Saturday, 24 October 2009
After more than a year of trying to adapt to hot and humid climates, it was a pleasure being able to breathe again at the more comfortable altitudes of SW China. However, the continued move to the NW has brought with it some high altitudes and cold weather (especially with the approach of winter). The route from Dali to Lijiang was fairly uneventful (of course there were some hills!). Like Dali, Lijiang also has an ancient city, dominated by the wooden tile-roofed buildings in the style of the local Naxi people. We are living in the Old City with its cobbled alleys and gushing streams - and of course the local tourists are all over the place again! For a couple of days Leana and I were away from Lijiang, travelling North by bus to the high altitude town of Zhongdian (a.k.a. Shangri-La). That town also has an old part, and is also rather touristy (at that altitude even the cheap youth hostel where we stayed had electric blankets on the beds). I'd taken my bike with on the bus, and spent 2 days cycling back to Lijiang while Leana spent that time hiking in the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge. Zhongdian and the high-altitude rolling plains (3400m) made for rather cool and O2-shy cycling, but the area has a pleasantly strong Tibetan flavour. My cycling route back to Lijiang took me down past the mouth of the Yangzi River Gorge (Tiger Leaping Gorge), as well as the foothills of Jade Dragon Mountain (Mt Satseto 5500m). Tomorrow we plan to cycle NE from here, towards the mystical Lugu Lake on the border with Sichuan Province. Daily distances I've cycled since Dali have been: Songgui 99 km; Lijiang 74 km; Zhongdian (by bus); Qiaotou 106 km; and return to Lijiang 83 km. Total distance cycled on this journey so far is 48 439 km.
Monday, 12 October 2009
No, the wall in the picture is not THE Great Wall of China. Instead, it is the wall around the ancient town of Dali (wedged between mountains and lake) capital of this region in times past. More recently Dali has become a favourite travelers hang-out, but it seems to be losing popularity due to its increasing touristy nature (around the streets I've seen conspicuously few western travelers, but bus loads of local tourists instead). Another "wall" which I've encountered is the lanuage barrier, and with so many different ethnic groups in this region the accents only complicate matters. For instance, when asking directions to the next major town (thinking I've mastered the pronounciation) villagers don't understand me, and often they pronounce the same name quite differently. It is indeed handy to have a map with place names written in both western and Chinese! In China one can find just about anything - except under arm deodorant. In my efforts to explain to shopkeepers what I want (with my best impression of lifting my arm and applying the roll-on), I've been offered a bizarre range of items - eg. wash cloth, air freshener, hair removal cream, and even an electric razor! The route NW through Yunnan province has not been as hilly as before, although there have been some gear-grinding episodes (there is no flat land here!). In one patch along a river gorge there were a number of pitch-dark narrow tunnels with broken road surface, and in the dark both of us dropped our bikes into the muddy rock-side ditch in an effort to get away from traffic. We took it fairly easy though, as Leana has not yet recovered her fitness after illness. We also took the opportunity to extend our visas for another month in the city of Chuxiong, where we stayed for a day. Daily distances cycled since Kunming were:- A Village 79 km; Lufeng 38 km; Chuxionh 83 km; Shaqiao 61 km; Xianyun 95 km: Xia Guan 71 km; and Dali 14 km. Total distance on this journey cycled is 48 077 km.
