Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Same River Twice

Last year we - that is to say, the foreign teachers comprising me Todd and Erika and accompanied by our Chinese friend Richard - went out on a day trip to the Yellow River Stone Forest in Jingtai county which is about 40 kilometres north of Baiyin. The weather was glorious and, a few minor irritations notwithstanding, it was a glorious day out.
On Sunday I went again, with this years crop of English teachers. As the only one remaining from last year I'm the de facto old hand who knows everything already. It was in many respects a repeat of last year's experience. This time there were five of us - me, Ben, Jess, Carole and Garrett accompanied by a Chinese teacher from one of the schools. We had the drive to the head of the valley through the bleak and rocky desert where, this year anyway, the few patches of flat ground were all cultivated and the green of the cornfields contrasted starkly with the brown background.
From the head of the valley we drove down the winding road into the flat and fertile river plain which is covered with orchards. Most of the fruit isn't ready yet. Paper bags have been put over the individual fruits on the trees to force their growth.
At the bottom we climbed onto the same sheepskin rafts as before and drifted slowly off down the river. The rafts are remarkable. A dozen sheepskins have been cured, sealed, stitched into bags and inflated. These are then lashed to a wooden frame. A couple of carpets to keep the water from splashing up through the gaps and there's the vessel looking about as unseaworthy as it's possible to imagine.
They are seaworthy enough for the calm currents on this stretch of river though and a fifteen minute lazy float and two  minutes frantic paddling by our boatman as a back-current took us perilously close to a rather too rocky bit of shoreline, we beached at the foot of the cliffs and disembarked.
We were immediately mobbed by a large group of Chinese tourists who all wanted their pictures taken with us. They don't get many foreign visitors in these parts and we're quite a novelty.
When we eventually got away from them we took donkey carts and horses up the valley again. This time rather than taking dozens of pictures - which, of course, I already have - I just looked at the towering rock formations around me. It's an impressive place. The valley is narrow and the rocks high. The rough bouncing journey ended part of the way up, where it had ended last time but this time we weren't stopping there. Instead we transferred to dune buggy style vehicles - low-seated, wide-wheeled motorised carts with all-round bumpers and steel roll-cages. In these we bounced further up the steep track. We passed the terminus for a cable car that was operating though none of the cabins seemed to have any people in them and continued up. The canyon walls were much lower now but also crowded into the track more closely. In places there was barely room for the buggy and once we rounded a sharp bend and collided with another coming down. When we could continue no further we alighted and carried on on foot. Steps have been provided to take tourists right to the high point where there is the other end of the cable car and a viewing platform from which the scenery is spectacular. Towering rocks and winding tracks lead off to the horizon in every direction. The muddy brown river and the narrow strip of green that is the orchard floor of the valley can be glimpsed here and there far below.
It's a popular spot. A young couple were there, dressed up very smartly, having some of the pre-wedding photography for their wedding album done against the amazing backdrop. This was much higher than I had come last time and made the repeated journey even more worthwhile.
We made our way back down, retracing buggy and donkey cart rides back to the river and then drove off into the town for what was, by now, a very late lunch. It might have been late but it was delicious with freshly picked and prepared vegetables in a variety of tasty dishes.
Then it was back into the cars and back to Baiyin.

The trip had been every bit as good as last year.
And unlike last year, here are a few pictures to give you an idea of just how good.