Wednesday, 11 November 2009


After leaving Xichang city, Leana and I cycled down-river to our next destination of Yibin at the confluence of the Min and Jinsha Rivers, forming the Yangzi River (this may be a bit confusing, as the "Jinsha" is also referred to as the "Yangzi" further upstream). To put it mildly, every day on this stretch has been full of surprises. What also adds to the surprise is that my "maps" are remarkable in their lack of detail (no distances, major towns not listed or in the wrong place, and many place names only written in Chinese script - which, again, does help when asking for directions). Firstly, to get "down-river" we spent the entire first day cycling up a mean mountain, and camped in the freezing cold at over 3100m where our water bottles froze and ice formed on the tents. Over the next 2 days we descended in an Easterly direction for about 150 km before climbing over more high mountains to Leibo lake in the historic Mahu district. Often we cycled on roads of which the surface has been totally destroyed by landslides and rock-falls (at times stones were falling all around us, but fortunately none found their target). However, the scenery was spectacular and the isolated ethnic villagers were wonderful to meet (bustling market-towns with colourfully-dressed villagers and their animals). At times it felt as if I could be in a place like Peru (incidently, I've never been to Peru), as the people were wearing tassled poncho's, women had long plaited hair, scruffy ponies are a popular beast of burden, and homesteads were often almost out of sight way up the mountainside at the end of unbelievably steep footpaths (therefore people also carry heavy loads). As we descended from the highlands into the Sichuan Basin, we found ourselves cycling in a misty haze (a regional winter problem formed by dust and pollution which settles in the deep river valleys). This part of China is also being feverishly developed on a huge scale - incredible highways and cities arising from what were recently still villages. To reach Yibin from where we were in Sichuan province, we had to cross to the South of the Jinsha as far as the city of Shuifu in Yunnan province. The only direct road between Shuifu and Yibin is a new expressway (bicycles not permitted), but we took our chances. About half-way to Yibin the police stopped us at a toll gate, but there was no exit from the highway so they called a pick-up truck from Yibin to load us up and take us about 20 km to the city. (The police are very friendly here, they were even taking photo's of us). Daily distances cycled since Xichang were:- Mtn camp 47 km; Junction town 85 km; Road camp 93 km; Leibo 7 km; Mahu 50 km; Bridge town 58 km; Shuifu 90 km; and Yibin 22 km. Total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town at the start of this journey is 49 424 km.


After leaving Lijiang for Lugu Lake the road seemed fairly OK for the first while. Then we started dropping down a river gorge, where we met German cyclists Matthias and Katarina pedalling up the hill. We could see a big zig-zag drop ahead of us, and they were the bearers of bad news regarding the troubles awaiting us. By that evening we weren't even half-way up a bad "cobble-stone" 40km hill, and we camped at a rare level spot with water (scaring the poor farmer's goats and pigs beyond recovery). Two nights later we were on another rough-road mountain pass, and camped at 3000m behind a peasant house next to a shed occupied by pigs, chickens, and a dog with puppies (every screech of the tent zipper at night was met by a chorus of grunting, squawking, barking, and puppy wails). Eventually we reached the beatiful Lugu Lake, and spent three nights at different villages on the lake shore. The community around the lake is apparently the only remaining Matriarchal society in the world (women are officially the boss - family lineage is transferred down from the side of the mother). Surprisingly (perhaps because the season was at it's end) there were very few tourists who were almost all local Chinese tourists. The lake is at a level of 2700m, and from there we went down along a spectacular gorge to the county capital of Yam Yuang. The down didn't last very long, however, as within the next two days we climbed everlasting passes, again over 3000m, before reaching the S-Central Sichuan city of Xichang (home of the Chinese satelite launching business). Some of the isolated mountain homesteads supply piped water to trucks and busses for brake cooling down the steep passes (we also camped at some of these - level spot for tents, and water for cooking and washing). Often the local bus passengers suffer from motion-sickness, and they double over at the roadside to violently "bark at the ants". However, once the ever-present scruffy black pigs are released from their over-night accommodation, they waste no time to clean up the mess. One morning I took a walk up the hill and found what I thought was a suitable ditch for my morning ablutions. As I later cycled past that spot I was pleased to note that I hadn't left a permanent blot on the landscape (the busy little pot-bellied janitors were doing their job - one of them still had toilet paper protruding from his jaw). Enough of that for now, until we take on the river road to the East of Sichuan Province. Distances cycled since Lijiang were:- Mtn camp 62 km; Ninglang 74 km; Mtn camp 59 km; Lousui (Lugu Lake) 21 km; Lige (Lugu Lake) 10 km; Wuzhilou (Lugu Lake) 27 km; Yam Yuang 124 km; Yalong River 77 km; and Xichang 79 km. Total distance cycled since the start of this trip is 48 972 km.