Around the world by bike
(2 665km - 75days)
14 September - Mengla - 72km
It was a short 20km ride up a moderate hill to the border. Then a very easy border crossing, since we had our visas. Once across the border I draw some money at the local ATM, which was more guess work than anything else as it never really gave me an option for English. In the end it spat out some money and we were on our way again.
We found ourselves on a brand new highway with bridges and tunnels through a very scenic country side. My bike seemed to be giving problems again and it became increasingly difficult to turn the peddles. I felt sick and weak with a stomach problem, but fortunately it was a downhill ride into the first town in China. China is nothing what I had expected. The first town was modern and not very “Chinese” whatever that may mean. I was extremely relieved to find a room and just lay down. I had a fever and lay shivering under a blanket for the rest of the night.
15 September - Mengla (Meng La)
We spend the day in Mengla to have a rest and check things out a bit, get a new sim card etc, etc. Good thing I draw some money at the border as there seemed to be no ATMs accepting Visa or MasterCard. I found a sim card but was still unable to phone, although it appeared that I could send a text message. It also appeared that one could not access Facebook in the Province of Yunnan. It could be due to the recent political unrest in the province or maybe Facebook is just blocked in the entire China. Blog sites are also blocked but at least there is a way around that.
Ernest worked on my bike again and hopefully it would peddle a bit more freely than before. He was also brave enough to shop for meat at the local market. Noodles could be found in all shapes and sizes and rice was of cause plentiful.
16 September - Mengla (Meng La)- Menglun - 75km
After a very slow start we left at about 10h00 and cycled along the brand new highway. Ernest had another flat tyre but he’s so good at fixing it by now that it only took a few minutes before we were on our way again.
We past a small village and decided to have some lunch. We sat down at a roadside table and were brought some sticky rice and various other dishes of unknown origin (including chicken feet soup and pigs ears stew). It was delicious and after we had our fill, we tried to pay but the owner did not want to accept any payment. We were wondering if it was actually a restaurant or just someone’s home!!?? One thing is for sure, we have left the world of bread and coffee.
We found a room in Menglun just minutes before a heavy thunder storm came down.
17 September - Menglun - Jinghong - 75km
A short, scenic and easy ride into Jinhong along the Mekong River. After a few km we turned of the highway and onto a much smaller road, past small villages. We also met 2 other cyclists from Austria who has been cycling for 9 months all the way from Austria and who will end their journey in Malaysia. We chatted for a while and then we were on our respective ways again.
We reached our first big town in China, and found it to be a modern and busy city. Although it looks very European the big difference is that absolutely everything is written in Chinese, making it rather difficult to find a hotel. Very few people speak English which adds to the confusion.
Ernest and I took different rooms and I had a peaceful and quiet evening, wondering around the night market and nibbling on street food.
18 September - Jinghong
I spent the entire morning looking for a bookshop to find a book about China and a road map. All invane, as the only maps I could find were in Chinese which does not help me a hell of a lot. This is obviously not a tourist place as the whole day I did not see a single foreigner (or Ernest) and by the way the curious locals stare at me I guess not many “long noses” come here. Ha, ha not that I can be described as a long nose!!
I’m intrigued by the food as there are just the most interesting eats to be found. One I like is dried, spicy mushrooms which one can eat like biltong, or mix in with the noodles. Pig’s nose and ear salad is also very popular. Bread and cheese is unheard of here so it’s local food or nothing
19 September - Jinghong – Puwen - 105km
Ernest never showed up again, so by 09h00 I decided to leave, as I was not sure if he was still in town or had already left. I followed the highway as I had no map or any other info about China. After 20km the police kicked me off the highway and I followed a small secondary road, through tea plantations and rice paddies. The road hugged a nature reserve for most of the way so it was an extremely scenic ride, even although I had no idea where I was going.
Most of the day was uphill and very slow going. By 5 o’clock I found the small village of Puwen which fortunately had basic rooms available where I could stay for the night. I lay in my room listening to the sounds of the village, an old man wailing in the back yard, chicks chirping, children laughing and not long one crying, this could be anywhere.
October 1 is China’s National day. They celebrated the 60th anniversary of the PRC. So all that was on TV was the preparation for the week long festival, and pro China documentaries and speeches.
20 September - Puwen – unknown city - 90km
Without a map and with no means to read the road signs all I could do was follow the road. From time to time I checked if this was the road to Kunming, but in most cases they just stared at me. I’ll have to get used to people staring, this is only day 5 in China and it’s already getting at me.
There is not an inch of flat land in this country, I peddled up hills all day long and eventually arrived in a fairly large city. After finding a room and rinsing my cycling clothes (very nice room with TV etc, etc) I decided to go to the local supermarket. I was stared at in silenced all the way their and back. While shopping, my every move was watched and every item I put in the basked discussed. Arriving back at the hotel, the bag was eyed with great curiosity.
The hotel staff was very helpful and I managed to get the message through that I was looking for a road map. A few minutes later the lady arrived with a map of the province, all in Chinese, so I still had no idea what the name of the city was. It was, however, better than nothing and at least showed cities and towns along the way.
21 September - 80km
With map in hand, I set off, up and over the mountains again. The km on the map and the distance I cycled just did not add up. I tried to compare the squiggles on the map to the squiggles on the road signs but to no avail. On top of a mountain I found a small village with rooms to let. It was only 15h00 but according to my estimates it was at best another 45km to the next big town and over yet another mountain pass. The fact that the faded sign board indicated 71km made me stay put.
The room was very basic but what can one expect for R10 rand, used condoms and cigarette butts covered the floor, I just kicked them to one side and settled in.
22-23 September - MoJiang
Early morning I was ready to leave and found another cyclist who arrived late the night before. He was a local guy who is cycling around Yunnan Province. We cycled together for the rest of the day. I did not feel very well and seemed to be plagued with stomach problems.
