Monday, 20 June 2011

Week 33 Mengla to Huay Xai/Chiang Kong 238kms cycled

Highlights: Riding through quiet countryside
Low blows: None
Music of the week:  Cabin Fever – Les Voleurs

Very Lazy day. Did laundry. Internet and movies all day. Napped a bit. Only went out for food and to find out about tomorrows bus.
Mengla to Udomxai to border by bus then 96kms cycled
Woman at bus station trying to play games with me. Yesterday Id confirmed there was a bus at 8:30, but on arrival she told me no bus at this time, must wait till 10am. I spoke with her a bit, she had pointed to next ticket booth so I went to her to get a ticket for the 10am bus. She had heard what we were talking about so I just asked for a ticket for Mengla and pointed at other woman. She printed me a ticket – it was for a bus at 8:30! Very odd. Went into carpark and there it was with only 4 passengers so god knows why the other woman was being difficult. Not only that there was a bus going to LuangPrabang too, which I could’ve got on. Put bike on backseat of bus (driver seemed to think this easier than just chucking it on the roof rack), so lucky bus not full. Paid 10Y for bike after a bit of cajoling.
Glad I bussed this part of trip. Hopped off at border, through control once passport people had decided all was in order (think it was a new bloke), had to open bag for a traffic guard and then into Laos. Bit of a queue at passport control but at tail end so through fairly quick.
Cycling through Laos by 10:30 – hurrah!!  Stopped off for Foe at junction 20km up road. Then carried on road winding along through green hills on the brand new tarmaced road. Had this great road for about 60kms then caught up with unfinished bit, but at least theyd put on the base layer so it was fine riding. Went through a lot of poor looking villages but all kids friendly, waving and saying bye bye. Countryside looking very green now rains started. Had a snack of bananas and ovaltine in a market on way. Not that much traffic, took the buses Id passed at border ages for them to come past me – 3 hours. Heavy downpour in afternoon just as I was due for a break so found a large tree to duck under while it came down for 15mins then stopped. Sludged up section on top of a hill through village but ok after that.  The new road really makes the countryside look more beautiful, possibly cos youre gliding through it so can concentrate on that rather than thinking about potholes on the knackered road.
Getting tired by end of ride. Arrived UdomXai 5:30. Got room in same place as before 60K. Had fried rice for dinner and a few beers.
Goodbye China! Wont be sorry to see the back of these stinkers

To the Laos border

Bike on the bus

Back in Laos. All this used to be forest

Udomxai to  Muang Houn       91kms cycled
The resto in Udom that does baguettes, fried eggs and coffee for bf was closed, so after a search looking for another ended up with fried rice with an egg on top. Changed some money in the bank (Laos banks are almost like real banks now in looks and service). Set off by 10. Soon out of town following winding road through countryside, corn, rice and a few small rubber plantations. Passing poor looking villages, wooden houses, pigs, chickens, dogs all kids rushing out to wave bye bye. Road eventually alongside river and valley gradually widened the further I went downstream, the road alongside the rivers meanders. Some rain showers so stopped off and sat it out under a tree for 20 mins. Arrived at Muang Beng at 2 ish, glad to rest my sore bum and get a bowl of Foe down as feeling tired. Heat and humidity sapping my energy. Had 2 bottles red bull pepping me up for remaining 27km of ride. Hot and sunny now. Playing tortoise and hare with a tok tok laden with motorbike, strimmer and other stuff including a young lad passenger. He’d pass me on the uphills and Id whizz by on the downhills, helped make the journey more entertaining. Lovely scenery and quiet road all the way.
Arrived at Houn village 5 ish. Had a scout around the best hotel being ironically a Chinese one in the centre of town, had tried one further up road but room dingy and mattress terrible. Chinese one decked out in Chinese standard so ok, bathroom plumbed to Laos specifications complete with comedy sink and things that don’t work properly. Did laundry then in search of food. A real one horse town, a few places to eat but they were closing up and food on mkt stalls looked un appetizing, weird looking meats and pots of odd veg with things on it and sauce. No ta. Ended up a km up hill, ordered mixed veg with chicken and thought Id get a fair pile as 25K but only avg serving with usual hacked up bones.

Tiny tiny grasshopper crossing the road, (the road chippings give you an idea of its size)

Muang Houn to Pak Beng       51kms cycled
Had fresh pinapple and bananas in market for bf. Rolling rollercoaster road all way to Pak Beng, through cornfields across wide valley. Lots of villages along way and everyone saying hello. Chain slipping making the ride a real pain in the arse as cant get any momentum up hill. Had a rest in a field side thatch shelter. The heat takes it out of you too. Overcast most of way, sun popping out near midday. Didn’t bother putting cream on as nearly there but when I arrived realized my forehead, nose and arms were rather red. Surprising my skin will burn after all this time here. A lot of broken glass in road near PakBeng. Ate lunch in place overlooking river, first place I walked into they sat around TV looking disinterested and didn’t even say hello so spent my money further down hill in a friendlier place instead. Got room near river for 65K after haggling. Very hot. Showered, had a beer then a nap in room. Wandered down to jetty to see tourist boats arrive, only a handful on each which means itll be easy going tomorrow. Crowd of locals holding placards arrived to fish for hotel customers. Ate in place overlooking river and chatted a bit with a french bloke before retiring. Hot here.

