Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Week 19 Kunming to Longchuan 354 kms cycled

Highlights: Chinese food, scenery, lovely people, great roads, potatoes!

Low blows: Some really BAD public toilets
Music of the week: Henry the Great – Jackie Mittoo

­Had a greasy bowl of fried veg and beef with egg on top for bf, while teaching the 2 kids in the resto English. Spent the day on foot in search of outdoor shops all of which were expensive. Bought a long sleeve top in the end for a tenner. Sunscreen is a rip off -5 quid for 75ml. Got a map in Chinese for Yunan province too. Sunday is beggars day – loads all over the place. Lots of people going to the zoo, temples and park. Trees blossoming. Watched as people threw bread to hundreds of red beaked gulls in the park, old men flew kites high in the sky using pro kite flying wheels that let out the string/ wound it in, pedalo’s bobbing round the lake. Groups of people dancing in ethnic costume and one group of old ladies did a fan dance just for me, music pumping from a battered cassette player as they danced and twirled a red fan in unison. Delightful to see people just doing their thing. Had a sit down and a beer. Very calm, orderly and relaxed feel to the place. Atm in bank worked first time. There is a large police presence here, mainly for traffic on each corner and they also have officials with yellow flags and whistles that make sure people obey the traffic lights.
One woman and friend with her small baby. Baby didn’t want to walk so mom said  (in Chinese) ok you can stay here and she let the child sit on a brick wall, the baby just waved and said bye bye, which was hilarious. A bit of commotion going on on a trendy street as a girl marched past with a baseball bat and wacked a tramp bloke with it. He then wobbled after her and she and her crowd ran off. He’d done something in one of the shops further up the road, seemed a bit harsh mind.  Public toilets on 2nd floor of some buildings which I found strange and restos don’t have toilets inside. Not many people spitting either, tends to be the older ones that have a good hawk up.
Ate in same resto as last night, pork with egg and mushrooms – I drew pictures of each item to make sure I was ordering the correct thing which they thought was very funny. Quite cold in evening. Amusing to watch a blokes big white dog attempting to hump him as they walked along the street. It kept jumping up behind him and latching on, shop keepers were laughing too. 

Its considered good luck to feed bread these red beaked gulls in the local park

Ladies doing a fan dance

Pro kite flyers compete with each other

Slept badly. Everyone in room snoring . tried rockin bed to shut bloke below me up and was driven to wacking him with my pillow at one point  to get a result. Fed up so got up at 7 and went on internet for a bit in quiet lounge. Ate tiny omelet and coffee from hostel – most disappointing. In morning went and bought fleece from Carrefour - 3 quid, funny cos no one was paying any attention to the bin until I started rooting through it and it created quite a throng of bargain hunters. Might just have been cos it was bloody cold this morning – woolly hat is on!.
Had a ride round the old bit of Kunming. Looks like these few remaining streets have been earmarked for demolition and rebuilding in old style. Looks good what they’ve done, but you cant re-create higgledy piggledy houses with grass growing out of the gutters. Im still astounded that you can replace an entire city with new buildings and expand further too. Had a look in sports shops next door to hostel and got some tracky bottoms for 10 quid – just what I need too! Went to Walmart later for  toothpaste, cakes, and snacks, a whole 50 meter section of pick n mix sweets to be weighed and massive bins full of peanut brittle and other sweet treats.

 Wardens keep the traffic running smoothly 

A new 'old' building and an old soon to be new building (background) 

Open back trousers -handy for people with the runs, or kids during potty training