It was however nice to have some company and to see that I’m not the only one going at snails paste up the long winding mountain passes. We stopped regularly to admire the views and speak to the locals. On top of our last mountain pass we were offered tea by a local lady, we sat in her humble home enjoying tea and cucumber which is dipped in chilly powder. On our long downhill run into the city of MoJiang my cycling partner had a flat tyre and waved me on. I arrived in the city of MoJiang and found the city fairly large and very modern. My hotel room was reasonably priced and very modern, but no internet.
I was sick all night with stomach problems and decided to stay in bed the following day.
The next day I stayed in bed just leaving to see if I can find an internet. I found an internet café where hundreds of Chinese were sitting playing computer games. I could not use the internet as it appeared that I needed a prepaid card for that purpose. From the hand signals I also understood that they could not sell me one, how strange. I’ll have to find out how it works. Shops along the street were however happy to let you use their computers without a cost.
24 September - 75km
I woke and felt slightly better than the previous days. Although not 100% and feeling rather weak from lack of food I decided to move on. It was probability not the best decision. I could hardly get up the first hill out of town. I was creeping along with thousands of flies buzzing around my head, getting into my ears and nose! Someone up there must have been looking after me, as after the first hill it was virtually a downhill run into the next big city. The road was rather bumpy and although it made the downhill rather slow it was better than going up. I was so relieved that I booked into the first hotel I spotted.
I managed to make some plain noodles just adding salt and hoping I could keep it down. At this rate its going to take me a long time to get to Kunming City
25 September - Xingcheng – Yang Wu- 60km
Every morning I wake up, convinced that I feel better than the day before, but as soon as I eat or drink something, it comes straight out again. Nevertheless I got on the bike and set off up the mountain pass. 35km of climbing took me 4 hours and left me totally exhausted. I realized that I would never make the next big town and that I just not have the energy to do it. At lunch time I found the first room I could get and probably the worse room imaginable but I was in no condition to argue and just went to lay down, surely by the next day I must feel better. I still could not eat anything and even drinking water left me feeling nauseas. Staying without food and water is not a solution as that’s what I need most. It must have counted as one of the worse cycling days to date.
A strange set of circumstances played out as after a few hours, the lady of the house woke me up to say that the bus will be there in 30 min. This was probability not a place to stay overnight but maybe just a rest stop where people wait for the bus. I did not argue and packed my back. She walk me all the way to the highway where the bus stops and waved it down. (Maybe they just did not want foreigners to stay over). At least the bus took me to the next big town about 65km further down the road. Once there I found a rather nice hotel and stayed for the night.
26 September - Eshan
I spent the day in Eshan to see if I could feel any better. I tried in vain again to do the internet, but at least found a supermarket and a ATM.
On the morning of the 27th I woke feeling even more nauseous and this time with a sore throat and snotty nose. There and then I decided to take the bus to Kunming, hopefully there I’ll be able to find a chemist that can understand English. The ride to Kunming was much shorter than expected and less than 100km and at a fee of R30.00 I thought it very reasonable. Once in Kunming I found the city much larger than expected, with flyovers, highways and extremely heavy traffic. After what felt like ages I found the place I was looking for. A very nice backpacker’s hostel with all the facilities one can wish for (free internet, Wi-Fi, restaurant and laundry) - now that’s my kind of place. I took a room in one of the dorms which were spotless with white linen and all.
I spent the following day wondering around all the fancy shops, supermarkets and excellent outdoor stores. Parks are plentiful and real havens, especially early morning when elderly ladies are doing their exercises in the park to local music.
29 September - 4 October - Kunming
The Cloudland Hostel is a great get-together for all and I met some real nice people, I took a walk with Zoe to Green Lake Park, the 1000 year old Yuantong Tempe and we had a bit to eat at an excellent vegetarian restaurant. Arriving back I found Ernest already booked in at the Hostel. I was kind of pleased to hear that it was not just me who took for ever to arrive at Kunming, and who found the road extremely difficult.
I was still suffering from severe stomach cramps and an extremely bloated stomach; I was rather listless and quite desperate to feel better. I found it impossible to eat anything at all. This condition carried on for the next 5 days. I felt more and more weak and was only able to eat very small bits at a time. By that time I had lost so much weight it was scary – I only weigh 48kg.
In the meantime there was more than enough drama to keep me occupied. Two of the lockers in Ernest’s dormitory were broken into and with him being the only other person there he was suspect number one. Fortunately the one guy’s alleged stolen goods were recovered in his locker, and together with a whole list of other circumstances, he became the prime suspect and Ernest was cleared. However, he is still a witness and had to provide lengthy statements to the police – hopefully we’ll be allowed to leave.
Wow, how time flies! It was defiantly time to move on. Again we followed a secondary road out of the city (bicycles banned from Expressway as usual) and headed in the direction of Dali. The road was a bit full of potholes and the going not as good as expected. I was definitely not my usual self but pushed on until we found a town to sleep for the night. Rooms are very cheap in the small places, but without frills. Ernest, as usual, went to the market – and later prepared potatoes which we ate with a fresh salad.
6 October - Unknown town to Lufeng - 38km
I felt weaker than expected; my legs just did not want to go around and around! We followed a really bad road; past more rural villages with corn hanging from balconies and rafters, etc. (some obviously had a better crop than others). With local dogs snapping at our heels we pulled into Lufeng, which was a fair-sized town, and we found good hotel accommodation in the center of the town for R50.00.
7–8 October - Lufeng – Chuxiong - 83km
A most scenic day on the road again, although the road was in poor condition it was an enjoyable day as we followed a narrow and steep river gorge. There were many narrow dark tunnels with broken road surface, making it rather tricky to share with trucks and other traffic. We again found cheap accommodation in the city centre (first look for the food shops, then find a room in the vicinity!). Ernest went to the market and came back with a bag full of take-away food, rice and 4 types of vegetables, all for R6.00. I felt stronger but not a 100% yet.