Sheltering under a tree from the rainshowers 

Pak Beng to Huay Xai      by boat
Bought supplies, water bananas and sandwiches and onto boat – price up by a pound due to petrol prices they said, ticket 110Kkip, bike 35Kkip. Nicer boat than before, bigger with comfier seating, (seats taken from vans and put onto a welded base)  and a small snack and drinks stall at back. Only 8 farangs and the rest Laos on boat. Boat transporting lots of gas canisters. Chatted with Spanish woman a bit then settled in to journey, a long lazy day up the river. Arrived Huay Xai 6pm, made a dash for border as boats still going across but Laos blokes said Thai side would be shut already. Changed $15, got room and ate in resto round corner. She had put her prices up from last time although the plate of Laap I got was massive and really tasty. Counting my money so I have exactly enough for tomorrow.   
Huge Mars Bar sized caterpiller in a tree

Chiang Khong
Crossed over the Mekong river, found a lovely place to stay overlooking the river and lazed there for a few days, cycling up and down the river, making my way through Thai menus, drinking strong coffee, eating ice creams and having a few beers.
The end of the trip and really good to be back In Thailand again. J
Total cycled 8491km

Week 32 Wase to Mengla 133 kms cycled

Highlights: Almost deserted mountain road alongside jungle
Low blows: Noisy dorm companions
Music of the week:  Ave Rosa Sine Spinis Chapelle du Roi – Thomas Tallis

Wase to Dali  20km cycled
Good road only lasted for a bit then back onto dirt. Arrived at place with loads of Chinese cyclists outside and I could see boats going across lake from here so presumed it was a ferry terminal. Bought ticket for 20Y then wrestled bike down loads of steep steps and onto a small harbor area. Was told boat would be leaving at 11. Sat down and waited. After a while began to suspect that the ticket I had bought had nothing to do with a boat and further inquiry revealed that Id bought a ticket for entry to some pagoda located further up hill and it only gave me access to the jetty. The ticket had pictures of boats on it and I had asked for the ferry when I was up the top so a mixup. A boat across would cost another 50Y. Eventually chatted with manager and he got one of lads to authorize me across for another 20Y so 40Y altogether. If Id known it was this much and such a wait I would’ve cycled. Because of the new road there are no longer ferries running across the lake, only tourist sightseeing boats, which is what I boarded.
Chatted with girl from Inner Mongolia while crossing, she was alone which is most unusual for Asians. Had noodles for lunch then found a  room at yha 70Y and ok. Avoiding dorms!  Wandered Dali- packed with people.. Entered via west gate which appears to be where you have to have your photo taken. There were even girls dressed in traditional costume and some extras in Pigsy, and  Monkey costumes (no Sandy), and a bloke with a fancy white ram tethered to a cart you can pose in. They all waited in the shade, especially Pigsy who looked very hot. Town is Lijian-esque but on a larger scale and not as pretty. Fat woman pursuing me up one street selling ganja ganja, but looked puzzled when I didn’t want to buy any. Turns out small bushy area outside gh is a local pick up joint for prostitutes, all very low key. Silly place.

Welcome to the tourist Mecca of Dali

Weishan by bus
Went for a visit to nearby Weishan 60kms up road. Took bus into modern Dali town where it took a while to find correct bus station. My driver being unhelpful, but eventually found it. Tranferred onto another bus. Couldn’t understand why people waited at an intersection 200m up the road and then looked disappointed when bus rolled up and there was no seating. Driver farting about making extra cash with passengers and cargo. Eventually arrived at town and found old town. Had lunch in a resto with a well. Wandered old streets still with real shops and locals barbers, handmade noodle shop, restos, normal stuff and almost zero people – big contrast to Dali. Had a few hours there then headed back. Chatted with old Korean bloke on way back. Driver nearly crashed swerving to avoid summat, bus  weaving up road at high speed but he wrestled it under control. Actually appreciated Dali a bit better when I came back as could see it for what it once was. Went in search of bus for tomorrow, everyone reluctant to say where as all wanted to sell a ticket.
Weishan old town, the opposite end of the scale from Dali's crowds

Lady making fresh noodles

Noodles hanging outside the shop to dry
Dali to Kunming by bus
Went up to bus station place at alloted time, bus only had tiny cargo area so a bit of a squeeze but we all managed to get stuff in eventually. Boring journey. Left 11 arrived 5. Easy to navigate across Kunming and remembered way. Got a dorm bed in same YHA as before. Annoying Chinese in my room. One sparked up a cig till I told him it wasn’t on, then he decided to shout into his phone for a bit. One of them up till 1am farting about watching some video etc. Big fat one snoring loudly all night. As climate is warmer here needed mozzy net as loads of em buzzing about earlier on in lounge and could hear em in the night but safe in net.
Went to get Thai visa in morning. Clerk there banging on about must have onward ticket blah blah. In the end I had to write a letter of explaination as to why I wanted a 30day visa, on a bicycle, slow to travel etc. All ok after that. Beaurocrats! Got some more cash out and changed some into usd for Laos border. Had bike looked at in shop where he adjusted gears but that was all. A new chain was available for 16quid so think Ill wait till Thai as much cheaper there. Cleaned chain and cassettes back at hostel, had a ride about. Popped up to bird and flower market to look at hundreds of birds in tiny ages and lots of turtles, one turtle had climbed out of its tub and was making a bid for freedom across the mouse bowl. They also had chickens available in orange, green and red – couldn’t figure out if they were dyed this colour or part of some weird DNA experiment.

