China Travel to Youyang and Pengshui County in Chongqing
It was summer 2015, and by that time, I had already done my first solo bit of China travel to Beijing. After that trip, I quickly realized that I was falling in love with Chongqing and would have a difficult time leaving.
For summer 2015, Peace Corps Volunteers were scheduled to do a mandatory Summer Project in Qijiang, Chongqing with efforts to teach 300 Chinese English teachers western teaching methods. But we had several weeks to travel before we had to arrive to start teaching.
The Beginning of my China Travel to Youyang
Just a few weeks before I left for Qijiang, my best student, Jenny, invited me to stay with her in hometown, Youyang, Chongqing. In China, spending time with your students outside of school is encouraged, especially when it means getting the opportunity to learn about the culture of China.
Jenny, like many girls, had thick and silky black hair, which I used to play with often. Jenny was thin, but many had commented on her curves and how her butt was too big. But Jenny, unlike many of the other girls, paid no mind to what other people said about her body. She was one of the few young girls I had seen in China who didn’t starve herself or put herself down. She was a confident young girl who was smart, loved going to the gym, and enjoyed eating good food. She was the type of girl I could relate to.
Staying in Youyang, Chongqing
Youyang not far from Gongtan Guzhen, an ancient town on the bank of one of the Yangtze’s tributaries, the Wu River. It was one of the better routes for China travel I had chosen as a PCV. To get to Youyang it was a four-hour bus ride. Along the way, Jenny told me what her hometown was like, and how it was a small, poor town with not very many people. When I did a search on the internet for the population of Youyang, it was still upwards of 840,000 people. This is considered small in China when you compare it to the likes of Beijing.
When we arrived in Youyang, Jenny led the way along the empty streets. I glanced at the high rises in the area thinking about how this would never be considered a poor town in the United States. Jenny lived in two homes because her parents were divorced. In the first home, she lived on the 6th floor and there was no elevator to take up. When we entered the home, her parents and her little brother welcomed me into their home. They were thrilled to have a foreigner visiting and with their daughter.
We stayed the evening there and had dinner, watched television together. I shared minimal conversations with them in Chinese with what Chinese oral language skill I had. After dinner, the family decided to take a walk outside to help food digest. We grouped together and took a walk to the square below where people had joined together for baba wu, or Chinese square dancing. Jenny and I joined in, but I quickly jumped out as soon as people started taking pictures.
Well after dark had come to the city we returned to the house and Jenny and I went to bed. Tomorrow we would be going to her countryside home near Gongtan Guzhen.
Gongtan Guzhen Ancient Town
The next morning, we took a bus from Youyang to the countryside house to see her father’s home. Unlike Youyang this town was much smaller and even during the day, almost no people wandered the streets. But here, Jenny planned to go swimming in the Yangtze River and watch her brother play basketball with his friends.
We got dressed in our bathing suits, packed up our things, and made our way there.
When we arrived, we settled into her father’s house, staying in a room upstairs. The room was spacious with marble floor. The windows were wide open and on the bed was a bamboo mat, which was meant to keep you cool while you sleep in the summer. In Chongqing, summers can be unbearably hot and humid.
After we settled in, we took a walk down to the river through the barren streets and toward Gongtan Guzhen. The ancient town reminded me a lot of Ciqikou, the ancient town in the Chongqing Proper, where I lived. With hints of ancient Chinese culture seen in the corners of the rooftops, cobblestone streets, and pans of wet tofu out front. When I peered into the restaurants and tea houses, it was dark and empty. A sign of a low season, but there were servers present as shadows.
Jenny and I chose one place to rest and have tea. We sat outside on a balcony that overlooked the wide Wu River. The river was a deep and dark turquoise and very different from that of Chongqing proper’s which was brown and muddy. I really wanted to swim in it and tried to remember the last time I had taken a not hot salt, bubble bath. Not for a while because China didn’t encourage bathtubs.
Swimming in the Wu River
I ached to be down there and near the water, so Jenny and I moved out, leaving the area we had rested to go to the bank of the river. Jenny and I met an old hometown friend of hers at the bank, stripped down to our clothes, and waded into the river. The water beneath my toes made me feel grounded. Jenny and her childhood friend did some floating in the shallow parts of the water, but I wanted to swim. With my head above water, I paddled into the middle of the large river.
The Yangtze River is anywhere from 8,200 to 11,400 feet deep and about 98 feet wide at its narrowest point. But the Wu River being a tributary only, was wide and deep, much like I imagined the Mississippi would be. I was treading water in the middle of the Wu River spinning in a circle to see the lush cliffs tower above me and the great turquoise river in front of and behind me. I spun around to the bank, where Jenny and her friend waved me to come back. As I swam back to the river, a line of trash came floating down in front of me. I waited for it to pass by and then continued to swim to the bank. I emerged from the water feeling lighter than before and glad for the river’s natural cleansing.
Wandering the Caves of Taohuayuan
My China travel did not end at Gongtan ancient town. The next day, we continued our adventure to the caves of Taohuayuan. red drum hung along the trees on the path to the entrance to the cave, so we beat them 236 times for reasons I can’t remember. When we reached the entrance, we paid to get in and then wandered through the dark caves, which were lit with all colors of the rainbow.
Rafting the Ayi River Gorge
For our final leg of this China travel experience, Jenny and I traveled to Pengshui County to raft the Ayi River Gorge. Jenny and I spent eight hours rafting the Ayi River together with dozens of others rafting beside us. What surprised me most about this journey was the lack of tour guides on the river. Coming from Colorado, rafting in heavy white water without experience as a rafter was dangerous. We also didn’t have proper paddles, which I didn’t mind, but sort of enjoyed But regardless, we carried on and completed the rafting trip in the beautiful Ayi River Gorge.
The Ayi River Gorge was beautiful with high lush valleys above us and crystal clear waters beneath us.
This was one of my most memorable China travel experiences. Have you been to Youyang? Share your experiences below! To read more China travel stories or other stories by me, visit my posts about my trip to Sanya, Hainan or my trip to Bangkok.