The next day we stayed in town and extended out Chinese visas for another month. We found a better room close to the Foreign Affairs office (a few k’s from the previous day, but close to another market area). The fact that one can buy the most delicious food on the street corner encouraged me to stay and I spent the day eating rice and various types of vegetables.
9 October - Chuxiong - Shaqiao - 61km
I felt somewhat stronger after a day of rest and good food. We set off on the bumpy road, hoping it would improve but we had no such luck. I could feel winter approaching and had to dig out the old windbreaker from the bottom of my bag. Gee, I have not used that for more than a year, maybe even longer. It’s still sweaty work up the hills but on the downhill it’s really getting a bit chilly now.
Chinese are big tea drinkers, and you will seldom see a Chinese without a jar from which they refill with water and seem to sip all day long.
10 October - Shaqiao - Xianyun - 95km
A most difficult day on the road, the road was in poor condition and very bumpy, something that tested my mental strength. Not only did we encounter steep hills but a head wind as well. We pushed on regardless and only arrived at our destination at around 5pm.
We did the usual and looked for a room around the food alleys and I had the most delicious meal of rice and veg I could have wished for. It was an early night for me as I was totally exhausted.
11 October - Xianyun – Xiaguan ( modern-day Dali City) - 71km
I was still tired in the morning and wondered how I would fair. The road started with a long mountain pass but once over the top it was a down hill run into Dali City. The road lead us past numerous small villages, where crop harvesting was in full swing and all types of conceivable grains were being dried by the road side, everything from rice, corn, chilies and beans were spread out in the sun for drying.
Although it was fairly early, and we could carry on to Old Dali, we decided to take a room and find some nice Chinese food again. We were rather disappointed as now that we were in a more touristy town the prices were much higher and the food not nearly as good as the previous days.
12 October - Old Dali – 14 km
We left Dali city at a leisurely pace as it was hardly 15km to Old Dali where we found a room at a reasonable price, just outside the walls of the old city. The Old city is very touristy with loads of tourist busses pulling in all day long. It is, however, still a relaxing and easy going village, with cobblestone streets, surrounded by a restored old wall and gates.
I could not wait to explore the alleys, shops and touristy stalls which lined the streets. There was food aplenty and just as many clothing and jewellery stalls all offering overpriced items for the bus loads of tourists (mainly locals). Many restaurants offer pizzas and western style food (which I’m not going to complain about right now).
13-14 October - Dali
Three days in Dali and so many pizzas later, it was definitely time to move on. I bought some warm clothes as we were heading north where I was sure it would be much colder. I also spent some money on a new pair of pants as the old ones kept on falling down. The people here are so small that the pants fit but are only three quarter length for me.
15 October - Dali – Songgui - 99km
The day started with an easy flat cycle along the lake with a bit of a tail wind. Then we had a 15km winding uphill ride which was not too bad as the road for once was in a fair condition. The scenery was great as we could look down over the deep valleys. I even spotted some snowy peaks further north and felt thankful for the warm clothes I’d bought in Dali. To our surprise we had a 12km downhill run into the village of Songgui where we found a room. A brand new hotel with all the modern fittings, snow white bedding and towels all for R60.00. So all in all a very pleasant day on the road.
It great walking out to find some food as it’s always a surprise what ones going to find. The typical street-side restaurant will display all the ingredients, so one can just point to it and they will cook it up for you, and of cause usually served with rice (and sometimes a choice of noodles).
16-18 October - Songgui – Lijiang - 74km
Again the weather was perfect for cycling, sunny, cloudless skies, (even a bit of a tailwind) what a pleasure. Even the road was in good condition. The scenery was again outstanding as we cycled up and down hills past rural villages. (Darn, those hills are steep!).
We reached the old city of Lijiang in good time and managed to find a room in the narrow cobbled stone streets of the old city.
The next two days were spent exploring the old city, getting lost and eventually finding our way back to the popular budget Ma Ma’s Naxi Guest House again.
Ma Ma’s is a great get place to hang out, besides the cozy courtyard, mamma looks after every guest and fed us fruit and copious amounts of tea (all for free).
I decided to play backpacker/tourist for a few days and to take the bus North to the highland town of Shangri-La (formerly Zhongdian) and from there back to do the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike. I felt the need to do something different from cycling, eating, and sleeping day after day.
19 October - Lijiang to Shangri-La (by bus)
Ernest decided to join me on the bus to Shangri-La but with his bike, so he could cycle back instead of going to the gorge to do the hike. I was all excited to get on the bus as this was quite a novel thing for us to do. The bus left the town and in no time headed up the first hill and one could see Lijiang far below us. The bus snaked up and down steep mountains and for once I was thankful not to be on the bike.
After more than 4 hours we reached Shangri-La and at an altitude of 3300m it was bitterly cold (1000 m above Lijiang). Definitely not my “Shangri-La”. Well the place is fairly touristy and in my opinion not a Shangri-La at all (although there is an Old Town area with a strong Tibetan influence).
20 October - Shangri-La
It was really hard getting up and out of our warm beds, but eventually we braved the weather and headed for the square were we could found local BaBa (fried flatbread served with chillies). Just around the corner from the square we also found the ever present steamed rice dumplings, but this time not with meat inside but veggies or mushrooms, so I was in seventh heaven and ate a whole bag full.
We wondered around the old town, along narrow alleys and cobble-stone streets, dodging hordes of Chinese tourists. We tried going to the nearby monastery but the entrance fee was so steep that we gave it a miss, and rather went back to town and walked up the hill to the picturesque temple overlooking the old town.