Live bird food at the bird and flower market

Kunming to Jinghong by bus  16kms cycled
Had buffet bf in hotel next door. Funny how after 3months with no coffee, the once weak tasting coffee actually tastes ok now. Set off after bf. Easy to find bus station but asked all along way anyway just to make sure. Only 16kms so quicker route this time. Bus ticket 195Y and leaving in 10mins (11am). Driver wanted 100Y for bike, I just walked off. After talking with woman in terminal ended up paying 50Y (which is correct price anyway) and figured as Id not paid for bike on a few buses it worked out ok.
Long boring bus journey. Arrived Jinghong 7pm. Found nearby gh 60Y with internet cable too. Ate at pan stall up road, v tasty and only 5Y. V hot and humid down here. Nice to eat on tables set out along pavement in breeze. All locals hanging out in breeze with shirts off too. When I first came from Laos  this place seemed like a just a city with trees, now coming from the China side It does seem like a nice tropical city with tree lined boulevards. How perceptions change! Good to have a/c in room as sticky.

At the park keeping cool in the shade 

Jinghong to Menglun by bus 
Buses either with no racks and small boots or small vans.  Amusing that they were making a huge fuss saying my bike was too big, but then proceeded to load a huge photocopy machine into the bus. Dispatcher picked me a bus with a big boot and had to wait 2 hrs till it was time to go. When I went to put bike in bus crew members weren’t happy, usual its too big, impossible etc,  but we got there in the end. Very hot. Set off and arrived a few hours later in Menglun.
Looked in a few places and soon found gh 60Y. Young staff very excited to fill out the passport details correctly onto computer which took a while, but better than the give up and avoid which is the alternative reaction to a foreigner.
Went over to have a look in Botanical gardens. Huge sign outside announces a research institute but its only close inspection of a large rock in the roundabout at the entrance that tells you it’s the botanical gdns. 80Y entry (didn’t wanna pay this much but I haven’t been in any pricy attractions so this one can be it). Luckily rain coming down in a thick grey sheet a few kms up valley was heading away from here or would’ve got soaked. Got ticket and eventually they furnished me with a map. Did a circuit of all the zones. Pleasant to walk in a quiet gardens away from all the noise. Special plants area funny cos a Chinese woman with her friends was singing to a plant that is sensitive to sound. She had been singing her head off all the time I was walking around but got all shy when I arrived at where they were standing. After a few mins chatting she lost her shyness and started singing again and the plant actually moved its tiny leaves a little bit, you couldn’t call it dancing though, more like a sleepy attempt to move.
Scavanged for fallen fruit beneath a load of mango trees and managed to find a fresh fallen one that hadnt gone off and the flies hadn’t got in yet. Ate some. Rose apples sour. Not much else about. Mozzies ate my cheek and ear. Bamboo section not very well laid out and no giant bamboo either which I was sure theyd have. Not bad as a park but pretty pricy. The few Chinese visitors there all seemed enlivened and enjoying the ‘countryside’, quite a few singing songs loudly as they strolled.
Gang of bikers assembled near entrance riding their big bikes up a strip and back again one at a time. A lot of new buildings being constructed by riverside – making a bigger tourist destination for sure. River now a muddy brown tea colour, probably from all soil washed off by recent rain – not a good sign! Reminded me of Bolivian jungle being next to a river this colour with the heat and humidity. Eventually found a resto that would mix veg. Had attempted 3 on same strip to mix beef with a veg I liked but apparently it was impossible, they wanted to mix it with celery and summat else which I didnt want.
With my carefully selected room away from the road I had planned an early night, but thumping disco music from building behind meant I had to wait a while. Had a few Dark Beer Laos and watched a film. Turned out it was only a lively resto so thankfully it stopped by 11ish. Good to have ac here as Im no longer acclimatised to heat and humidity.

The special plants garden

One of many beautiful plants

These delicate flowers smell of butterscotch 

 More colour

Menglun to Mengla  97kms cycled
Long ride along quiet road winding its way through jungle covered hills, afternoons road skirted protected forest reserve all way. Some large tracts of rubber plantations in places and also rice farming, the farmers just prepping the paddies and getting the rice in using the darts player method. Bit of traffic in morning , only 2 motorbikes in afternoon. A lot of uphill, 30kms to start then flat and down then more up. Over priced fried rice in village half way 15Y. Then set off climbing again, another downhill then up again and finally the last long downhill into town. Road skirted the expressway in places and so glad to be on this quiet road rather than at the mercy of trucks thundering by blaring their horns. Sky overcast most of afternoon and a storm finally broke for last 2 hours riding, utterly soaked but refreshing and cooled me down. Farmers in fields had all scattered for cover as it broke, with only a few remaining plowing. Legs tired cos chain slipping so have to ride in low gears - not how I like it. Arrived Mengla and got room in same place as before. Started chucking it down outside so had a hot shower until it stopped and then up road to pan stall, then supermarket for munch and back to nice room to wallow in a bit of luxury.

