time.)

I didn’t see just one monkey on this day, I saw two.  Any day’s a good one with a couple of monkeys!  Of course when I woke up that morning, I had no idea that I’d encounter any; my only goal that morning was to get an overview of the beautiful scenery of the Guangxi province.

THE CLASSIC WAY TO SEE THE LIMESTONE PEAKS that the Guangxi province is famous for is via a boat cruise along the Li River.  There are two times that boats generally go:  early in the morning as the sun rises, or at mid-day when it’s hot and humid.  Hmmm… not such a hard decision to make.

It was already light outside when I woke up at six in the morning.  I didn’t have to worry about waking up anyone because my roommates Sulan and Jisong were awake to do a Li River cruise too, which they had booked with a different operator who gave Sulan an unofficial 10-yuan Chinese-speaking discount.  We parted ways for the day and I went off to find my transport at my tour operator.  A guy there escorted me to the bus for Xingping, the village 45 minutes northeast that my boat would depart from, but we got to the stop too late and the bus had left already.  It was no big deal because the guy put me on another public bus headed the same way and I had the bus all to myself.  As I rode with the driver and conductor through the countryside I saw the sun slowly rising above the steep rocky mounds and I knew it would was going to be a good “show” — even without monkeys.

Once I was dropped off in Xingping, I was directed to hop on the back of a motorcycle taxi that took me on a narrow dirt road inaccessible to cars to the main dock in town on the Li River.  While waiting for two other passengers to arrive, a woman there showed me that we were standing at the vantage point from where an artist drew the picture on the back of the 20 yuan note.  Soon we were on the river and the boat cruise was just as I imagined it:  peaceful and full of scenery.  I swear I took a million pictures, all of which I knew would just look similar when I saw them collectively after the fact — plus none of them would do the scenery any justice.  I picture may say a thousand words, but there’s nothing better than just being in a postcard shot, or in a money shot for that matter. 

Our boat cruised by other river cruisers of tourists (Hi-Res), local ferry boats of locals, fishing rafts (Hi-Res) and even oxen crossing the river with no mode of transportation other than their own four legs.  The entire cruise was only about two hours and it ended too soon, but at least I came away thoroughly impressed and satisfied with the landscape.  The peaks silhouetted by the rising sun impressed by soul, still without the sight of simian.

I bought a skewer of fried river crabs from a local vendor and hitched a ride to the bus stop on a motor rickshaw taxi with a group of people who had just finished a tour cruise on another boat.  On the bus back to Yangshou I befriended a guy I had noticed on the side of the road:  Skye, who worked at the district attorney’s office in New York City, on an extended week through China after a conference in Beijing.  We went out for breakfast when we got back into town; he got the backpacker standard of banana pancakes and I got the “Chinese breakfast,” steamed buns and meat dumplings.  Skye and I got to talking about this and that as travelers often do, and he gave me suggestions as how to approach my afternoon to see more of the incredible landscape:  rent a bike from one of the many bicycle rental stands and ride the southern road towards the famous peak known as Moon Hill.  On the way I’d see several roadside tourist traps.  He told me that one of them, the Old Banyan Tree Scenic Area, may or may not be worth the small admission fee and that I should use my discretion.  To help me decide, he showed me a picture of the tree from his digital camera.  As he flipped through the slideshow, I saw a digital still of two monkeys dressed up in circus clothes.

“Where is that?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, they have these monkeys there,” he told me.  “It’s cool, you can just stand there and stare at them, and it’s just funny they way they look back at you.”

“Oh, I’m definitely going then.” 

A COUPLE OF HOURS LATER I found myself with a rented mountain bike at the ticket office of the Old Banyan Tree Scenic Area, a complete tourist trap surrounding a big old banyan tree.  Despite the fact that the tree was so big that its branches had started to grow their own roots systems, it was the least focused thing in the area and seemed to be just an excuse to set up an enclosure for a permanent fair and bamboo raft rides and charge money for it.  Women in traditional clothes wandered around for tourists to take photos of them, while others tried to sell the usual souvenirs. 

The monkeys that I saw on Skye’s camera (picture above) were easy to find as they were stationed on the main path to the banyan tree, also as a tourist attraction.  Their master bugged me to take their photo for five yuan and I initially refused — knowing that Skye refused the same offer and got a photo anyway — but I caved when I realized I could get a photo with them on my bicycle.  What’s not to like about monkeys on bikes?  The smaller monkey was particularly funny, not for doing anything more than being a little monkey, jumping from his stand to my bicycle.  A woman across the path tried to get my money for posing next to her peacock, but I passed on that one.  Peacock schmeacock. 