21 October - Shangri La – Qiaotou
We were reluctant to leave our warm beds and it was late in the morning before I eventually donned my little backpack and headed for the bus station and Qiaotou. The bus took app. 2 hours to reach Qiaotou and once there I first wandered around the small town before heading for Tiger Leaping Gorge. The entrance fee to the gorge was 50 Yuan and once past the ticket office the signs for the High Trial were clearly visible, as all the Guest Houses on the trial advertise themselves on large stones along the way. I started the walk fairly late in the day but reached the first Inn after about an hour and a half. Right from the start the views were exceptional and I felt extremely happy and privileged to just be on the trail.
According to my brochure it was a 3 hour trek to the next Inn so I decided to stay at Naxi Family Guest House for the night. The Guest House is a traditional Naxi home run by a very friendly Naxi family. The rooms had excellent views and were very comfortable and even came complete with electric blankets.
22 October - Tiger Leaping Gorge - Naxi Family Guest House – Tina’s Guest House
I woke up to excellent views of Jade Dragon Mountain from my bedroom. At a leisurely pace I had breakfast consisting of a plate of fried noodles and veggies as well as a walnut pancake. By 9h00 I was ready to start the walk and just ambled along the path with high mountains on both sides of the trial and the river far below. I walked past small villages high up in the mountain, where people were going about their daily chores, feeding their livestock and collecting wood for the fast approaching winter.
Every now and again I came upon a lodge where I could stop and have a cup of tea, which is always provided free of charge.
Further along the path I came across high waterfalls spilling over the path and had to be careful not to be washed away over the edge. With a sigh of relief I made it across and continued along the path. The views of the gorge with the river far below were excellent. In no time I reached Tina’s Guest House, which is located at the junction with the road and as there was a bus leaving for Lijiang, I hopped on and found myself back in Lijiang at around 21h00. Ernest had arrived a couple of hours before me.
23 October - Lijiang
I could not wait to head for the BaBa and fried potato-stand down the alley, all very oily and greasy, but yummy. I spent the day lazing in the sun, eating and chatting to other travelers. I have defintely picked up the weight that I had lost before Kunming after my illness and I’m feeling strong and healthy again (thanks to the fried babas and all the fried potatoes).
I love China, especially the fact that there are so many ethnic groups, all still with their own customs. Besides the Han majority, in the South-East there are regional minorities such as the Dai, Bai, Naxi, Yi, Mosu, etc., who all differ not only in looks, but also in architecture, food, clothing and customs. Many of the places where we’ve stayed are part of the family home and one gets a peep into their daily family life. The restaurant area is normally where the family eat, watch TV, kids play and pets laze about.
Just as I find something really nice to eat, it totally disappears as one moves into another area and one finds totally different food. We are now around the lake where there is, obviously, a lot of fish. Small pigs are also being barbecued on a spit around every corner. Here one sits at a low table with wire mesh in the middle and coals underneath, so one can “braai” your own food, all provided half cooked in individual dishes.
24 October- Lijiang
Instead of heading off we spent another lazy day at Ma Ma’s Naxi Guest House. This was such a relaxing place. I sat talking to other travelers in the courtyard, while being constantly fed fruit and tea by Mama - obviously in charge and constantly busy organizing lifts to the bus station, or train, bus and plane tickets for travelers (while Baba does the driving or dozes in front of the TV).
It’s amazing that Lijiang is such a nice place to hang out, given that it is immensely touristy. I loved the fact that I was not constantly being stared at (something that I get a bit tired off in the countryside) at least in Lijiang there are thousands of tourists (albeit mostly Chinese) and one can just blend in and feel half normal.
25 October - Lijiang – mountain camp - 61km
After being fed coffee and banana pancakes by Mamma (all free of charge) she sent us on our way with a bag of fruit. We headed out of town towards Lugu Lake, home to Mosu villages. I believe the Mosu are the last practicing matriarchal society in the world. So after reading “Leaving Mother Lake” a fascinating account of the author’s childhood memoirs growing up in a remote pat of China, I was keen to see what it’s all about.
After a long downhill we crossed the Yangzi River and encountered a 40km mountain pass. Not only was it a climb of 1700m to an altitude of over 3000m, but it was on a rough cobblestone road. Heavens, who still paves a road with such rocks? - definitely not cyclists, a plain old dirt road would have been much easier on my backside. The going was dreadfully slow and half way up the hill we decided to put up camp and carry on in the morning.
An easy place to camp is near the water point where trucks and busses fill up with water for their brakes, as there is always toilets, water and normally a small amount of stuff to buy. It, however, comes with loads of buss passengers all wanting to chat and take some photos of the 2 mad cyclists (they think they are roughing it in a bus). The owner of the water point was however very friendly supplying us with a flask of hot water and a spade full of coals to keep us warm.
26 October - Mountain Camp - Ninglang - 74km
We were reluctant to get up, as it was rather cold so high up in the mountains. We slowly emerged as the sun come over the ridge. Soon loads of tour busses arrived and we spent, what felt like hours, trying to explain where we’re from and where we’re going. We posed for innumerable photos and eventually carried on up the never-ending hill.
At snails pace we moved up the mountain slipping and sliding on the cobblestone road, and dodging stones rolling down from the steep mountain sides - landslides seems to be a regular occasion and every now and again the road was blocked with just a small section cleared to let traffic through. Eventually the cobblestone road gave way to a perfectly good tarred road, (now why could they not do that the whole way?) and we managed to make better progress. Once we reached the top (3100m) a real good downhill awaited us, and with long shadows we coasted into Ninglang with the long hill (nearly) forgotten.
In Ninglang we found a room and good take-away food, and settled in for the night, after a luxuriously hot shower.