Big hills and rubber plantations

One of the quietest roads in China

A commuter along the road

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Week 31 Shangrila to Wase 391 kms cycled

Highlights: Riding alongside the Yangtze
Low blows: Alot of rain, cold, mud
Music of the week:  Untrust Us – Crystal Castles

Rained most of day. Had a wander around town a bit, a huge building in town that looks like a monastery is actually a cinema. Opposite here was an underground supermarket beneath a square. The construction was bodge cos all staff mopping up inside from water leaking through the concrete roof. Was gonna buy some cake but didn’t fancy any that might have been dripped on. Chinese cyclists had invited me to dinner so went round theirs at 7 and had a big feed and lots of beer. They hold chopsticks differently here in China with just little finger for bottom stick and rest on top one, gives superior grip but hard for me to get hang of so went back to Thai style. Wished them good luck on their trip. Back to gh at 10:30 and more beer as invited to sit with owner and pals in garden. Pretty cold tonight. 
Woke intending to leave but raining so back to bed for a while. Rained all day. Wanted to have a wander and eventually did later on. Buildings look pretty but its very much a  tourist town now and the boulders they’ve dumped in the street as paving are really uneven and annoying to walk on, especially in the rain. A few people wandering around with umbrellas or eating in the fancy and marked up restos in the old town. I found a cheap place at end of road just out of old town, even had an English menu so ate huge pile of beef, potatoes gravy and rice for lunch. Had a big feed of veg at another cheap place Id found on 1st day for tea. Bought snacks for tomorrow as definitely leaving no matter what as nothing to do here. Even monastery up road charges 80Y to get in. Seems such a silly place after all the ‘real’ towns Ive been through.
Shangrila to Qizong    105kms cycled
Light rain in morning but sky lighter and a strange glowing orb visible through the cloud. A window to leave- hurrah! Busy morning roads in urban area and then along a road being upgraded. The last 2 days rain had turned this into a sludge pit so it was horrible going for first 13km as lots of mud kicking up and trucks/4x4s going past spraying me with mud. A few kms climb to top of a hill, an eagle circling nearby overhead with a crow buzzing it every so often, then a sooty van stuck in mud and blocking road, tailbacks on both sides, plenty of people gawping but no one doing anything to help. Quite satisfying to walk through and past it all with the bike as I passed all the people who’d blared horns at me in their rush earlier. Reached top of pass and the vehicles had gotten through now in wacky races formation so pulled over out of way for a rest and a mango. Started to rain lightly.
Downhill all way to small town at km30, mud eventually turning into surfaced road. Had a brief chat with a cyclist who reakoned he was gonna sneak into Tibet.  Found a warm resto and huddled next to stove to thaw out while I ate fried rice and drank hot tea. Chatted a bit with woman running it.
Set off again, steep downhill for first 25km on smooth tarmac through a lovely gorge, small waterfall cascading down into river Im riding along side. Tibetan village up on hillside, had quick chat to old bloke that came up to me as I was taking photo, he told me he was 65. Washed this mornings mud  off in an irrigation channel. Soon reached Yangtze river and decended to carry on alongside it for rest of day. Beautiful steep sided valley with changing rock types, shrubs and small trees clinging onto cliff faces, powerful river with some mad currents below. Large thorny bushes with hundreds of white flowers scenting the way.  A few small settlements and solid looking houses perched high up on hillsides and later in day whole villages as more farmland available on occasional flatter areas. Flying foxes to connect to other side of river. Hardly any traffic all day on this road. Light rain intermittently all day.
Passed through a small town but didn’t fancy stopping there, had a quick chat with woman cyclist coming other way. Carried on to next town and found a gh there. 60Y after haggling, they weren’t gonna budge but as I was gonna walk agreed to lower price. Hosed my bags and bike down, went and ate food up road (remembering the last time I ate in a place Id haggled in) then back for long hot shower. Nice view over river. Strange room full of colourful heavy Tibetan style furniture, carved bed base, and 2 throne like chairs. Had a rug laid out on each bed, which I think was a kind of base layer, but I took it off. Had to put own sheets on bed which was odd.
Damp countryside around Shangrila

Sludgy start to the day

The day improved from here

Tibetan village clings to the hillside

The throne room

The most solid house in the village

Qizong to Shigu          106kms cycled
Some noisy people arrived at 1:30am, shouting and banging doors, and they woke me again at 6am doing the same. Felt tired. Had noodles up road, and set off by 10. Light drizzle to start. A wonderful days cycling heading downstream along very quiet road alongside right side of river. There is a road on each side and most traffic goes on other road.
Passed through farmland and small villages. All villagers out in fields harvesting barley, potatoes and shallots, and planting in rice. People had arrived at fields via biycycle, tok tok, motorbike all parked along roadside. Some buffalos tethered to trees ready to lead the wooden carts once full. Barley harvested with small hand knives, strimmers, and the occasional mini combine harvester. Some farmers putting sheaves across the road so passing vehicles will thresh the seed from the stalks and create chaff for the fields at the same time.
Arrived at a village and getting hungry. Loads of kids sitting in a doorway eating rice so after a sweep of eating places I reakoned that one must be the best as most popular. Ducked through archway and it turned out to be the school canteen, kids all lined up with pots of rice choosing from different bowls full of food. I asked if I could eat and the servers fetched me a bowl and some chopsticks. Got a big serving of rice and 3 types of veg for the bargain price of 3Y. Sat where I could keep an eye on bike and curious schoolkids. Drew a massive crowd and chatted a bit with them, the braver students saying English phrases. Good fun.
Carried on through village and road suddenly became a very wide and new (apparently this stretch was part of Chairman Mao’s long-march so worthy of a fine piece of tarmac), villagers making full use of it by raking grain into long strips to dry in the sun, or spreading fresh cut sheaves all across it.  Pleasure to see such an industrious healthy farming area.  Now quite warm and sun actually popping out for a bit, although overcast later and threatening to rain where dark skies overhead.
More farmland on plains further down river, all busy with harvesting and planting. River starting to eddy a little now, a churning mass of water rounding long sweeping bends. Must be an impressive sight in full flood. Several mini quarries crushing aggregate into queued trucks, and a few large scale stone masons with lifting equipment to move massive blocks of marble.
Arrived Shigu 5pm, had a big bowl of noodles. Could see rain coming down the valley in a thick sheet of light grey, found a gh for 50Y, just as it arrived. Relaxed on bed then had a wander in last bit of eve sun, a rainbow over river where it makes its uturn and heads NEast.
Had a big feed at night, plate of cabbage, one of potato and a bowl of boiled beef in gravy, surprised myself that I managed to eat it all.  After todays dose of farming my hayfever kicked in bigtime at night.

