After five days of hiking I decided to have more of a relaxed day. My feet were starting to ache and I feared my legs would loose all momentum. I felt it worth revisiting Nine Horse Hill after utterly failing to recognize any of the nine ancient murals on the cliff face. As it is a route I’ve done before I take the Li River walkway to my destination. I follow the upper path back as it occurred to me after visiting the famous landscape printed on the back of the 20 yuan note I failed to take a picture. This time a 20 yuan note sits in my wallet waiting for its moment of glory.
I take to the river stones rather than the paved walkway. Allowing their uneven firmness to slowly massage my feet. A type of remedial reflexology. This allows me to stay close to the water. I’m looking for the elder fisherman I passed yesterday hoping for an opportunity to recapture him but today I’m out of luck. However, I do stumble upon two sleeping cormorants on a grounded bamboo boat with its basket sitting still. The image is beautiful. The eyes of these magnificent birds are wide open but their beak stays nestled into their wings. Incredibly tame and unnerved by my presence, I glance around for their keeper and quietly move closer. In a flawless synchronized motion they raise their heads, a caution perhaps so I take a picture and leave them be.
There are several rustic boats floating alone on the water. Abandoned except for the few clothes that hang to dry. I’m unsure as to whether these are homes or vessels of temporary life for the boatmen out all day, transporting tourists on the motorized bamboo rafts to and from various scenic destinations. The surrounding landscape is alive with the sounds of birds hidden among the mountains. Combined with the gentle knocking of rocks under feet and the rippling water that trickles by there is a moment of pure tranquility. Of course a ferry full of tourists soon passes by and test their vocal cords in the echo of the mountains.
Glancing with a frown at the ferry I spot another rusty house boat I wish to capture but it is at too far of a distance. I decide to cross at the ferry point again at Nine Horse Hill, something I had no intention of doing following my near disastrous hike that resulted in a friendly couple coming to my rescue and popping a tyre! Day 2 of my Xingping adventures for those of you who are curious! Across the river gives a better view of Nine Horse Hill anyway and will allow me to capture the charming if some what disheveled boat.
I stand opposite the sight of Nine Horse Hill. Straining my imagination past its usual creativity I fail again. There is not a single image that gives shape of a horse, to my eyes at least. For the second time I give in. I follow the narrow path to the left and settle on an image of the boat. Along the way I come across a horse grazing freely. The scene is perfect. Cautiously approaching I’m able to capture the beautiful animal with the back drop of Nine Horse Hill. In my opinion I have succeeded beyond my original pursuit. A second horse comes into view as I come around a corner. This one is attached to a chain and has a spirit slightly more wild than the other. Still, the image is too perfect not to capture and I draw closer slowly.
After a while of standing surrounded by this perfect vision of nature I capture the house boat hoping not to rouse any occupants. The ferry does its duty and I return to the other side. I’m disappointed not to see the helpful old woman with her sticky rice steaming away. This is the upper route that I’ve wandered before. The last time I was on this path it was full of stalls and tourists but today is much quieter. It’s how I prefer it. I’m always drawn more to villages and small towns for their gift of solitude. Xingping, although a popular destination, has offered many treks to surrounding villages where the only people I’ve met are the locals, always small in numbers and usually within trees!
I finally come to the landscape that’s printed on the back of the 20 yuan note. The area lies between Xingping and Yucun. Unlike in the note, the Li River is void of a fishermen floating down the river with his faithful birds but is a stunning landscape regardless. Capturing the landscape with my 20 yuan note I feel very much the tourist. This is the last time I will take in this karst mountain landscape, from this view at least. These mountains haven’t failed to move me since my arrival. They hold an ethereal and evocative beauty that hasn’t been matched yet in my experience of this fascinating country. As the wind rises gently to bring a chill to the air I continue ‘home’ content again from the days roaming.