I’ve traveled enough that preparing for a trip has become routine. The night before I leave, I make sure essential items have already been packed. Plenty of clean underwear. Passport. Cellphone charger. ATM card. Digital SLR camera.
I sleep easier knowing that when I wake up the following morning, all I have to worry about is brushing my teeth (never optional) and showering (sometimes optional).
For Chinese New Year, I traveled to Yangshuo (阳朔), a county in southern China’s Guangxi (广西）Zhuang Autonomous Region. Because of its unique landscape, Guangxi is a place I’d been wanting to visit ever since I moved to China. The province’s karst peaks give it an otherworldly feel.
When I arrived at my hotel in Yangshuo, I checked my luggage to make sure I didn’t forget anything. My girlfriend and I then took a taxi to the Yulong River (遇龙河), where a man surnamed Liu was waiting to take us for a ride on his bamboo raft.
We sat on chairs fastened to the middle of the raft as Liu stood behind us, pushing a bamboo stick against the river bottom every few seconds to keep us moving. I reached for my camera and flipped the power switch to “On,” but it was dead. In preparing for the trip, I had left out an essential step.
Fortunately, the camera on my iPhone is serviceable, and I was able to get some good shots during the two-hour journey. Liu told us about his family and explained why the water in the Yulong River is so clear (there are no factories; Yangshuo depends on tourism for income).
He slowed the raft occasionally to point out clusters of karst peaks that resembled a frog, a pregnant woman’s stomach and even her breasts. I had trouble spotting the shapes, but nodded anyway as Liu ticked them off.
While Guangxi is considered to be one of China’s most beautiful provinces, it is also one of the country’s poorest. Liu said the government doesn’t allow factories to be built in the area because they would ruin the environment — the very reason people from all over the world come to Yangshuo.
When the raft ride ended, we tipped Liu 50 yuan ($8.25), a fifth of the ride’s total cost, and said goodbye.
Back at the hotel, I realized I had left my camera bag at one of the rest stops along the river. I still had the camera itself, but everything else in the bag — the charger, spare memory card and flash drive — was gone.
I had learned my lesson: Yangshuo’s scenery is breathtaking, and if you’re not careful it will take your camera bag away too.