Fields in full production

Threshing barley the easier way

Maybe this roadside herb is the reason for the friendly locals

Where the Yangtze river makes a U-turn

Shigu to Jianchuang   59 kms cycled
Slept well. Had big bowl of noodles up road, a cycle along riverfront walkway, a nice little park for locals, then set off after 10, warm start but then overcast. Along river, a pleasure speedboat buzzing along with passengers in dayglo orange lifejackets. 10km along road climbing up and away from river and joining road busy with trucks and buses. A lot of dust and black exhaust fumes on this narrow road. Scenery pleasant but traffic made it a chore. Uphill turned into a bit of a downhill then flat after about 30km for rest of way. Sun actually came out for a bit too. Some local women traditionally dressed either in Naxi pudding caps, or a folded black headcloth with colourful embroidery, and a smock like jacket with piping on it, buttoned at shoulder.
Near destination farmers putting heaps of barley in road for cars to thresh. Arrived 2 ish, hungry so had some doughy dumplings then in search of a room trying to find somewhere off busy beepy main road. Several hotels here but all overpriced (weird how some Chinese towns are like that). Eventually found a nice hotel that had a cheap room section 40Y share bathroom in a courtyard away from road.
Followed signs to the old town, the whole row of wood fronted shop houses had been creosoted in black, and the ‘carved’ front shutter doors were all identical, which made it look tacky. These doors also just cheapo cos on the backs was nothing revealing crappy wood. Further on up a lane were original old buildings. All crumbling adobe walls, worn wooden doors and porches with faded paintwork, chipped and worn carved cornerstones. Water ran along the narrow cobbled lane Lijiang style with a few small stone bridges. Had a sneaky look in a few courtyards, some really pretty inside, well kept with flowers, others decrepid and very poor.

The oldest street in Jianchuang town

Jianchuang toZhoucheng    84kms cycled
Noisy in night as local wood yard started chain sawing logs at 3 in morning. Mostly truckers staying here too so they were all up and about shouting early on. Lots of unflushed turds, cigarette butts and spit all over floor in communal toilets and someone with diarrhea had crapped everywhere and not bothered to clean it up. Delightful start to the day. At least it was warm and sunny.
Set off 10ish after dumplings and rice soup. V dusty road so wore bandanna, farmers raking crops over road in many villages along way. A lot of traffic on a narrow busy road, surprised they are only just making a new highway. Blaring horns all day and a few close calls with trucks overtaking me and cutting in and a few cars coming the other way deciding to overtake despite me being there and only just being enough room.
Reached top of hill after 20km steady climb, then flat and down, then flat again, lots of greenery as rice fields being planted /  transplanted. Through a narrow downhill section and soon at the big lake near Dali, joining the almost finished bit of the expressway. I stayed on the small road as all other traffic went onto a busier road next to lake (great road planning there!), the new expressway hugs the hillside away from the lake which should leave the view with less traffic or only sightseers at any rate.
Wanted to stay in Shaping village and wait till Monday for mkt, but no accom there. Cycled a few kms down road asking. Ended up near some tourist place, butterfly spring, then went down to a pier looking for a place. Found a YHA! Really nice traditional building and dorm bed 30Y, room all to myself! From reaction of all people in this area I get impression that not many foreigners venture around here – only Chinese.
Had a ride about, looked in another place I came across further up the lake which had an amazing lake view room for 480Y. Now at lower warmer altitude the mozzies are out having a nibble.

Teenagers cool off in Erhai Lake
Zhoucheng to Wase    37kms cycled
Set off around lake, busy road to start, then a dusty bouncy track through villages and then onto a route under construction. They are putting in a railway and a massive expressway around the East side of the lake so picked my way along that for most of way. Felt sorry for the people who’d been living a peaceful existence in these small lakeside towns and who now had half their house bulldozed to make way for the new road. Also lots of heavy plant and trucks thundering along. Must be awful for them. Eventually hit the smooth tarmac of completed road for last 10km, although nothing been done to landscape the remaining piles of boulders next to lake into walking areas, no where to sit down, nothing, just the road, would be very easy to make the lakeside a really pleasant recreational area for local people.
Arrived at Wase town, a mkt underway. Asked where ferry was and pointed further up road so carried on a bit. Interesting section of road where trees had been left in near to lake, but they eventually ended up in middle of road creating an obstacle course. Why they didn’t move them is anyones guess. Came upon a funeral prosession preparing to come down the road, relatives dressed in white and with white cloths wrapped around head knealing in a line in front of a wooden casket lined with straw. They covered the body with a blanket then put a live cockerel on top, lifted it up and started off down the street. Blokes at front throwing firecrackers as they made their way. Householders up road had a table outside their homes laden with incense, fruits and other stuff, and the procession stopped off at each one.
Had some fried potatoes on a stick and asked about ferry, apparently there is one tomorrow. Went back into town and got a rooftop room with view for 30Y. Had a wander round mkt, lots of fruit, veg, cakes, household supplies, woven goods and brooms, herbs etc, all haggled over by ladies in traditional dress with baskets on their backs. Hot here. Had some noodles and sat down for a while to cool off in draft. Back to gh to do laundry, then had a nap.
Asked in gh about boat- there isnt one from here but is (might be) one further down coast. Ladies dancing in town square (the usual swishing about in trad dress, Im still convinced this is a government invention) to the most upbeat ‘tribal’ music Ive heard yet  - some Indian style singing and some really fast beats too, no whistles or glow sticks tho.
Sat on roof to take in a beautiful golden sunset over lake.

