Of ants and selfie sticks

‘If I hear another whistle I will stab someone.’

Sure enough, the high pitched whistle screams again. The kid responsible leers at us as we walk past, and I wonder for a moment who’ll get to the kid first, Myrthe or me. We exchange a glance. Restrain ourselves. Shuffle on. With difficulty.

Besides, he’s not the only one responsible. All around us kids clutch whistles in their tiny fists, announcing their presence obnoxiously, their parents doing nothing to stop them. They, like everyone else, are too busy queuing for the best selfie spot in the cave.

The Silver Cave, a good drive north of Yangshuo, is undeniably beautiful. We fought hard to get here, went through three more Pablo’s, got driven in a tiny rattly van-thing that wailed loudly every time it sped up, slowed down, stopped, or had to turn. We didn’t know directions and neither did Pablo the fifth, so every once in a while he’d stop to argue with us in Mandarin. All we could tell him was keep going, which worked out, luckily for us, because we had no back up.

In short, by the time we got there we were already exhausted. Then the chaos began. Suddenly we were surrounded by groups of Chinese tourists, on all sides. Everyone knew where to go and how to act and what to say. We were capable of saying thank you in Chinese and look cutely confused whenever we did shit wrong. Which we did, no sooner were we in the cattle pens herding us into the cave than we were ushered out by a friendly man with approximately twice as many English words as we had Mandarin ones.

But, a few minutes later, thanks to the miracle that is queue jumping, we were in the cave! Or were we? We couldn’t tell, it still felt like everyone was queuing. What we didn’t know at the time was that we’d be queuing for two kilometres.

The cave itself? Breathtaking. Huge limestone stalactite formations had carved out a path for us to walk through. They almost looked like waterfalls frozen into ice. But what nature had provided, mankind had ruined.

Huge neon lights lit up the mystical structures, multicoloured and unflattering. Enormous neon-lit plaques were plastered into the stalactites, informing you of the names each structure had (‘Mother’s love’, ‘Two pillars’). That would’ve been alright, had you been able to see them. But on all sides, everywhere, pressing on your back and your front, pushing you aside, creeping past you, were people. People holding torches and flashing their camera’s. People shouting, blowing whistles. Shoving their children and themselves into the perfect lighting for a selfie.

We were flabbergasted. No appreciation for the majesty that nature had created. No admiration, no wonder. Just a heated, desperate urge to get the perfect image of yourself in a place that you’ve not seen apart from through the screen of your iPhone. But if those pictures weren’t enough good enough, you could all queue in front of an oversized Nikon to snap an image of you, which you then had to pay an extravagant price for.

Slightly deflated, we made our way out of the cave, hot and bothered from pressing against people for over an hour. We were ready to go home. Not so fast girls, first there were five gift shops you had to manoeuvre through to finally find your way out of the place. But hey, at least Pablo would be waiting. Oh no wait we told him 17:30. It’s 16:15. Maybe there’s a bus. I mean, one of them must go to Yangshuo, there’s at least 40 of them.

‘Hello. Is this the bus for Yangshuo?’ A shrug, a wave.

‘Hello. Is this the bus for Yangshuo?’ No, okay.

‘Hello. Is this the bus for Yangshuo?’ The man doesn’t even look up from his phone.

Thankfully, life has its little graces. Forty minutes later, having half boiled to death with the hot sun and steaming asphalt, a bus came. And either we’re the luckiest humans in the world or the sneakiest, but somehow we got out of paying. Oh and another grace, the pictures came out great. It’s the little things in life.

x Eva & Myrthe

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