We sped along in the battered car, to the loud strains of Shanxi Opera, which is very much an acquired taste that I’ve yet to appreciate. Loop this for 80 minutes if you want to set the scene:
The pink-fur lined seats were less than comfortable and I was curled up in the back like a pretzel whilst the drivers tiny friend lounged in the expansive front seat. Fortunately, being so tightly wedged kept me from bouncing round the car each time she didn’t slow down for a pothole, which happened every few metres.
We’d arrived in QiKouzhen only an hour earlier and we were already leaving. Whilst travelling about I much prefer organising trips by myself – researching a destination, finding transport, and sometimes using a guide. Often this is quite easy if you’re on the well-worn tourist trail. If you’re way off the beaten track though it can become a little harder.
There’s almost nothing on the English-language internet about QiKouzhen, so other than being reassured by a friend that it was an authentic ancient village we went in blind.
Our friendly hotelier told us that the most interesting area outside the village was the Yellow River Rock Paintings, a series of amazing rock art further up the river. I was keen to go by one of the many water taxis, but the weak hillsides caused by deforestation have silted up the river below to such an extent that even shallow boats can no longer pass the sandbanks.
This meant we needed to find a car, and a driver who knew where the turning was for the interesting rocks. Perhaps I should have been more suspicious when a woman who just happened to be waiting round the corner offered this service. We negotiated a price of 150rmb, which seemed slightly high for a couple of hours, but there wasn’t an obvious alternative.
Arriving at the spot, it was a dirty beach. After extricating myself from the back seat I stood blinking in the sunlight, unclear as to what I was supposed to be looking at. There was a pile of rotting vegetables, a pile of bricks, three boats and no paintings.
Our driver waved at someone picking his way down the cliff and motioned us over for a chat. The paintings were inaccessible by land so we now needed a boat to take us back down the river. Fair enough – we headed towards the moored craft, where the driver asked for an extra 300rmb to use the boats.
The 150rmb to see the rock paintings turned out only to cover the car ride to a point from which the rock paintings couldn’t be seen.
After some debate as to whether it was worth continuing, we tried to bargain the boat captain down. His only response was that we were welcome to divide the 300 between up to ten people. The two of us looked around the deserted beach, and the miles of empty road beyond. It seemed unlikely anyone else would appear any time soon.
To put it in context, 150rmb is a night in a 2-3 star hotel. He smiled and waited. Even when we used the age-old tactic of walking away towards the car, he wouldn’t budge on price.
Annoyingly we’d come this far and were cornered, so coughed up the 300rmb. Once everyone was aboard we set off and round the first corner were greeted by the sunken remains of an earlier boat.
Passing this forlorn craft, we reached the first painting. The rocks had eroded to leave a deep scratched pattern high up on the cliff face. Rather than rock painting this was a case of rock erosion. It was interesting in a passing “Oh, look at the strange erosion on that rock” then happily go about the rest of your day kind of way, but not really worth a bone-jarring 3-4 hour excursion.
Further along there were a few more eroded rocks and a lot more rubbish along the river bank. After about 10 minutes we stopped and drifted to get some photos. Our guide had no more information about how the erosion occurred, or when it was discovered. That was the end of the rocks…
We were now offered the choice of heading straight back or going to look at a sandbank. He pointed at a small, nondescript strip of sand poking out of the water, near the opposite shore. Having seen enough of the sandbank we decided to go back.
That’s when the boat broke down, so we drifted towards the sandbank anyway.
By the time he’d fixed it and returned us to shore, we’d spent 450rmb and more time watching a man fixing his engine than we had looking at the non-existent paintings.
Now loop the Shanxi opera for another 80 minutes for the drive home…
It’s our own fault for not asking enough questions, but overall it wasn’t a great way to spend a chunk of time and money.
What’s the worst paid outing you’ve been on, and if anyone happens to know what this type of erosion is called, I’d be interested to learn more?