Not the Propylaea, but base struts for a new expressway 

Road coming through

Beautiful sunsets like these will be visible to and probably enhanced by future commuters

Friday, 10 June 2011

Week 30 Lijiang to Shangrila 310 kms cycled

Highlights: Tiger Leaping Gorge
Low blows: Ridiculous park entry fee, Bit of rain
Music of the week:  Talking John Birch Blues – Bob Dylan

Lijiang    Quest for the Visa office Pt 2.
Had some boulder sized dumplings for bf in resto next door and then set off a few kms up road to visa office. The entry gate was still there, but the grounds inside were just rubble. Asked guard where new building was and he was pointing just behind but I could tell he didn’t know. Went up road a bit and decided to go into posh hotel to ask for help. Disinterested desk staff, despite showing them Whats the address of the PSB? And please call them? from my phrasebook were reluctant to help. A bellboy was called who spoke a bit of English, but it took a lot of persuasion to get them just to pick up the phone and call a police office to ask. Girl handed me the phone and like all Chinese offices Ive dealt with so far the person on the other end just says ‘hello’ and doesn’t tell you where they are. After several variations of me asking ‘is this the PSB office’’ it was clear the person on other ends English was limited. Eventually I got them to call the correct office (number was located on a list within 4cm reach of receptionists hand) they gave me a phone number, but I explained an address would be better written in Chinese, so eventually that was elicited too. This took 30 mins.
Luckily Lijiang is a small town so soon found the office located down an alleyway. Went in and lucky to have a fluent English speaker there. I said I was very happy to meet him and he said ‘the bad news is this isn’t the correct office’. This guy was clever, understood the admin procedure and was helpful so 1st he checked if I was registered on computer – I wasn’t! After he’d called the gh to tell them how to register me, I went there, which fortunately was just around corner. Woman didn’t know how to use computer, so after 20 mins of me trying to log info, she got a young Chinese guy, who brought up another screen for foreign registration and filled in my details for me. Hurrah! Decided to go back round corner and check if details were in computer – they weren’t. Helpful bloke said first Id have to register at police station and get a certificate, than I could go to visa office.
He called ahead to tell them I was coming and using an arial photo in police office I could see it wasn’t far away, 2 blocks from gh in fact. Went there straight away clutching a slip of paper with address on it. The bloke had already typed the required form out for me so all the police station had to do was stamp it, which they did in less than 5 mins. Visa office was another 2 blocks up road but closed for lunch till 3pm. Started to rain so had lunch then back to gh. Visa office empty at 3pm and did all admin with no probs .Told to come back on Wednesday for visa.
Went for a wander around the old town. First went through a large busy market, cobbled streets filthy from downpour and mkt dirt. Had some bananas. Then along more cobbled streets into town, pedestrian sight seeers increasing in number as I neared the main square.  Lots of beautiful ‘old’ buildings (now either gh’s with lovely courtyards or shops selling tourist stuff –tea, cd’s, clothes, handbags, jewelry and charms, restaurants, travel agents), winding narrow cobbled streets and alleyways, narrow irrigation channels carrying fresh water, lined with weaping willow trees, and small stone bridges here and there.  Staff and local people looking a bit frazzled from the sheer volume of tourists although I suspect its quiet at the moment, must be a nightmare during peak time. Asked the prices in a few ghs but all 100Y up, so better off where I am as only 15mins walk into old town and food a lot cheaper too.
Found a Giant bike shop opposite local brand Merida shop, both fully equipped shops near my gh, ironic that the Merida shop has the best selection of clothing Ive seen so far, stocking everything I needed a long time ago!

Where the visa office used to be

Had a wander round the old town in morning. Main streets not so busy. Some dancing by Naxi women in town square. They look a bit like bakers in their trad dress of blue apron and pudding cloth cap, some holidaying Chinese joining in the dance. Wandered up a lovely section from square up main water channel heading towards waterwheels. Lots of weeping willow trees and quaint houses (as are everywhere), now all bars, resto’s, and tea shops - tea sold in cheese-like rounds wrapped in crepe paper. Wedding couples being photographed at various places around the town. Both squares had blokes on horseback in traditional costume for fee paying photo opps, also a few old guys with large birds of prey perched on their gloved hand and forearms.
Hats off to the people who designed built and ran this town, so beautiful and functional, especially the water supply coming from a fresh source from nearby hills and running through town. People still use this water. There are a few well areas in city organized into 3 pools. 1st one used for drinking is separated from other two by a wall, 2nd for washing veg, and third for washing clothes. Dongba people also have their own hieroglyphic writing system. Amusing to see the local firestation full of dinky sized vehicles and small ATVs, the only thing that would fit down the narrow alleyways here.  Some food stalls doing a roaring trade in old town but everything marked up.

