Trying to get to get to a “Traditional Village”
Another attempt at getting to a place out of town. This was made fairly easy by the staff at the hostel. Bus 13 to the Bus Station then a mini bus out to the Cave itself. Just let the driver know where we wanted to get off. This went well. 1 yuan for the town bus, then at the ticket office I tried using my translate program for Swallow Cave. Here we hit a problem. It is not called the same thing in Chinese, it is Bird Nest Hole. We eventually came to the conclusion that we were talking about the same thing, and got tickets. 11 yuan each. And 30km.
The bus out took at least an hour………… It wound through the countryside, parallel to the highway for a lot of it. Past fields of plastic crop covers and incessant building sites. Then we past towns filled with brown and red onions. They must have just been harvested, and there were hundreds of tonnes of them. Frequently we would pass massive amounts of bags of onions. Then we were at the cave. There was no need to tell the driver, as it was the end of the line. After a bit of worry, we were in the right place. This is another AAAA listed place, and the ticket price reflected this.
It is an important site, as it is a massive breading place for the swallow, and every year they migrate here to breed. The nest is used for food and medicine. To make sure that it is sustainable, people are only allowed to harvest the nests once a year on the 8th of August after the birds fly back to Malaysia, and the locals free climb the rocks to get to the nests. The entrance of the cave has also been turned into a Buddhist shrine. It was a bit of a walk from the ticket office to the cave, passing a few offerings of corn to the local red bellied squirrels. Then into the mouth of the cave.
In the past the entrance of the cave must have collapsed leaving a land bridge over the front section, with the river flowing into the cave itself. Here are the statues and shrines for Buddha. Below this is the entrance, as well as a lot of boats. We assume these boats are for guided tours, and as we are stingy travellers, we were just doing the cave ourselves. Crossing the bridge with the swallows circling around above us like a flock of bats we entered the cave. There has been a walkway carved into the wall with fairy lights lighting the way. It was a bit of a pity that the cave was not lit, but we had a torch with us, so could pick out some of the details.
The cave itself is massive. I mean REALY big. It is a river flowing into it, and the cavern is so large that the torch wouldn’t reach the other side. Walking through the first chamber and up and down stairs, seeing all different forms of cave details was interesting. Columns, Pillars, Broccoli, Shawls, Stalactites and Stalagmites and Straws. All the usual details were here.
It is a pity that the cave wasn’t lit though, as there was plenty to see. Further along we came to a bridge to the other side, and another massive section struck from the rock. It is almost painful to see the damage wrought here, but then you think of how many tourists pass through each year, and you can understand that it is for the good of the cave, as it would prevent even more damage. Going up another series of steps we thought we were coming to a lit section of the cave. The assumption here was that the first bit was not lit to prevent the swallows from being drawn into the cave and getting lost when the lights are turned out. This was not the case. We had come to a shop. Just in case you needed refreshments or maybe lunch, there was an entire stall set up with chairs and tables. Cold drinks were in the fridges, and a large section for cooking. Passing this and suddenly a few things were lit up in neon greens and blues. This was more what we expected from an Asian cave. Snapping a few quick photos, we continued into the depths. Now more and more of the cave was being lit up. Thinking that the staff back at the refreshment area had drawn themselves away from their phones long enough to switch on a couple of lights we were quite happy. Then we realised that there was a couple of Chinese people behind us on a tour. Deciding to innocuously hang around this couple so we could get some good photos was a good idea. In theory. The tour guide did not seem to want to be there (it was taking her away from her mobile phone after all), so much so that the one English sign other than “caution” that we found in the cave , which was for a feature called the lovers got a whole 10 second description in Chinese followed by the torch playing over the column then it seemed as if the tour was over and she disappeared faster than a peace of chocolate at a weight watchers convention. So did the lights.
Onto the next section of the cave, and we could see the reason for the boats. A couple of these had passed us on the way in, but apparently it was a one way trip from the back of the cave to the entrance when you had completed your walk. Looking down on this again reinforced how big the cave actually was. We were quite a way in, and very high up. With a bit more walking we encountered the biggest shock of all. There was an entire food hall down here! I mean that the floor had been levelled out, and was surrounded by food stalls. Tables and chairs were everywhere, and there were even games machines all set up in a row. It was no Romanian salt mine, but it was close.
Thinking that this was the end, we were surprised to see lights go on further back. The couple were still being lit up on their way around. This cavern wound around to another natural (?) opening. We couldn’t get up to it,but we could walk around another section that again was filled with great examples of cave details. Millions of years in the making, and you could still get mobile reception and a bowl of noodle soup. Better than that, you could get swallows nest soup. If it was open. Apparently we are here out of tourist season, so only five or six were open.
A quick boat ride back to the entrance and we were done. By this stage the weather had opened up and it started to drizzle. Still we took the scenic route back past a couple of tombs and a closed shrine. Skipping the walk over the top of the cave and made our way back to the bus.
(Repeat journey here in reverse)
The next thing we wanted to do when we got back to Jianshui was to go to one of the traditional villages nearby. Again the hostel helped out. Go to the North Gate and catch one of the private minivans heading to the village. It would pass by the Dragon Bridge,which we could see on the way there or on the way back. 5 Yuan a ticket. Sweet.
Again. You would think that after a week, you would start to get used to a country. Not the case in China. The mini vans were easy enough to find, and even the mini van that we needed. However the price for white tourists had jumped. It was not the 5 yuan as expected but 50. Per person. This level of tourist tax royally pissed us off. A few percent different, ok. Maybe even charge us double. But 100 times? No way. We reported this to the local police (which up to now had been quite helpful and friendly, in the way of people that don’t speak the same language. He went off and talked to the driver. Without coming back to us, he went back to his post (and mobile phone) laughing to himself. When the van was about to leave the driver came back to us and let us know it would now be 20 per person. We used the translator app to tell her to get stuffed. Politely.
The next driver was almost as bad and wanted 30 per person. This let us know that wherever you are there are always scum-bags. Giving up on the village we went back to the hostel to get information on walking to the dragon bridge.
The girl at the hostel was horrified at our treatment from the van drivers, and was very apologetic. We let her know it was not her fault, and got directions to walk to the bridge.
The walk took us west of town, past the gate, and down through a small alleyway. From here we met the old railway line and followed it through the fields. There were a few bridges over the small canal that we were walking beside but nothing that would warrant landmark status. A long time later we came to the Dragon Bridge. Well worth the walk. This old bridge looked as if it had undergone a series of renovations, with a bit of a wobble to one side and missing a tower, but still an impressive structure. It seemed as if the river that it spanned had seen better days,as it was basically a canal, as mentioned earlier. It was allowed to widen to make the bridge look as if it was still needed, but its only purpose now was as a tourist attraction. Walking the rest of the way up to it, past the barriers that prevented cars and bikes from using it (although the bikes just go around that) we walked across the famous bridge. That done, it was time to head back to town.
What do you want me to say?!? It was a beautiful bridge, well made, looked after, still standing and a bloody long walk! But having said that, it was still just a bridge. Yes, I know, Ancient Bridge.