27 October - Ninglang – Mountain camp - 59km
It was freezing cold in the morning and we struggled to get out of bed. After unsuccessfully searching the town for an ATM we left and immediately encountered a mountain pass. It would also not be the only one for the day. The road to the lake was narrow and not in great condition, but at least very scenic. This was truly rural China with loads off colorful villages and locals going about their daily business. Once we reached the second mountain pass for the day we, to our surprise, found yet another cobblestone road. Our pace slowed, once again, to snails pace as we headed up the hill. The road was so narrow that every time a bus or truck came along I jumped off the bike and rather waited for it to pass instead of being flattened or forced over the sheer edge into the ravine far below. (The bike tends to jump in all directions on the stone road, especially when crawling up the steep hills).
As night was falling we thankfully reached the only piece of level ground we’d seen for a while – a patch bordered by the curve of the road, a homestead, and an animal shed – just big enough for our tents. Importantly, there was also water, as there was a stream and the residents supplied water to the trucks and busses (brake coolant). At 3000m it was rather cold as soon as the sun disappeared and we donned all out warm clothes. Again our activities where closely observed by all, including the pigs, dogs and chickens in the makeshift shed a metre or 2 away.
28 October - Mountain Camp – Lugu Lake - 21km
We only got going after 11h00 as the sun just never seemed to rise over the high mountains around us. The pass continued up for the next 6km and but eventually we reached the top at 3350 metres. There was no mistaking the top for all the prayer flags and the excellent views. I was more than happy to rather go down, cobblestones and all. The road was so narrow and the cobblestones so slippery that I was constantly wondering whether I was going to slip off the edge and just disappear down the gorge.
It was, however, a good downhill run to the lake, and what a view!! The view was worth every slippery cobblestone. Luoshui was the fist village we came to and we took a room as; we understood, they could give as some cash in advance on the credit card. The phone line was however off and if I understood it correctly they said we must try again in the morning (big risk!).
29 October - Luohui – Lige - 10km
Thankfully the machine accepted my card and I could pay for the room as well as get some cash. Phew, that was a huge relief. We packed up and cycled along the dirt road leading around the lake which later improved to a newly tarred road). Ten k’s later we found another pictures village and I couldn’t justify coming all this way and cycling right past such a beautiful spot. We found a great room with floor to ceiling windows with a lake view for R50 and that was me set for the day. No one was going to get me away from that window with its bench windowsill complete with cushions where one could sit in the sun and look out over the lake.
The lake may not be as remote as it used to be, but it is still absolutely stunning. One can now even find some curio shops selling very colorful embroidered clothing, long stem pipes and all kinds of animal skin clothing. New guesthouses are also going up fast and furious and it will not be long before the whole area is totally developed. Still I have not seen any western tourist in the area.
30 October - Lige – Wuzhiluo - 27km
What a place it was, stunning, stunning, stunning. We carried on cycling around the lake and came upon many small settlements, with villagers still fishing in the lake and living a traditional lifestyle. We went pretty slowly and it was only around 15h00 that we reached the small village of Wuzhiluo. It was so peaceful and tranquil that we decided to stay the night. We found a real nice place (Wind’s Guesthouse) and even had food there that night. For R15.00 we ate and ate and ate and until it felt like I was going to burst.
Over the previous few days Ernest had developed a nasty cough and they even went to all the trouble of making and delivering to the room a special remedy for his chest (steamed pears in honey). Here we also encountered the first Western tourists we’d seen in the Lake area – Marie and Robert from France.
31 October - Wuzhiluo – Yanyuan - 124km
I was ever so sorry to leave the lake but China is a big place and there was so much still to see. We set off down the valley following the flow of the river and had a stunning ride through the gorge. Unfortunately this also came to and end and we started climbing out of the valley for the next 80km.
Although my legs were tired it was a most stunning ride, once again past small villages, rivers and waterfalls. What can I say, this is a beautiful country. I was however more than happy to reach YanYuan, find a room and have a shower.
Ernest and I walked out and found a restaurant where once again we could go into the kitchen and point out what ingredients you would like them to prepare. So with a bag full of food we returned to our room and that was me for the night.
1 November - Yanyuan – Yalong River - 77km
Once we left the town we immediately started climbing up the mountain (this must be the most mountainous country I’ve been to). It was a long climb up to 3200 meters but that was not the biggest problem, we cycled into a freezing head wind threatening to blow me over the edge of the mountain. I found it fairly nerve-racking as there was no railing, just a sheer drop down into the valley.
Once we reached the top there was however a 45km downhill was and we raced down the mountain in bitterly cold weather to 1200m - descending 2000 meters in the process!! Halfway down we stopped at a small place for a bite to eat, just to get some warmth in our bodies, and then we continued down until we reached the Yalong River.
Once I noticed how the road climbed again after the river bridge, I thought it a good idea to find a room and rather continue up the mountain in the morning (conveniently there was a small hotel shortly after we’d crossed the bridge). We had some good noodles for supper, which we cooked in the room.
2 November - Yalong River – Xichang - 79km
We left the river and immediately started climbing up the mountain pass. The going was extremely slow as we climbed and climbed. Every now and then we viewed the river from higher and higher altitudes, also magnificent views of terraced villages which seem to have no link to the outside world except via the river. Eventually we reached the top of the pass after Ernest had 3 flat tires.
At least the route from the mountain top was mostly downhill to the city of Xichang. We arrived rather late, cold and hungry as we had not eaten since the previous evening, except for a few sweets which I still had in my bag.
It was after dark before we found a suitable room, then Ernest was off to the food shops and returned with fried rice dish, noodle soup and dumplings. At least there is not a room to be had that will not automatically come with a flask of hot water and tea, so before I even had a shower, I sat down and had some tea, which I had now also taken to carrying with me on the road.
3 November - Xichang
We slept late before we headed out to the nearest dumpling and rice bun stall for breakfast. The street food is so cheap and delicious that one can just not get enough of it. After doing some long overdue laundry we went to the local PSB for our visa renewal. It was so easy and the people so friendly and helpful that it is nothing like what I have expected. The extension was processed while we waited, and I got the feeling that if we’d asked for more than another month it may have been granted.
