February 23rd, 2010

Waking up on a rickety bus with little to no suspension is an interesting experience. In order to achieve it one must first get over the atrocious smell of feet in the air and the awful effect that old suspension has on a bus ride. Assuming that one can fall asleep, waking up is an even more unpleseant experience. I'm sure all of us have had the misfortune of sleeping on an airplane; the sleep seldom makes you feel better and you wake up more groggy than you were when you started. We had plenty to look forward to though, it was only a simply bus ride from Guiyang to Anshun, or so we thought.

For starters, the bus station in Guiyang was insane. In the throes of the past-new year's rush, lines reached all the way out the door. Guiyang was, by far the worst place for cutting in line and, most likely, nefarious characters. The bus station had people patrolling for cutters (not sure if back-cuts are allowed). However, this job apparently had the highest salary of all bus station jobs. Most of the money came from bribes. People who REALLY needed to get back to wherever they were going just handing an extra 100 RMB to the lineman, told him where they wanted to go, and the lineman would immediately walk to the front and buy the ticket. After a long, stressful, wait we finally got our tickets to Anshun.

The bus ride to Anshun was, in our minds, going to be a nice contrast to the one from Guilin the previous night. Instead, we got the first of many, hot, unairconditioned buses full of people. To put a cherry on top of this 'fun-sundae,' the driver was not going to be inconvenienced with opening the luggage compartment for our bags. Instead he said, 'just take them up in the car with you, they'll be fine.' To his credit, our bags were totally fine--on our laps. Although not all that heavy, a 10kg bag on your legs for a 4 hour bus ride is not an ideal situation. I was able to put my bag in the aisle, in spite of voiced protests from other bus riders, and Becky laid her bag across our laps: 5kg being much more tolerable than 10.


At the end of this harrowing experience lay our destination, Anshun. I would be remiss if I didn't first mention that Anshun was the worst city that we spent time in. It's dirty, dusty, and industrial; all measured by China standards. We walked to our hotel, no short distance and took in quite a few of the sites along the way. We saw things like, motorbikes, dirty sidewalks, and a few disgusting looking noodle shops. Our hotel itself looked rather fancy and out of place in the down-trodden atmosphere that stood on every street corner. Even the people here seemed to all walk with their heads down. The ever-present gray sky even seemed to give the feeling that, in this town, everyday felt like Monday.
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We decided to quickly rid ourselves of the town. We checked into our hotel: a strange hard-wood and greco-roman combination that gave an oddly soviet feel. After dropping our gear we immediately set out to catch a bus to Huang Guo Shu falls. On our way back to the bus station we stopped at a Xin Jiang noodle shop. To our surprise this noodle shopped was not only the highlight of Anshun, but also turned out to be the culinary pinnacle of our entire trip. The noodles were made fresh right in front of the store, the soup had just the right hint of spice, and the staff were obviously the real deal. Becky even made a comment about how handsome the noodle man was. After our delicious meal we set out for the 2 hour ride to the falls.

The bus dropped us off at the 'visitor's center.' For anyone who hasn't been reading all of these blogs I must make one thing very clear: in China a visitor center is a nice way to say 'ticket booth." We walked into the unnecessarily large ticket booth area. We paid an outrageous price to get into the falls. We decided to also hire the 'official' bus service to take us around. The benefit of this was that we got a bus all to ourselves. We spent some time at the top most falls, which I mistakenly interpenetrated to be the main falls and was thus a little underwhelmed. While beautiful and impressive, the effect of the dry season was evident. The gaggle of ducks swimming at the base of the falls seemed to somehow diminish their effect. The flock of peacocks, however, served to put me quite on edge as we walked past.
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After the top most falls, we hopped on the bus and headed into a stone-forest type lake. On each stone step was a plaque. Striding from rock to rock one could follow the progression of the year as 365 stone platforms enumerated the days of the year, thankfully pointing out famous birthdays. The entire forest area had been heavily concreted over and was very disappointing. Having been underwhelmed twice we got back on the bus and headed to the main falls. As we went downhill we noticed the huge fields of barren boulders. Obviously this place is very impressive during the wet season.

Everything that the past two sights were not, the main falls proved to be. We not only had a nice invigorating hike down, but the magnitude and beauty of the falls seemed to make everything we had seen previously that day fall into place. On top of everything else, there was a beautiful rainbow streaking across the pool at the bottom of the falls. We took another hike up and around, behind the falls into a cave. Fully satisfied with dozens of photos, we headed back. We caught a bus back to Anshun and started thinking about dinner.
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After remembering the dirge of food options we went back to the same restaurant at which we had eaten our lunch. I ordered the exact same thing, and Becky did likewise. We even told men working there that we would do a little advertisement for them online. I must remember to write to Lonely Planet, suggesting they include it in their next edition. Saying our goodbyes to the only happy people we saw in Anshun, we headed back to the hotel. We snuggled in for a night of Olympic curling and a well deserved rest.
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