Friday, 2 October 2009
I lost Leana in the city of Jinghong! She was staying elsewhere, and left before me, I wasn’t sure in which direction. I was planning to head towards the provincial capital of Yunnan province – Kunming – where I could apparently get bike spares, so I headed off in that direction. I expected to cover the less than 500 k’s in 4 or 5 days – after all we’d been on the highway thus far in China, and I didn’t expect that to change. After only a short distance I was in for a rude awakening! The highway turned into a hi-tech Expressway, and I was politely escorted onto the “Old Road” by the police. One of the policemen spoke some English, and he informed me that the old road to Kunming was a “bit further”, there were “some hills”, but I would be “closer to nature”. Of course he was right on all 3 counts, but BY JUPITER what an understatement! The distance to Kunming turned out to be more than 700 km winding up and down serious mountain passes (most of the hills were between 15 and 30 km long). The road condition was somewhat poor in many places, making it rather hard on Old Saartjie (my rather worn-out bike). On day 1 the chain broke, and on day 2 the front brakes packed up – and so it went on. At least I was able to camp a couple of times in the mountains, and I booked into cheap rooms at other times to take a shower and do laundry. Food is very cheap, and one can get a wholesome tasty meal from the vendors for next to nothing. After 10 gruelling days I dragged myself into the well-known “Cloudlands” travelers hostel – to find Leana already there. She’d been very ill on the road, and I find it amazing that – under those conditions – she managed to cycle most of that route before deciding to take a bus. Now, after a few days in the city Leana is still rather weak, so we’ll wait here for her to recover. In the mean time I found some good bike spares, so at least one of us – Old Saartjie – is ready to proceed further into China. Daily distances cycled since Jinghong were:- Puyen area 70 km; Simao 85 km; Pu’er 55 km; Mountains 78 km; Mojian 73 km; Xing Cheng 75 km; Yang Wu 64 km; Eshan 60 km; Jinning 76 km; and Kunming 71 km. Total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town at the start of this journey is 47 636 km.
Immediately we had a pleasant surprise! After the poor roads we’d been on for the previous few days it was nice to go the last 20 k’s to the border on a new Chinese-built road. When we got to the new modern Chinese border post I felt a bit self-conscious amonst the few luxury-bus passengers in my old garb (toes sticking out of my shoes, shirt ripped down the back, and smelling like a rat). I wished that the marble-tiled hall was more crowded so that I wouldn’t be so conspicuous. From the border we were welcomed into China and onto the new highway – a series of tunnels and high bridges, spanning valleys and zooting through hills. Some of the tunnels were a few k’s long with dark sections in the middle (hectic on a bicycle without headlights). Along the road we met Swiss cyclist, Christoph, who had more luggage than me (he even had a trailer). On our approach to the city of Jinghong (on the Mekong river, again) we met 2 more cyclists coming the opposite way – Kathy and Sandro, who’ve been cycling all the way from their home in Austria, and were on their way to Singapore. Right now I’m taking a rest in Jinghong, and am enjoying the local quisine. Leana is staying elsewhere in the city (one needs breating space now and then), Distances cycled since Laos have been:- Mengla 72 km; Menglun 76 km; and Jinghong 78 km. Total since CT is 46 927 km.
After spending a week in Vientiane it was time to get a move-on through the North of Laos as once again, our visas were running short. For the first day or 2 up to the backpacker hang-out of Vang Vieng the terrain made for a relaxing ride. After that the Earth turned on its side as we found ourselves grinding up long mountain passes and flying down the brake-smoking counter sides. On the uphills Leana tended to pull away from me, due to my heavy bike as well as my reluctance to put pressure on the already worn second-hand parts (or perhaps she’s just stronger than me). However, on the downhills my bike, Old Saartjie (a good downhill runner) was almost unstoppable. I had to know my braking in the innumerable bumpy corners, else me and Old Saarjie may have still been hanging from the branches in the beautiful indigenous misty mountain forest. The last 2 days to the border were the slowest, with the broken road surface adding to our problems. Heavy rain turned the unpaved sections into a veritable clay pit, coating tyres and making for some fun “ice-skating”. At least there was a heroes welcome at the crest of every big hill, where there was usually a village. Even the local motorbikes had trouble, as was evidenced by skid marks and tell-tale footprints in the mud. As has happened from time to time, at our last stop before the border we stayed at the same place as 2 other cyclists (Julian and Aurore from France), on their way South from China. Daily distances cycled since Vientiane were:- Hin Hoeup 102 km; Vang Vieng 69 km; Kasi 61 km; Phou Khoun 47 km; Xiang Nguen 106 km; Luang Prabang 26 km; Pak Mong 116 km; Oudom Xai 84 km; and Natei 82 km. Total distance since leaving Cape Town is 46 703 km.