Kunming to Baoshan by bus
Last night turned out to be a total snorefest. New people were in the room. An old man had been wandering around the hostel earlier with a hanky on his head to keep warm. Turned out he was in my room. Id gone to bed about 10ish. He arrived 11:30 announcing his prescence with a rasping fart. Then he proceeded to go to the bathroom, but instead of taking all his stuff with him he made 3 separate journeys, taking one item at a time. Old bloke put his head on pillow and proceeded to make death rattle noises and deep snoring all night. At 1:30am went to reception and asked if I could sleep in lounge which they said ok. Slept fine after that. Guess Im not cut out for dorms.
Up at 7, went over to buffet in hotel across road 16Yuan (80baht) for an all you can eat/drink buffet. Amusing to see the Chinese all scrumming in to get what they want  (theyd do well at an English jumble sale) plates piled high, and they left half of it too. Such a waste. Ate my fill then headed off to Western bus station about an hour away. Despite having a cavernous hold the driver wanted to know if I could take the wheels off and turn handlebars sideways. I just smiled and pointed to the massive empty space which my bike eventually went into using bikelock and bungee cord to hold it upright. Boarded bus which left for Baoshan in 10 mins time, expensive at 207RMB (10=1pound). Dying for a pee but had to wait for them to unlock the bog, which was relocked when Id done – probably gets trashed if they leave it open. Hostess gave us some French bread buns (actually cake) and bottle of water. Buses only stop was Baoshan so quick going. Left 9:30 and arrived 4:30. Scenery just greens and yellows of crops in valley bottoms/plains, and dry stunted pine trees, shrubs and grass on the hills. Mud brick Chinese houses with roofs that fanned out at the ends, coloured faded wooden house fronts with balcony and lots if windows. Outer walls whitewashed and painted with decorative picture or something like a crest in each village. In the area famous for dinosaur relics loads of dinosaurs on sides of houses, in a mushroom growing area mushrooms, even had mushroom shaped water towers up on the hill.
Stopped off for lunch and was told we only had 20 mins so wolfed it down but actually had about 40 mins. Id sat at a table and tried to order food but wasn’t having much luck till I noticed a young bloke eating from a tray. He guided me to buy a Styrofoam tray of rice and whatever I wanted on it – veg, pork in sauce and beansprouts – very tasty. 
The compartment where Id put my bike was open and full of boxes of live chickens all chirping away, the driver was giving them some air and left the door propped open with a trapped plastic water bottle when we set off after lunch. Some pretty big hills but massive mtns and gorges after Dali, hydro power being harnessed from river. Expressway going high up the hillsides and through tunnels. On the bus, entertainment included several Hollywood explosion action movies and an amusing Jackie Chan film in Chinese. Arrived Baoshan, at new bus staion so took a while to get my bearings.) Looked at a 30Y place – too grotty. Cycled up road and found another, very nice rooms thought Id got a bargain at 50Y until girl said it was 50Y room charge plus 50Y rent, although it took a good 20 mins to figure out what she was on about. Further probing revealed they had room with no bathroom for 50Y. Shared bathrooms grotty, but at least have hot shower with 2 huge mixer taps. No snoring tonight (I suspect tv noise will pervade instead). Tried to get girl on reception to suggest a cheap restaurant but she wrote something on a piece of paper which no one could understand when I showed them so just went for a spin and found my own place. Plenty of shops and allsorts here and not the dusty backwater I was expecting. Had a ride about, smoke and bits of ash falling from nearby incinerators. Moved rooms before I went to bed as neighbours got telly on cranked up to 11. Slept well after that.