Is that a red panda hat?  Bored opportunists in the main square

Naxi hieroglyphics warning against the consumption of too much booze

Builders bums at  local wells number 2 (veg washing) and 3 (clothes etc)

A quiet street in the old town

Naxi ladies having a dance in the town square

Dinky toys at the fire station

Lijiang to Qiaotou  123km cycled
Picked up new visa and set off by 10, heading north out of town. Planned to take the road from Lijiang North to Daju and enter Tiger Leaping Gorge that way. Followed super straight road over barren landscape passing some cheesey tourist attraction billed as a Dongba village, but looks like it had just been built there, as a huge courtyard leading to ticket booth and souvenir people hanging around waiting for coaches to arrive. 19km out of town came to a huge toll booth. Turns out the area to the North is a AAAAA tourist spot and if you want to take this road you have to pay 220Y!! Talked for workers for a while explaining I didn’t want to see any of the ‘sights’ labeled on the ticket and just wanted access on the road. Asked to see supervisor to see if owt could be done but they wouldn’t budge. Didn’t want to pay it plus dark black clouds overhead and all surrounding hillside tops obscured by low cloud, so couldn’t see point of paying this amount esp if I wasn’t going to be able to see anything anyway. Rain starting, so out ran it on downhill back to Lijiang. Now 1pm. Had noodles then set off on ring road through farmland. Soon heading into hills along busy road. Easy enough ride past large lake and planted fields. Sun came out. Nice long downhill, around switchback road, good views of Yangtze river in bottom of valley, which I eventually rode alongside. Some construction going on sections of this road too, so a bit dusty in parts, but mostly easy smooth slight downhill. V hot in this valley, Yangtze is a big river.
Arrived at Qiaotou about 5:30, found a nice gh first try, lovely room 50Y no haggling! Went and ate up the road, bought bananas on way back to gh then indoors as storm from overhead black clouds finally blew in to clear the muggy air.
Distances on my map are wrong cos the ride from Lijiang all the way here is only 72km.

All ye who pass shall pay 22 quid

Qiaotou to Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge  21km cycled
No beeping traffic, no Chinese rapping on doors or shouting into phones = slept like a log. Wandered around mkt, lots of fresh veg for sale including some massive green stretched oval pumpkin/melon type things, maybe force grown as slightly triangular in shape, nectarines and other fruit. Lots of pork being chopped up with axes and other blunt instruments, and funny to see spare space utilized by pool tables with games being played nearby.
Set off 10:30. Entry 50Y then down into valley, stopping at a mechanics house for a bit of oil for the chain. Some snowy peaks, peeping out of clouds. Road followed river but soon started climbing making it hot work in the sun. Lots of busses speeding along to the upper rapids where I arrived at 12ish. Locked bike to some railings away from melee of people then made my way down the flights of stairs to rapids. An impressive sight the river being forced into a raging sea of water as the course narrowed. Water pounding against a massive triangular boulder in middle of river. Gawped for a while then headed back up the long stairs, groups of panting Chinese on every bend, one who looked like he wanted to throw up had even stopped for a cig. Sedan chairs for those who couldn’t be bothered walking also made their way up through the throng.
Back on bike and continued along the valley, road peppered with fallen rocks in parts. Big drop off to right so had to be careful with my gawping around at the beautiful scenery. Seems most of tour buses only go to 1st rapids so road pleasantly quiet. Road going up again. Eventually arrived at 1:30 at middle section of gorge. Found a place to stay with an amazing view from glass walled bedroom straight up the valley. 60Y Bridge CafĂ© and GH. Had some lunch, lounged in room for a bit then headed down to the middle section of rapids. Had to pay another 10Y to the people who’d made the path. Path twisted and turned down steep hillside, clung to edges of cliff and and steel ladders down sheer faces in sections, wobbly legs from exertion. Middle rapids thundering away down below, several drink stations along the way manned by old women/blokes. Spurred on beneath a section with warning sign ‘falling rocks, quickly’, through a bamboo wooded bit then down onto boulders and rocks above the river. Wooden ladder gave access to a viewing point on a flattened out rock area. Stood at gawped at the rapids, the river dropping several meters, its course narrowing and the massive force of water churning, slamming, bursting, raging between the walls of rock. An impressive sight. A bit further on the gorge widened and the river calmed down again, flowing between the massive cliff sides. There was also a bridge leading to a large rock in the middle but the gate to it was locked. Turns out some tourists were killed a few years ago when the river was high and they slipped in. Headed back up same way and it was actually easier to go up than down. Washed smelly clothes, showered and ate. A massive storm blew in, the valley below disappearing in a blanket of grey rain. Thunder and lightning too.

Something for everyone at the market

The start of Tiger leaping gorge as the Yangtze river is funnelled between the mountains