4 November Xichang – Mountain Camp - 47km
We left rather late at 11h00 as the next place we spotted on the map looked about 65km away so we reckoned there was no rush. We had, however, a bit of a surprise waiting for us as the road led us up jet another mountain pass.
We crawled along and as we climbed higher and higher it became increasingly colder. By the end of the day we had still not reached our destination and were freezing cold, so we decided to camp along the road. We found a small roadside restaurant where we camped for the night (at least there was water and a basic toilet). It was bitterly cold as we set up camp at above 3100 meters, cooked our food and crawled into our tents.
5 November Mountain camp – Unknown town - 85km
We stayed tucked in our sleeping bags until the ice on our tents melted, and then slowly crawled out and defrosted ourselves in the morning sun. At least it turned out that we were almost at the top of the pass, as shortly after we left we started descending down the mountain.
It was a most interesting day past rural villages, with pigs, goats and chickens munching on garbage along the road. We cycled along rivers with high waterfalls, where the mountainsides were thick with ferns and moss. Every now and again we came upon villagers herding their goats along to better pastures. Eventually we reached a small village at a junction in the road, where we found a very basic room for the night. Kids were staring in absolute amazement at this spectacle coming along. We were no doubt the topic of conversation as we unloaded our heavy bikes and carted our bags up the stairs to the room. Our every step was watched as we went to the shop to get some stuff to eat.
6 November - Unknown town – road side camp - 93km
Under close scrutiny we loaded up our bikes, waved good-bye to the on-lookers and took a fairly obscure road, which followed the river in the direction of Leibo. Although it was mostly downhill, the road was in such poor condition that the going was fairly slow again. It was, however, so stunning that we made little headway as we stopped every couple of kilometers to admire the view. The gorge became deeper and steeper as we followed the river. As we dropped down into the Jinsha river valley it became warmer, but a heavy mist/fog/dust engulfed the whole area. There were plenty villages along the river, none of which I’m sure, has ever seen Western tourist. It was Friday and obviously market day. We spotted plenty of villagers with loaded horses, and others carrying large baskets on their backs loaded with everything from noodles to plastic basins - all on their way back to their mountainside villages.
As usual there was a surprise waiting for us at the end of the day! Suddenly our downhill ride came to an end, and the road left the gorge and snaked up the mountainside to the next big town (Leibo). This is orange country and all along the road there were orange orchards with locals selling oranges along the way. At least this part of the road looked brand new, which made the going a bit easier. As it was already late and as light was fading fast we camped next to the road at a truck stop (to great amusement of the locals). We were given bottled water, bananas and of course, a flask of hot water while they pulled up chairs to sit and watched us pitch our tens.
7 November - Road side camp – Leibo - 7km
We woke to a thick mist and could hardly see the river in the gorge way below. It was a short but very steep ride up the hill where we found Leibo to be a fairly large town. We spoiled ourselves and took a luxury room (by our standards), had a much needed shower, did some laundry and stocked up with some supplies again. Ernest spent the day fixing punctured tubes, spraying the bikes down (with the hotel fire-hose), and sampling the local brew. All I did was to fill my stomach with the local food, from fried noodles, steamed buns to fried potatoes, all served with chilies and soya sauce. The food was so tasty that I just could not stop eating (it must be the large quantities of MSG that they put in everything).
8 November - Leibo – Ma Hu - 50km
We reckoned that we were on top of the mountain so were looking forward to a good downhill. Surprise, surprise!!! The road continued up and up to a devastating height with small villages clinging to the cliffside, barely visible though the thick mist. Toothless old women sat on their haunches, smoking thin long stemmed pipes, wrapped in cloaks of blanket-like material.
A heavy mist hung over the whole area and we could hardly see the valley floor or the top of the mountain, which was maybe a good thing. It’s best not to see where the road was to lead us. We even spotted some kids with their go-carts flying down the hill.
After climbing for 33 km we were over the pass we encountered the long awaited downhill. We flew down the mountain for the next 20km and landed in a small village with good food and friendly people. We booked into a basic room, and then went looking for food. We found steamed buns, fried potatoes, grilled vegetables and loads of rice. It felt that the entire village was following us as we strolled from shop to shop. Each shop owner was eager for us to come and have a look what he had to offer.
9 November - Ma Hu – Bridge junction town - 58 km
We woke to a misty morning again and prepared ourselves for another day of climbing over high mountains. Instead we were pleasantly surprised as the road carried on even further down the mountain. Leibo Lake popped up out of the mist and it was a pleasant ride along the misty shore of the lake. The road lead us even further down the pass until we reached the Jinsha river again. Up to there the road had been good, but once along the river the road deteriorated again. Fortunately, however, it was not long before we found ourselves on a brand new highway running along the Cliffside way above the river, consisting mainly of tunnels and bridges (the Chinese surely do things on a grand scale).
We reached a junction town where the highway ended (construction of a huge bridge which dwarfed the town was still in progress). It was still fairly early, but the town was quite big and it looked like a good place to spend the night. This is clearly not a touristy area as hotel staff become extremely shy, giggle and push one another forward to deal with the strange Westerners.
By the time we’d negotiated for a room, half the town had gathered around us, all trying to help with the bikes and jabbering on in Chinese. The strangest thing is that when they realize that you don’t speak Chinese they painstakingly write it down (in Chinese). Now, what are the chances that if you don’t understand it, you will be able to read Chinese characters?
10 November - Bridge junction town - Shuifu - 90km
What a confusing day. With the poor visibility and our inadequate maps it continuously felt as though we were heading back in the direction we’d just come from. But, with the aid of Ernest’s GPS, as well as everyone along the way pointing us in the same direction, we managed to keep going. In the process we crossed the Jinsha river onto the Junnan province side (totally unexpected, as the map didn’t indicate as much). Most of the day we cycled along a very dusty road, and the dusty conditions were made worse by a lot of quarries and construction at many places along the river.