A small part of on-going construction in Kunming

Baoshan to Tengchong 83kms by bike, rest by bus
Up at 7, shower then went and had a look at a Ming dynasty (1386 -1644) pavilion, although could’ve been made 10 years ago by the look of it. Cycled over to a small lake with pagoda too then off to find bf. Not much open, some shops around mkt area but meat looked nasty, just shreds of fat. Headed up to where I ate last night and found an ok looking noodle shop. Not so full so had steamed pork dumplings across road too and took 5 away that I couldn’t manage. Handed key back and discovered that you get a deposit back for the room! That’s what all the weirdness was yesterday, why she couldn’t mime it to me I don’t know. Got 20Y back. Laughed. The really nice room would’ve been 50 after all! Ah well saved 2 quid.
Lots of building going on here too and a helicopter transporting stuff about, road busy with trucks and buses but soon eased off as got out of town. Really good road with smooth tarmac, gradual gradients, and hardly any traffic. Easy to ride on despite going up big hills. Passed a large hill covered in tombs facing East and lots of stone mason workshops lining the road with examples of their handy work. Hitched a ride on a few tok toks transporting huge slabs of marble type stone, just grabbed the back and let them pull me up steeper sections. Farming on terraced land, patchworks of colour browns, clay yellows and reds from the soil, various shades of green from crops, and fields of barley going from green to yellows through to golden brown. Pine trees on hill sides. Some big downhills, farmers walking up slowly behind a few cows and buffalo. A small white car newly crashed, probably took corner too fast and weaved. Its occupants squatted like birds in a line and smoking cigs.  Farmers boiling vast pots of barley? Lovely smell wafting across road from time to time.
Had taken a photo earlier of traffic sign so knew the figures for Tengchong. Halfway down a long down hill there was a turn off. Stopped and looked at map, Tengchong was straight on so carroed on down to valley bottom. Express way on stilts high up other side of mtn. Stopped for lunch and chatted with woman and 2 blokes using phrasebook. I thought Id ordered meat mixed with veg, but got 2 separate plates so cost me 20Y. Drank plenty io tea. Tasty though. Had a good rest then carried on. Toilet across the way rank and stinking full of half dry turds.
Been filling up water bottle from restos along the way where they always have a ready supply of hot water in a flask. Water bottle goes all rubbery though and have to wait for it to cool down. At least its safe to drink. Bottomed out in valley. Warm here and roadside mkt selling huge papayas, neatly presented in cloth cushioned baskets, also bananas and some sour apple type fruits. Road busy now and people causing blocks by stopping to by fruit.
Start of a long uphill section, but gradient cyclable. A lot of trucks on this road. Up, up, up. Looking for a place to stop but only passed 2 truck stop places and reakon they’ll be summat further on. Only 4pm so have plenty of time before dark (7:30). Carried on up here for next few hours. Starting to feel knackered. At 80kms stopped at a toll booth and asked if there was anywhere to stay around here.  Young woman spoke a bit of English and came out of booth to help me. She said another 40kms along or 35kms back where Id come. Ah! The road onward was still heading into mtns and I realized my Odometer clock is set to thai time (1hour behind) so now actually 6pm. Didn’t fancy being stuck in mtns in dark! Woman said a bus would be here in 5 mins. Decided to take bus. She and her mate haggled with driver for me and I thanked them. It was only a little bus so bike ended up in the aisle which freaked everone out at first but they soon got used to the idea.
Gutted cos scenery for next 20kms uphill was beautiful and down other side too. Think we passed a few truck stop places but not sure. Probably wouldn’t have made it before dark anyway. Got to Tengchong. Got my bearing from hotel staff near bus station then found a place up the road. Really nice room 50Y and friendly staff. Showered. Now 9pm.  Went to eat at place theyd suggested across road but they wanted 20Y a plate. Went back to gh nd girl accompanied me and got me a plate for 12 instead after Id show her menu Id photographed from Kunming and everything on it being 12Y.