Good idea to keep your eyes on the road

The first set of rapids with huge house sized boulder in the middle

Sedan chairs available for hire

A churning mass of energy

THE room with a view

Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge to Baishuitai   68km cycled
Had omelet for bf, then said goodbye and headed off downhill down valley. Walnut grove was an interesting settlement with some fields and several houses. Mustve been a real sanctuary to live here long ago. End of gorge really interesting geology with massive almost vertical slabs of rock. Could see where there used to be a lake at end too, before river cut its way deeper into the gorge. Really hot as soon as out of gorge so changed and put on cream then start of a uphill stretch to km33. Bought some snacks from village then steady gradient winding its way up through farmland and higher up pine trees and shrubs, scent of pine in air from piles of fresh cut wood, a few squirrels running across the road. Irrigation channel water gushing down vertical channels. Lots of butterflies flitting about. Snow topped mtns just visible amidst condensing vapour forming fluffy white clouds. Was hoping the village higher up would have some food, but no shops in sight. Road flattened out so had a rest laid out in shade of a tree, chatted with some Chinese cyclists Id passed earlier and they said another 10km to food.  Flat section for a few kms then the last bit of uphill, passing a gang of cows wandering in the road, mothers looking protective of young calves. Surprised by a downhill section, whizzing by and saying hello to large group of western cyclists on holiday coming up hill. Village in sight, terraces farmland of greens, and yellows as barley rice, veg, corn and potatoes grown on fertile slopes flowing down from mtn.
Stopped in 1st resto I saw, a woman chopping up a leg of lamb. I pointed to it and said yum and she directed me to a pot on the fire– what a treat lamb stew for lunch! This resto decorated by flags of groups who’d been up the nearby 5600mpeak, today shrowded in cloud with increasingly darkening skies. Set off after a good rest, uphill out of village past local garbage dump and a herd of goats munching lazily amongst the pickings, then more downhill, impressive grey rocky peaks in distance. Road then skirted edge of lovely area of farmland, villagers drying out barley on huge wooden frames in the yard. Stopped off for rest overlooking another village further on and pleasantly surprised to have arrived at Baishuitai. Woman in resto had said it was another 60km, but it had been only 28km more (not complaining!).   Found a place to stay, log cabin 20Y for bed and had the place to myself.
Had some food in a less flyblown resto than my place and chatted with a Chinese bloke living in Bejing, then went for a wander round the village with him. Busy Naxi village with locals harvesting golden barley, transporting it to drying racks on their backs, via horseback or with tok toks. Helped a family bring in some new furniture theyd bought in Shangrila, some low shelving for next to TV.

Bottom of Tiger Leaping Gorge

Haba village and Snow mountain in background

Freshly cut barley drying on racks

Baishuitai to Jiligu   55km cycled
Had fried rice for bf, bit of a light rain shower too with sun still out, resto people covered up the long rows of fern tips they were drying out to sell, then a look round the limestone terraces just up from the gh. The old, now grey deposits themselves were quite extensive, but only a smaller area of off-yellow terraces with pools of water existed. Interesting to see people harvesting barley in a nearby field, the bloke going at it with a petrol strimmer, while the women gathered it up into sheaves and put it on the back of horses.
Set off cycling about 10, sun already hot. 15km uphill lots of pretty alpine flowers and blossoming rhododendrons, sky darkened and grey sheet of rain came over mtn and across to where I was. Put on jacket and decided to carry on as waiting here was directly in path whereas the road seemed to be heading out of the way. Passed some Chinese cyclists huddled in a doorway, but Id rather ride then sit freezing, their mates further up road too emerged from a building as rain began to subside. Rain stopped thankfully just as started a short downhill section. Up again through a small village, no food or shop, then another short downhill to Annan village at km25, which did have a shop! Put on dry warm clothes and had pot noodle with an egg in it for lunch.
Sun now hot, so damp clothes back on to dry as I plod on uphill again for rest of day until top of pass at km40, this road has very little traffic, only a few vehicles all day so a really pleasant ride. Storm clouds gathering again and me tired so glad to be nearing end of ride. Some blokes herding goats as I put on warm clothes for good downhill, village in view below. A few women sat at edge of road with the huge black kite like hats as I whizzed by.
The roadside kilometer stone read 48km as I entered village. Asked some women with baskets on their backs where gh was and they pointed up road. A bus pulled up just as I got there and the two girls from the Chinese group got off with their bikes. There were only 5 beds and six of us altogether, ok though cos the couple would share one of the beds. Started to rain. Bagsied a bed, ate a pot noodle, had a basin wash, put on warmer clothes, and drank tea as we waited for rest of group to arrive which they eventually did about 2 hours later. Rain didn’t last long so pleasant to sit in sun chatting.
We all had  dinner together, drank rice wine and chatted huddled around warm stove with owner woman. Bed 10pm. Used sleeping bag cos sheets didn’t look like theyd been changed in a long while. 15Y per person.
Using traditional and modern methods to harvest barley

Limestone terraces at Baishuitai overlook the start of another long uphill

My roomates for the night outside our hotel, Chinese cyclists heading for Lhasa

Jiligu to Shangrila   47km cycled
Had pot noodle and 4 boiled eggs for bf before all setting off together at 10:30. Fairly easy uphill for 9km, chatted with one of group on way up and we waited for others to catch up. Fast downhill for 5kms or so. Stopped to look at 7 vultures/eagles circling around near a herd of Yak before getting higher and higher on thermals. No carcass lying about so maybe trying to poach a calf? Tourist attraction along the way, a large lake, meant loads of traffic from thereafter with the obligatory honking horns, black diesel fumes, and all the things Id so pleasantly missed for last few days. Gradient gradual downhill nearly all way passing huge Tibetan homes, adobe sides and ornately carved eaves on the front with massive supporting pillars.
Arrived Shangrila (ShanGorilla as locals pronounce it) 1:30. Had noodles then found a place to stay in the old town. Room 50Y. Had a long hot shower then went for a wander. Lots of traditional houses along windy lanes, all serving the tourist industry. Met up with cyclists in main square where some dancing was going on, went for drinks, then back to their gh for more drinks. Came back midnight pretty drunk.
Rooftop view of hilltop temple and giant automated spinning gold prayer wheel in Shangrila old town