Monthly Archives: March 2011

Yangshuo and Surrounds

Have you ever looked at the random painting of impossibly steep mountains at your local Chinese takeaway restaurant? I have on many an occasion and was surprised to find out those mountains weren’t a flight of fancy at all but instead very real and found in around the town of Yangshuo located deep in southern China near the Vietnamese border.  The mountains are eroded limestone karsts formed fairly recently on a geological time scale, and while I’ve seen the occasional mountains like this before it’s impossible to believe how many of them there are here-

The view from the famous boat cruise on the Li River between the city of Guillin and Yangshuo.  Guillin is a rather generic big brother city and Yangshuo is rather touristy, but honestly I’ve never seriously minded very touristy places because a. lots of people tends to mean it’s something worth seeing, and b. I always find it the height of irony to complain about tourists when you are one yourself, no?

Anyway, if you ever find yourself in this corner of the world I can highly recommend the boat ride as it was quite pretty, but I will warn you the English commentary certainly falls into that “so awful it’s beyond entertaining” category.  To fully understand why, look at this photo above which had this commentary verbatim in a bored, monotone voice over the boat’s loudspeaker-

“Look-to-the-left.  Look-to-the-left.  Here-you-can-see-a-cliff.  The-cliff-has-a-yellow-mark.  The-cliff-has-a-yellow-mark.  It-looks-like-a-fish.  We-call-it-“Fish-Cliff.”  It-is-highlight.”

This commentary essentially explains everything you need to know about Chinese tourism.  Well that and most of the people participating in it are local Chinese with matching red and blue baseball caps following someone around with a flag, but I digress.

Anyway, because we are not cool enough to have our own matching headgear like everyone else in Yangshuo Patrick and I were left to entertain ourselves, which according to us meant renting mountain bikes for 20 yen for the day (read: just over US$3) and exploring the countryside.  Here’s me with a field of yellow flowers- they’re called rapeseed, which is an unfortunate name for such a pretty flower but there we are-

(This was actually taken right next to a great  place we stopped for lunch down a muddy path which we never would’ve gone to except there was a geocache hidden here and I am a dork.  Yay!)

The Li River isn’t the only river around here actually, and just a few miles outside town we found the Yulong River complete with some local boys fishing-The thing to do on the Yulong River is go for a ride on a little bamboo raft (well traditionally bamboo, lots of the rafts these days are made out of large PVC pipes instead), but we did not.  I don’t know whether you can notice in the pictures but it was actually quite cold in southern China- seriously, the temperature never got above the low 10s (50s in Farenheit) for a few days- so bamboo rafting didn’t sound tempting.  This was to be fair the very end of the rainy season and unseasonably cold even for that so Yangshuo is usually much more pleasant- good, because most of the hostels and restaurants do not have central heating!

But hey there are always advantages to the off season, namely we didn’t have half as many tourists to share it with as what come through here in high season.  Which is good because Yangshuo was already touristy enough, I have no idea where everyone stays in summer!

One Day in Macau

No, we did not fly to Venice within a week of touching down in Hong Kong- my understanding is you can no longer feed the pigeons there anyway so I suppose this photo doesn’t make much sense anyway.  Plus the astute will notice that the tower on this St. Mark’s Square has an escalator going up to it, so where are we anyway?! Continue reading

Hong Kong Wanderings

Bad news: we’ve been in China for about two weeks now but last week my camera became missing and by now presumed stolen… with all my pictures from the week spent in Hong Kong still on it. This had just about as great an effect on my mood that you’d expect particularly as I liked Hong Kong as it was so photogenic- I always thought Chicago was the best city in the world for skyscrapers but no, it turns out Hong Kong wins by a mile. Particularly at night when all the buildings light up, you’ve never seen as beautiful a modern wonder as the Hong Kong skyline… Continue reading

Photo Essay: Nairobi Elephant Orphanage

Anyone who visits Nairobi will tell you that it’s not a very interesting city, but the one exception to this for me was the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage on the outskirts of the city. In short this is where orphaned elephants from all around Kenya come when their mother dies of disease/ is poached/ the little one falls down a well, and after three years at the orphanage the little guys are released back into the wild to various elephant herds. The orphanage is open each day from 11am-noon and costs something on the order of US$5, so well worth it as this was perhaps the cutest thing I’d ever seen!