By late afternoon we were starting to look out for a suitable camp site. At one stage the road passed through a long tunnel, and on the other side a big surprise awaited us. Suddenly we were in a rather large town with skyscrapers and all – we’d expected Shuifu to be much smaller and still about 30 k’s down the road. However, we were dusty and sweaty and in great need of a shower, so we booked into the first convenient room.
11 November - Shuifu – Yibin - 22 km
We left Shuifu city and were elated to find a brand new highway heading in the direction of Yibin. We didn’t know how far we’d have to go, but after a few k’s we were glad to see a sign indicating that there was only about 30 km left to Yibin - much closer than we’d expected! This joy, however, did not last very long as about half-way we had to pass a toll-gate where we were kicked off the highway. There the police had a bit of a problem as they could not send as back on the highway, and there was no exit to an alternative route. So, they phoned for a vehicle to come from Yibin, load us up, and drop us off at the exit to the city (a round trip of about 40 km!).
We cycled into Yibin, a fairly big modern city with many new buildings. We had some difficulty finding a room, as it seemed that the cheaper local hotels did not cater for foreiners (I’ve since heard that the problem may be related to the fact that they can’t read our passports). They are, however, so friendly that people from one place phoned ahead and then walked us a few blocks to a hotel which accepted foreigners. This city is where the Min- and Jinsha rivers merge to form the Yangzi. We walked the short distance to this major confluence, but the visibility was too poor to see anything. We did, however find a lot of tasty food in the market alleys, with which we filled our stomachs.
12 November - Yibin
During the night the weather changed, and we awoke to a cold and rainy morning. We stayed tucked into bed until it was time to go for breakfast (a great buffet included in the room price). It was nice not having to pack up and load the bikes in that weather, and instead just to have a lazy day. The rain had cleared the air and visibility was much better than on the previous days, so we went down to the rivers again and at least managed to take some photo’s.
At first I thought Yibin to be a rather soulless city but the more I walked through the allies the more interesting it became. The allies were lined with dumpling and noodle stalls. Portable barbeques selling skewers of veggies, tofu and meat were everywhere and of course the ever present tea-eggs (boiled eggs soaked in tea and soy sauce).
I tried to improve my appearance by colouring my hair, but it all went horribly wrong as it came out bright orange! That’s what happens if you can’t read Chinese. Eeeek, that was not the color on the box. Maybe a good thing I did not find that hair removal cream I was looking for, I could be totally legless by now.
13-14 November - Yibin – Zigong - 107km
Hallelujah, at last a day without a mountain pass, the road was mostly in a good condition and the weather mild, what more can I ask for? We cycled past densely bamboo areas and typical Chinese cities, where the old city still lines the river bank and a new modern city rises up directly behind it.
We arrived in Zigong as the sun was setting, and found Zigong also to be a much larger city than expected. After searching around in the dark for a while we found a fair enough room. Later we walked out in search of food, but this was not as simple as it had been in Yibin (every place tends to have different specialities, and we were also probably not in the ideal area for good eats). The take-aways which we took back to the room contained mostly meat, so at least one of us went to bed with a full stomach.
We decided to stay in Zigong the following day, as there were reportedly a number of interesting sites to see in the city.
15 November - Zigong
With the freezing cold weather setting in, we decided to stay on in Zigong one more day. As we’ve already walked around town the previous day, the only thing to do was to explore the museums in the area. After a breakfast of steamed rice buns and hot soya milk we took a taxi in the rain to the Dinosaur Museum outside the city, which I found quite impressive. More than a 100 dinosaur skeletons were uncovered here (apparently washed down by a flood and then covered by silt at this spot). It’s their sheer size that impressed me, and to think that they lay buried here for 160 million years!! Difficult to get one’s head around such a time span.
We also visited the Salt History Museum in the city, which was not as impressive, but the building in which it’s housed was absolutely fantastic. With interesting nooks and crannies it was a most impressive old Chinese building. The building was constructed in 1736 by one of the salt merchants of the time.
16 November - Zigong - Rongxian - 48km
It was a freezing cold, rainy and windy morning as we packed up and left Zigong. Now, my friends from the frozen North may think, what is this women on about, it’s only 3 degrees C? I’m sure that my friends in South Africa, however, will agree that, that is darn cold! I’m just such a baby when it comes to the cold weather (as Ernest keeps on reminding me).
We only cycled a short distance before we came across another large town. Ernest’s gear cable broke just as we entered the town and that was more than enough reason for us to find a room and have a hot shower. Why pass a perfectly good town with hotels and restaurants, when you’ve long forgotten that you have fingers, toes, or a nose?
After a steaming bowl of noodle soup I got into the wooden spa-like tub in the room and stayed indoors for the rest of the evening.
17 November - Rongxian – Leshan - 92km
The people in China are so sweet and polite, jut as we were packing up to leave, the hotel staff presented us with a neatly written note, stating that the weather is unusually cold and that we should dress warmly and eat the apples which they gave us.
Although it was freezing cold at least it was not raining. The road was good and we cycled past temples, pagodas, rivers and valleys until we reached the town of Leshan, know for its Grand Buddha, which I was keen to get a glimpse of. Once again I was stuck by the friendliness and honesty of the people, as we cycled into town. Cycle rickshaw drivers were keen to show us to a popular budget hotel (in other places this is normally done at a fee). Once there, Ernest offered to pay the rickshaw driver, but he refused to accept any money, and just waited to see that we were happy with the room before quietly leaving.
18 November - Leshan
There’s nothing like a Snickers Bar and a cup of coffee for breakfast! We stayed tucked in until fairly late. Our room was not particularly cheap, but at least it came with a bathtub, air-con (which did not really work) and Wi-Fi. I was, however, still freezing cold every time I stuck my nose out the door so I invested in a half length padded coat, to keep the worst of the cold at bay. Where I was going to pack it on the bike was a bit of a mystery.