Ealry morning in Baoshan's park

Complex corner piece of a new roof

Boot hill

Ill take the old low road - new expressway up on the hillside

Set off to visit Heshun village a few kms out of town. Had dumplings with a delicious dipping sauce and rice water soup for breakfast along the way. Village set on a hill at edge of fields and quite a draw card for Chinese tourists of which there were several bus loads, Wandered around the town up and down quiet lanes and along the lakeside. A lot of construction/reconstruction going on here, stone masons chipping away at volcanic rock, carpenters slotting together complex designs, and some bog standard breeze block and cement jobs going up too. Lots of original old buildings too, some over 100years old. Outer walls often volcanic rock base then mud bricks higher up. Large wooden doors opened to reveal inner courtyards full of blossoming flowers, birdcages, washing etc and wooden fronted rooms inside. Had a nosy in a few including a quaint gh where some Chinese tourists were staying – had a chat with them.
Funny to see a bunch of army blokes of mixed ages all wandering round sightseeing in full camo uniforms and photographing everything. Had lunch back in town and chatted with some really friendly girls who worked there. Decided to head to the Spa 12kms down the road. Ok at first but they were upgrading the road so all the down hill section was very dusty, especially on ungraded bit where I was stuck behind a convoy of busses shipping people into the spa. Got there covered in dust only to discover the entrance fee was a massive 265Y!!! What? Talked for a long while with ticket people who then revealed there was a less swanky spa down the hill but it still cost 80Y. Really not bothered at that price, plus tons of Chinese all heading in there so it would be packed. Back uphill into town. Wouldve been a nice ride except for the dustbath, Showered then went in search of internet. Found a place just up road but girl running it was rude and wouldn’t help me, just huffing and puffing as if she couldn’t summon the energy to spend 2 mins to explain. A guy in there explained that you needed an ID card to go on internet in China, and suggested I try a bit further up road. Girl in next place was normal and went to trouble of looking through a wallet full of different IDs (probably left behind in shop) and logging me on. Several people smoking in the shop. After internet went to find food. Picked a busy resto but woman didn’t want owt to do with me. Strange cos most other restos staff have had the brains and manners to figure out that if I point to pork and veg then that’s what I wanna eat. Again 10 mins wasted on avoidance rather than 5 on solutions. Left there and found another place more than willing to help. Had pork and aubergine but so much oil which had soaked into veg probably caused Brent crude prices to dip. Also there was a charge for the ‘fancy’ bowl and plate as it came wrapped in plastic. Just paid as couldn’t be arsed.

Inside Heshun village

Around Heshun village

Inner coutyard to one of the homes

Fancy inner courtyard of a hotel

Old mud brick wall

Stone mason working on a new building

View looking out over the towns entrance

Lovely people in a small food shop

Tengchong  Volcanic area 89km
Plan was to visit volcanoes 22km out of town and then head off after lunch. The way was mostly uphill so my plan didn’t look likely by time I got there at 10:30. Impressed at the new road which was lined in one section with wind and solar powered lighting. Also had a massive bike lane although it could’ve done with a sweep. Some huge construction about to commence of Tengchong future city just outside of town, malls, homes, etc etc.
Arrived town of Mazhan, road leading to site under renovation. A lot of shops being done up and attractive lava tiles and curbstones being put in place. 40Y entrance with most people heading up to either the big or little empty volcano. I opted for the big one. 1km walk up to base and then up some steps to the top. Not much to see from there but a walk through the pine trees at top revealed an impressive view round the other side, a sight few people bothered to see. Back down and not very impressed but after chatting with ticket people they said there was a road that lead to another part of the park. Popped back into town for some food and water and as the old woman who ran the shop couldn’t get it together to mix mushrooms mange tout and cabbage together, I was invited to sit with a group of 20 somethings from Tengchong. Turned out they worked at the toll booth up the road (strange that the toll people are so friendly and helpful! Maybe all the exhaust fumes? J) Chatted and ate with them before they had to go back to work -they paid too. Very kind.
Took the first road to the right after coming away from the ticket booth and there was a brand new smooth tarmac road that led me round the back of the big volcano and then a cracking down hill for most of the 12kms. Great scenery passing farmland, a small encampment quarrying volcanic rock, farmers with buffalo ploughing the fields, a flowery scent on the air, pine trees lining road and mtns in the distance. Locked bike and went down into gorge to look at hectagonal columnar outcrops streaked along side of cliff face. Woman selling huge bracket funghi for 20 quid each.
Was supposed to be a circular route from here but people in carpark said other way was better so cycled back way Id come. Not too bad but flagging a bit towards the end so grabbed hold of the back of a truck that was going slowly and let it drag me up for a few kms. People Id met in the village yesterday went past in a van and leaned out taking photos of me. People Id had lunch with now working at toll booth so said hello as I went past then a long downhill Id been looking forward to all afternoon. Played tortoise and hare with a tok tok transporting loads of wood (there were several), theyd pass me on the ups and I passed them on the downs.
Ate in town on way back. I pointed at meat and girl suggested things I could have it with – so simple when they want it to be! Had an ice cream too then back to gh for tea and biscuits. Knackered.