Pictures so you can see for yourself- all set to the tune of Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk. Continue reading

Lake Nakuru, Kenya

Lake Nakuru is a tiny little national park in Kenya that took a half day to game drive.  Never saw any big cats here (though there’s the highest concentration of leopards here apparently) and part of the lack of animal spotting was due to a giant brushfire that had swept through a large part of the park a few months prior and unfortunately killed much of the wildlife.  But here is a short overview in light of it being a short game drive-

Flamingos in the lake- lots of birdlife in this park! There were a lot more flamingos, and even pink pelicans and storks and assorted other creatures, but this is my most “artsy” shot and hence the one you guys get to see. *wink*

The biggest safari moment for me however were the rhinoceroses- we saw eight of them in the park,  and many were very nearby just like in this shot!  The first thing you learn about safaris is you never see rhinos- they’re very rare due to poaching and are shy so they often keep away from the roads and all you see is a rock-like thing in the distance someone assures you is a rhino.  Seeing eight rhinos is already more than I’ve seen in all my years of safari-ing, so trust me when I say this is a big deal.

Neat little park, only a few hours drive from Nairobi.  Certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Travels around Uganda

If you ever want picturesque African scenery of the hill-and-jungle variety, head to Uganda.  It starts off flat near Lake Victoria but quickly rumples in a lush, beautiful way that tends to keep everyone with their noses pressed to the glass.

The first site of note from Lake Victoria- the source of the Nile!  Well one of several, but this is the one Dr. Livingstone tried in vain to find, and is the site of world-renowned Class V whitewater rafting… three months and 4,000 miles from here will get you to Alexandria, Egypt.

We did the whitewater rafting here of course in perhaps one of my best days of it ever.  The particular reason for this was the last rapid, the so-called “Nile Special” after a beer they have here in Uganda, is renowned the world over because of the wave that can develop there.  And we did ride it for 5-10 seconds- it was one of those all the things came together perfectly moments- which I’m told gives me street cred amongst the rafting crowd!

But then it might not last much longer- after years of negotiation Uganda is finally building their own hydroelectric dam over the river Nile, and much of the good rafting will be gone forever.  Lots of people are upset about this because their livelihood depends on the rafting, but when the  majority of the country has no electricity and they get power cuts regularly even in the capital the answer isn’t so easy…

Moving on, the equator!  Where Patrick would like to reiterate that he stands with the South… and I guess that makes me a Northerner?

It’s worth noting that behind this monument some enterprising soul has set up three basins which claim to show the water swirling in opposite directions on either side of the equator and straight down when exactly on the line.  It’s bunk, of course.  While the Coriolis force does exist the cut of the drain matters far more on such a small scale than the hemisphere it’s in, and that applies for your sink at home too.

As I said, the scenery is pretty and it gets prettier the further west you go- behind Patrick is Lake Buyonyi, which is in the southwest corner of the country and so close to Rwanda that you can often see the volcanoes of that country in the background.  Lake Buyonyi is the deepest lake in the country and really a great place to chill for a few days while waiting for your turn to go gorilla trekking, but unfortunately our second day of relaxation was marred by on-and-off rain.  It’s the start of the rainy season, you see, but hey it didn’t rain during our actual gorilla trek so I won’t complain!

I will say the Lake is lovely and will certainly become more touristy in the coming years, but Uganda’s brutal history isn’t far behind in many respects- for example down the road from our campsite was a lovely guesthouse refurbished by a German, and while we were all admiring it and snapping photos we learned that it was actually the former torture house from which the local population was brutalized.  That combined with the fact that president-but-really-dictator (known as “hat guy” because he has a cool one like all African dictators) greets you into the country with a poster that says “28 rebellions have been put down since 1986- let peace work for you!” probably gives you a good idea about the political situation in Uganda.

But anyway back to the lake, here are four crown cranes spotted whilst cruising around Lake Bunyonyi. Crown cranes are the national symbol of Uganda, both because they’re pretty and because they mate in pairs  for life so they have good symbolism.

Finally, because I’m perpetually behind I’m going to double my summary of Uganda into this post and call it a day.  In short I genuinely think this is my favorite country in East Africa- the entire thing is manageably small with great variety in its scenery, I did a successful gorilla trek, and got to briefly teach some wonderful children maths when not hanging out by Lake Buyonyi.  Only thing I’d change about it was spending more time there- Jinja at the source of the Nile was a neat spot, and there are some islands in Lake Victoria that are supposed to be neat- and the fact that you’re not allowed anything but bare feet on the Nile rafting (even taking sandals in a bag on the boat, which I’d never been told before) because climbing up the red African dirt at noontime was hot enough on my non-calloused feet to bring tears to my eyes.  All in all though such qualms didn’t take away from a country filled with natural beauty that I’ll always recall with fondness!

Visiting a Ugandan Orphanage

Here’s a tip: if you ever find yourself at an orphanage in Africa make sure you go with a fresh camera battery!  This is because most of the time will be spent with your camera on not really by choice but because a crowd of kids will surround you begging to be photographed so they can then crowd the viewscreen and comment on how they and their friends look.  Repeat repeat repeat, but of course this works out for some fun pictures as everyone knows there are no ugly children in Africa! Continue reading