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Losing Time On The Li River

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - My Big Adventure

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [578] | Comments [1] | Scholarship Entry

Some big adventures grow from little errors. Ours was paying up front.

We’d haggled hard and fast – we had a bus to catch that afternoon. Two little ladies snaffled our yuan and led us to the boat. They waved from the rocky shore; our skipper revved the engine over our goodbyes.

In winter the Li River is the colour of celadon and smooth as glass. Mist pours down from the chalky mountains and onto the water. This tranquillity is perhaps due to the fact that everyone else goes in spring. Or at least takes the heated ferry. One skimmed by - its gentle ripples engulfing our bamboo raft.

Tranquillity was starting to make my toes numb. I did wicker-chair calisthenics, kicking my legs and smacking the air, heaving thick frost from my mouth. I turned to my friend - her head was mummified in a scarf. Two wide eyes stared back in panic. Time was running short. Then the engine stopped. The smooth docking of the boat didn’t match my thoughts.

“No, we go further. To town?”

Our skipper nodded, pointed to a misty patch of bamboo. He waved goodbye. This was as far as he was taking us. I tried to explain. He kept pointing into the thicket – ‘Town there’.

We had a bus and a train to catch. First an hour bus to Guilin, then twenty-one hours train to Shanghai. There wasn’t time to sign "Sir, this is not the destination agreed upon and paid for, please deliver us there post haste." This was apparently what we’d paid for. Up front. The boats engine seemed to be chuckling as it disappeared into the mist.

Never had my friend moved so fast without running.

“Can you even hear town?”

I kept quiet - I couldn’t even hear the suggestion of a town.
As she flew into a panic, I found myself slipping into euphoria. It must have been the blood defrosting in my brain. The bamboo grove opened onto hills of mandarin plantations. Lush green trees tangled with the frosted air, their orange fruit twinkling like Christmas baubles. It was so silent you could hear the clouds brushing past the mountains. I bumbled along behind my panicked friend, trying to hide my goofy grin.

We burst in on a family gathered around a fire. Our desperation transcended our mangled sign language. We were quickly bundled onto a motorcycle, using each other’s arms as seatbelts.

Mandarins flew by as we wound along curving roads. My friend leant backwards, her face lit up. We’d make it, but just.

Then the bike stalled.

Then it started again. It grumbled. Our driver battered the engine back to life. We sped over cobblestone walkways, the river winking at us between wooden gates painted brilliant orange.

Back in town I made sure to turn back and give our driver a little wave. We had a big trip ahead, and I was trying to make sure every detail was covered, no matter how small.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011



Awesome story! The contrast between your friend's desperation and your excitement at being in the middle of a wild adventure was palatable. The fact that you were able to make your bus on time seems like a very lucky break. I really enjoyed this. Well done.

  aro-tron Mar 28, 2011 9:30 PM

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