Breakfast of champions - steamed pork dumplings

China is way ahead! - solar and wind powered street lights

View from top of the Big empty volcano

Having lunch with some new friends

Random chicken wandering the high street

Great riding round the back of the volcano

Huge bracket funghi for sale

Remains of a whole cow

Tengchong to Yingjiang  90km
Had some ravioli type stuff in soup for breakfast on the way through town– very tasty. The first 8 kms on the northern outskirts of town was a huge micro industrial area, with loads of operations quarrying out the rock from ancient lava flows and cutting it into slabs of various shapes and sizes. Also many stonemasons, rock crunchers making aggregate and anything else volcanic rock related. Suffice to say the air was full of dust and smoke, which hung in the valleys cold morning air in an off yellow/brown. Lots of trucks rattling along laden with huge boulders, and smaller toktoks chugging up hills and belching black diesel fumes as they struggled with theirs.
Soon past this area and on a brand new smooth road through farmers fields. Passed a lot of people dressed in traditional costumes, some women with a fancy shiny trimmed scarf wrapped round their heads, and others which looked a bit like hmong clothes, lots of beads. Quite a few large round kilns along the way, smoke rising from the tops, with long neat rows of pots or tiles in the yard outside. Quite a few herons hunting in the wet fields, brilliant white feathers, whispy at the neck. Several convoys of VIPs going past in landcruisers escorted by police and all with their hazard lights going. Stopped off for a steaming bowl of noodles along the way which fuelled me all the way to Yingjiang. Pretty flat all the way today as along the bottom of a plain following a river. Only a few sections where new road not finished so plane sailing.
Arrived Yingjiang mid afternoon. Evidence of an earthquake as shop fronts lying on the pavement and a few cracked buildings. Stopped for a pee in petrol station and wished I hadn’t – squat toilets piled high with stinking turds – disgusting!
Got to a traffic island and asked some police sat in a van where a gh was. They explained all gh’s were closed cos of earthquake. Asked them what I should do and they made a phone call. Woman on other end of phone spoke good English. She said I should come to the police station so I followed the van to the traffic police headquarters. Here I was met by the woman Anida, a local English teacher whose husband was a coppa. We went to her friends house and had a chat and sit down. Four women sat around a ‘professional’ Mahjong table, where you pushed the bricks into a hole that opened in the centre and then a new set of bricks automatically came up out of a long slit in front of each player- most impressiveI In front of each player was also a silver drawer that flipped out for keeping betting money in and of course an ashtray too.
Later I was presented with a tent to sleep in at the end of the car park, far enough away from the police HQ which had been condemne.  All office equipment being transferred and set up in a big tent too. Played ball with the girls in the house and taught them a bit of English as they were very excited to meet a foreigner. They wanted to teach me Chinese too so brought a massive pad full of Chinese characters. Went for a wander around town later on, lots of teams of soldiers and local people cleaning up, mustve been a lot of devastation cos 3 days into operation and theres still tons of stuff around. Was 5.9 on richter scale and lasted 20 seconds.
Lots of shards of broken glass, and rubble. People housed in big blue tents all around the town, and a kind of encampment around a lake in the town centre. The worst hit buildings were the old mud brick ones and these were being pulled down, in one place by a gang of blokes with a rope tied to roof and another fella knocking corner base of wall out with a crobar before they pulled the whole thing to the ground. In another place a larger building getting the same treatment by 2 earth movers. Very sad to see people in such a predicament. Saw one bloke in a red crash helmet standing forlorn and picking through the remains of his home, some people had piled up what they could salvage next to their tents.
Went back to HQ. The ladies still playing mahjong. Went to canteen to eat at 6pm, loads of tasty food. After dinner went to Anida’s parents home just up the road. The alleyway full of rubble from walls on way there. Their house had escaped but had a large crack in garden wall and neighbours kitchen wall had collapsed into their back garden, some windows cracked too. We sat round a table eating snacks and chatting when an aftershock occurred. Really big rumble. I felt calm, but Anida grabbed my arm saying don’t panic and her mom jumped up in the air, which of course made me panic. We laughed about it afterwards.
Wandered back to HQ after a while andhad a quick lesson how to play Mahjong before going to bed at 9:30 as knackered. Tent tiny but can just about stretch out corner to corner, glad its got a built in air mattress.
2 aftershocks in the night, shaking me awake and having an unusual rumble shhh sound, bit like a large truck going past, in fact when large trucks were going past in the night I thought it might be start of another aftershock.