After donning my new purchase we set off to the sight-seeing ferry for a view of the Grand Buddha. Although it was a rather expensive and touristy trip (us and a lot of frozen Chinese tourists), it was worthwhile as it is the only way to see the total statue at once. Carved out of the riverside cliff in AD 713 it took 90 years to complete the job. At 71 meters high, with 7 meter ears and big toes of 8.5 meters long it’s quite an impressive sight.
19 November - Leshan – Meishan - 89km
It was close to zero degrees as we left Leshan, and it was not the most scenic of days - most of the way was through built-up areas. Just to add icing on the cake it rained for the last 30 km or so. At least the road was mostly in a fair condition, and there were no major hills.
We arrived in Meishan wet and frozen and obviously not looking our normal stunning selves. Ernest (still in his wet and muddy cycling clothes) went off to the fried potato stand for a snack, but came back empty-handed. The old lady didn’t want to serve him and chased him away threatening to hit him with her ladle!! (The tramp-like bearded monster must have put the fear of God into her). I must admit he did look a bit like the villain from a Shakespeare play with his long cycling pants, knee length black raincoat and beanie.
In the end I had to don my coat and cassock hat and head to the corner to pick up the fried potatoes. At least I had already had a shower and, I’m sure, as a woman I did not look as threatening.
20 November - Meishan – Chengdu - 98km
It was slightly warmer than the previous days as we headed towards Chengdu. We cycled the entire day through built-up areas, Chengdu is a very large city, (population of 13 million!). We had no difficultly cycling into the city and finding the city centre, but finding the well known Sims Guesthouse which we were looking for was more difficult than expected. (If you’re an adrenaline junkie try cycling around this city centre after dark with no idea of where you are). After wandering around this big city for about an hour in the peak-hour traffic and in the dark, we eventually found Sims’ GH. The place seems nice, but a bit expensive in comparison to some other accommodation. We booked in as by this time I’d had enough of cycling up and down busy multi-lane roads with thousand of cars, busses, bicycles, motorbikes, and the dangerous silent electric scooters.
It was way too cold in this place, so time to head South again. Our Chinese visas were only valid until 7 December so we decided to take the train to Kunming and then bus to Jinghong not too far from the Laos border (we’d already cycled that stretch, and our visa time is limited). I will also have to make a plan to get to Bangkok before the end of December to take care of some urgent business. This, I can only do at an embassy and the closest one is in Bangkok. We spent the day organizing our train tickets back to Kunming and wandering the crowded streets and alleys of Chengdu.
22 November - Chengdu – Kunming (by train)
What a performance it is to take a train. We cycled off to the train station and then had to book in the bikes at a different place to where you get the train. Once on the train it was very comfortable as we took a sleeper and it came with bedding and the carriage was heated. Food trolleys came by every few minutes and as there was nothing else to do, we just ate and stared out the window. Although the train was full it was not-over crowded as everyone had a seat. It’s a great pity that one can not talk to your fellow travelers, but language remains a problem.
Ernest, however, had himself a great party by himself with his bottle of moonshine.
23 November - Kunming
We arrived in Kunming at around 9h00. It took forever to get the bike out of the cargo section, load up and cycle to the nearest hotel. I found a hotel close to the Thai consulate as I wanted to apply for a Thai visa the following day. The Thai visa one gets at the border is only valid for 2 weeks which is way too little time to get to Malaysia.
Kunming felt like home as it is so seldom that I am in the same place twice. I took a walk into town to see if I could find a map of Laos, as I will be taking a different route than on my previous visit. The search was, however, unsuccessful. Although there was a Lonely Planet for sale I did not buy it as it appeared a little expensive for such a short trip.
24 November - Kunming
First thing in the morning I was off to the Thai embassy, but they told me I need a flight or bus ticket in order to apply for the visa and that apparently I can get one at the border for 30 days. O well I wait and see when I get there. I bought a bus ticket to the Lao border for the following day. It was a ticket on an overnight sleeper bus.
I took another walk to the book store and in the end bought South East Asia Lonely Planet as it was the same price as just the Laos one and at least it covers the whole of South East Asia. I also bought a novel as I reckoned I would need something to read on such a long bus trip.
The bus only left at 17h00 so I had the whole day to do nothing and just wander around Kunming, which I know pretty well by then.
Another surprise waited as I got to the bus station. The cargo section of the bus was full and they could not take my bike. At least they refunded my ticket and I cycled to the “Cloudland Hostel” where we’d stayed 2 months earlier on our way North. The place is cheaper and has more life than the Camilla Hotel where I’d stayed the previous two nights. Shortly after my arrival at Cloudland, Ernest also returned there (he’d been staying there) as he’d also been booked on a South-bound bus and been refunded his ticket money.
26 November - Kunming
I could not believe I was still in Kunming. After a leisurely start I decided to cycle back to the bus station to see if I would be luckier this time. Ernest decided to come with and we were rather lucky as there was a bus with cargo space ready to leave to Jinghong.
The most amazing thing about the bus was that the driver had a TV that he could watch while driving! Of cause not even the bus came without a hot water machine, there is no chance that the Chinese will go anywhere without their tea.
It was a long and tiring bus ride, as I was coming down with the flu. I don’t know how all the backpackers do it. I’d much rather cycle even although it is so much slower. I felt sick and after the 9-hour trip I was happy to see that there was a bus station hotel. It saved us from re-packing the bikes and cycling around looking for a hotel in the dark.
27 November - Jing Hong
We packed up and left the Bus Station Hotel in search of a better location closer to the city centre. I was still suffering from a head ache and body aches and decided to stay on one more day to recover. Seeing that they were so strict at the border with the N1H1 flu virus, (taking your temperature and all), I didn’t want to risk being kept in quarantine for goodness knows how long.