MY TIME WITH THE MONKEYS was brief and I went on my way.  A short bike ride later, I found myself at the desk of the New Water Caves, right across the street from the entrance to Moon Hill, just as Skye had told me it would be.  I had arrived just after two Germans, Christin and Kyle who had also arrived by bike.  I tagged along them for an expedition through the caves where an underground river flowed inside one of the limestone peaks.  A motor rickshaw driver took us off the main road and through a small village to a meeting point where two young Chinese girls, Tameimei and Lisa led us to the entrance of the caves.  The “New” Water Caves were “new” (as opposed to the “old” one) since they were only discovered in 1998, and not yet overdeveloped into a tourist trap like other nearby caves with fancy colored lights and safe boardwalks.  Safety?  Safety schmafety.

I thought the cave exploration would be a sort of in and out thing that would last 60-90 minutes tops, but the pitch-black trail (illuminated by our flashlights) led us up and down, left and right through low tunnels, many of which were flowing with streams of muddy water.  Stalactites dripped and hardened from above while stalagmites came from below, both forming occasionally crazy shapes that Tameimei always said looked like the figure of a beautiful woman — except for this one she said that looked like a bouquet of flowers (that looked more like a bouquet of female pleasure devices).

Our two Chinese guides tried to entertain us by teaching us Cantonese — simple words for “turtle” (since one rock looked like a turtle) and camera (since one camera looked like a camera) — but as much as Christin and I tried to remember the vocabulary when Lisa would quiz us, it was all in one ear and out the other. 

The highlight of the cave exploration tour was a trip through a natural mud pool, which felt like walking through a bucket of fudge without the sugar or chocolately taste.  Christin felt like she had re-entered her childhood sliding around the mud and absolutely loved it.  Meanwhile Kyle didn’t trust its sanitary conditions.  I don’t blame him for his wariness, but I didn’t mind — what’s not to like about playing around in the mud with girls in bikinis?  (Only the addition of a monkey could have made it more fun.)

Tameimei and Lisa led us through more claustrophobic paths and through the underground streams until we found a cave opening to the outside — a different one than the one we entered.  We hiked down the mountain trail, passed grazing oxen and farmers on their way to work on their farms (Hi-Res) and rice paddies (Hi-Res).  A motor rickshaw brought us back to the office where we washed up before riding our bikes back into town. 

AFTER WASHING UP AND HAVING A DRINK with Mike, the Irish guy I met in the yurt camp in Mongolia a month prior who had randomly showed up at the same Yangshou hostel as me, I went out for dinner with Kyle and Christin at the cafe on West Street next to the hostel.  Chicken, duck and rice was followed by beers, beers and more beers and in the end, it was a fun night out — I dare say, more fun than a couple of monkeys.

Next entry: Chinese Spider-Man

Previous entry: Mistaken Identities

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Comments for “A Couple of Monkeys”

  • hehehe Monkeys

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  09:16 AM

  • The monkey with the peacock feathers on his head looks pissed off…

    BTW, I saw HERO last night, and there was some reference to the King of Qin in it - and now I have to go reread your entry with the historical info on it…
    Getting me to learn, damn you.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  10:01 AM

  • Love the ‘farmer’ pic.  The small monkey is cute but the one with the peacock feathers is a bit scary.

    Posted by Liz  on  09/13  at  12:50 PM

  • ERIK - fix the first 2 hi-res pics to open in a larger pop-up window…

    river cruisers of tourists (Hi-Res) and fishing rafts (Hi-Res)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  02:05 PM

  • a picture of a monkey playing in the mud pool in a bikini and drinking beer would have topped the day off….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  02:14 PM

  • Erik,
    turtle=wugwai / hoigwai
    camera=ying seung gei

    ear in, ear out…
    this place looks like Krabi in Southern Thailand, I heard it’s the same formation, it used to be a huge coral reef from there to Gunagxi

    have fun in Macao and carful with the taxicabs, the casino and the hookers!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  02:35 PM

  • ERIK: If and when you get to Bali, I’m sending you on a mission to the Monkey Forest in Ubud. Find the Huge Banyan tree with the bridge runing through it. Bonus points for snaping a pic of a Monkey on the bridge or one of the branches/roots of the main tree.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  05:56 PM

  • hmm…fried river crabs!

    ...and monkeys are definitely funny.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  06:11 PM

  • Monkeys ARE funny! a Monkey could probably do MY job!!! command C command V
    N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  06:15 PM

  • Erik, maybe you can find a monkey sidekick to travel through the rest of Asia with.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/13  at  06:43 PM

  • honolulu claims that their banyan tree is the biggest in the world but I think this one is larger..
    I like the monkeys, too… they are adorable..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/14  at  01:36 AM

  • that scenery was really beautiful. The cave looked very cool too… great that it was “show cave size” but without the colored lights and safety apparatus.

    Do I see a beer gut? Tee hee! At least your Mom can be sure you’re not withering away to nothing. I would have starved by now—I’m so not food-adventurous.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/15  at  02:05 AM

  • those monkeys look like they can do some damage.

    Posted by Alyson  on  09/26  at  10:25 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Chinese Spider-Man

Previous entry:
Mistaken Identities


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