One of many kilns along the way

Runway sized section of the new road

Around Yingjiang

Clear up team pulling down a condemned building

One of many emergency accomodation around the town

Around Yingjiang

Around Yingjiang

Around Yingjiang

Chinese family who looked after me

My overnight acccomodation in the police compound

Yingjiang to Longchuan  92km
Got up 7:30, put stuff on bike and then went to Anida’s parents for breakfast. Had noodles, then soy milk with dippy fried batter things and some cake. Chatted then it was time to go. Took some photos, thanked them for their hospitality and asked Anida to thank everyone at the police station, then set off. Quite temperate here which was good for last nights camping, which Im sure all the locals stuck in tents are thankful for.
Brand new road to start but eventually came to long stretches where the construction was on going and so a pre tamaced surface with lots of dust. Lots of people working in the fields and walking down the roads carrying baskets on bamboo poles like weighing scales. These people looked like Lisu tribe I think, baggy pants, a smock and coolie hat. An older woman had a black hat folded into a pirate hat shape. Harrgh. Busy market going on either side of road in one village, lots of beer being drunk by blokes. Bit worrying to see trucks and taxis hurtling down hill towards it as very narrow to pass through due to the throng.
Start of a 15km uphill section. Road very dusty and broken in places due to all trucks using it. The new expressway is being built higher up and parallel to this road so loads of debris coming down hillside. Very dusty when trucks passed and got annoyed after a while. Im sure this section was really beautiful before as going through forested hillside with river tumbling over rocks in gully below. Eventually reached the top and now on a plain full of yellow flowering crops stretching off down the valley. Gorgeous. A Dai people stupa in distance too. Stopped off for lunch and a needed rest a few kms along road at Manbing where shops made and engraved swords, several rows of them on display, ranging from small daggers to massive broadswords. Small buck knives stamped with names like AK47 and CCCP.
Wafted flies away from my dinner and chatted a bit with some blokes and a woman who was interested in my bike. Set off after recuperating only to start another uphill stretch for the next hour and a bit. At least the road is good here. Really pretty scenery. Eventually got to top of mtn and then a massive downhill all the way onto a wide long plain. Sugar cane grown here, buffalo grazing on the cast off leaves, and people tending neat vegetable and herb gardens which had an enormous variety of different plants creating  different colours and textures in the garden. Onto busy road and passed by several learner drivers in  landcruisers all red and white striped bumpers, honking at me as they passed and weaving about in road. Fragrant pick yer own strawberry fields and a few small stalls at roadside.
Glad to arrive in Longchuan. Asked in a hotel where a cheaper gh was and they pointed me just up road. Got a decent room for 40Y. Only problem was cold water not working so water scolding. Managed to cool it a little by crouching down and splashing the water onto myself but still crab boiling temperature. Ate across road then had 2 different beers in town. The Chinese beer Ive had so far has been very disappointing, weak, fizzy and warm (usually ambient temp as they don’t keep it in the fridge and those that do don’t have the fridge on that cold). American Budweiser is also on sale here as a ‘premium’ brand costing triple the amount of a local beer, so Im sticking to water for now.

An entire plain of yellow

Water buffalo graze on disgarded sugar cane leaves

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