Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Week 24 Yuanyang to Yangshuo 364km cycled

Highlights: Blood red soil, and a sprinkling of limestone rock striped with polythene
Low blows: Long bus journeys, traffic jams, passive smoking, hawwwwwwwwwwk
Music of the week:   Theme from control – The Herbaliser

Yuanyang to Yanshan  30km then rest by bus
Sunny in the town. Had 1st batch of dumplings from shop then set off down hill. Bottle neck and tail back with everyone beeping due to daft parking near mkt blocking road. Just managed to squeeze through it all, then 30km downhill ride to the bus station. Soon hit thick fog/mist so took it easy and had to keep an eye as road quite bumpy. Fleece covered in dew and started to feel cold. Twisty windy road and eventually came out of the bottom of the cloud but still about 15kms to go so nice to warm up and dry off. None of traffic suck up in town caught up either which was a bonus. Stopped to take a photo of defaced cardboard cut out policewoman mysteriously stuck in bushes on a bend and 2 women cyclists pulled up next to me, one of em on a recumbent bike. Had a brief chat about routes etc then carried on.
Found a bus going to Kaiyuan so got on - all seats well knackered and bus old. Got some food from a pot stall next to station then haggled for price of putting bike on roof – 10Y in end so 45 altogether. Supposed to leave at 11:05 but went at least half hour after that. Good road until mining town of Geiju and a nice valley too, would’ve been nice to ride this uphill stretch but there was a police box at top and don’t know if you’d be allowed to go through the long tunnel. Would be gutted if came all way and had to turn back. Driver swopped passengers onto another bus just out of Geiju and then it was road under construction for a fair while bouncing along through the dust. Geiju looks a dump as did Kaiyuan on arrival.
Driver helpful and directed me towards other bus station but over shot it and asked in a truck garage who pointed me back up street. I had been expecting a big bus depot but it was just a small place with small buses. None left for Nanning or Baise, but after consulting map with a bloke who worked there we figured out there was a bus that went to Yanshan, departing in 30mins. Bought ticket and bloke helped carry bags down to bus. Slob of a driver put bike on roof but no consideration for me asking him to tie rope onto frame and nothing else.
Bag bloke showed me a pot stall round corner where I ate then onto bus. Figured the 150kms would be covered in no time but after a promising start on the express way we ended up taking a circuitous route through the countryside on shite roads picking up all and sundry in a bid for the driver to make a bit of extra cash. Tired and fed up and just wanted to get to destination, only consolation was the scenery which was really impressive – blood red/brown soil with hillocks, and fields covered in limestone boulders, some had been cleared and neat terraces/walls made in parts over a rolling landscape. What made it more visually interesting where the strips of plastic put down to protect the crops from frost damage so you had this eye catching landscape enhanced by lots of linear white stripes going across it. Hate to think about how many millions of tons of plastic are used in this way and the soil contamination, but it did look interesting.
Also passed through lovely rural villages, adobe homes with wooden fronts, bulls pulling carts along too, although the driver blared the horn at anything in our way and really spooked a few animals leaving the driver of the cart trying to get a bucking galloping panicked bull under control. Stopped off for ages in one village for no apparent reason and trawled another picking up a set of pans for delivery further on and a ton of heavy laundry in bags (which got dumped all over my bike on roof). Picked up 6 farmer blokes in one village who smoked out the bus with cigarettes. Frustrating everytime we snaked under the expressway – if only could just plonk bus on it we’d be there in no time.
Eventually arrived at 8pm- has to wait for people to take cargo off bus then dropped at bus station. For some reason a taxi driver wanted to take me somewhere even though Id already pointed out my bike. Doh!  Checked bus time to Nanning tomorrow. Found  a bargain place up road for 30Y then went in search of food. Had to persuade cook to do mixed veg and him unsure of it all until Id plopped veg I wanted in a tray and said just fry it up. Chatted with retired couple who’d also been on same bus, they were from Peking and retired so having a tour. Back to gh, exhausted and out like a light.

The mountian roads take their toll

Yanshan to Nanning by bus
I bought a ticket at the bus station for 180Y, then ate some dumplings outside before going back to the room to drink tea. Returned to the bus station at 10 AM, any worries about getting my bike on board were put aside as a huge motorbike was loaded into the hold and my bicycle slotted nicely in beside. We set on time to but had to stop down the road because a lady had left her money with her friend. The money turned up after about 20 minutes and we set off. Soon zooming along the expressway, passing small mountains covered in limestone rocks a little bit like areas of Wales or Scotland. The journey was supposed to take six hours. However, we soon came upon a huge tailback as both carriageways were blocked. Surprising to see people wandering about the carriageway with no regard to being rear ended by approaching traffic; people also crossing the other carriageway to go to the toilet in the bushes being narrowly missed by oncoming traffic approaching at speed.
Our bus was soon descended upon by business minded local ladies with baskets full of instant noodles, flasks of hot water, and Styrofoam cartons of rice topped with delicious lamb and vegetables. I chose the latter for 10Y as the instant noodles were going for a marked up 5Y. As we were on the bridge the rice paddy's below were soon covered in trash. Later on some more food ladies told me the crash was 6 km further up the road so nothing to do but wait it out. People wandering around and one person even flying a kite! 2 1/2 hours later, the driver suddenly shouted and everyone to get on the bus and everything started to move. Turns out it was the start of the long downhill section and a truck’s brakes had failed. They destroyed vehicle had been removed but the wall leading to the emergency lane was thoroughly scraped up and the pebbles in the pit were scattered all over the place. Traffic moving quickly but reached another small jam at the next toll gate as a lorry had broken down at the booth. A truck with a cargo full of beehives was also pulled over to one side and surrounded by a massive swarm. I think some of the hives must've been shaken up and opened and the bees were not at all happy.
The rest of the journey commenced at high speed and was surprised the drivers  bothered to stop off for a break even though we'd been sat in traffic so long. Eventually arrived at Nanning by 8:30. Had a look at several guesthouses near the bus station. The first one had tiny, tiny, rooms the size of a single bed with about a foot of room down one side. The next place I tried was okay but there was no water in the room and the guy wanted me to pay more for what usually comes as standard. Carried on the road and found a small family place again with small rooms and a bit crappy but right enough. The woman had said there was a towel in the room when I asked, but it turned out to be more like flannel -it would have to do. Wandered about looking for food and eventually had fried noodles with meat and veg served up by a real character with a deep gravelly voice, who shouted a lot and did everything at high speed. Tried a beer as well which turned out to be terrible. Back to room and bed, again really tired.

Towards the back of a 6km roadblock

Drivers sit it out

Entrepreneurs make their rounds

Adobe farmhouse opposite the expressway

The world's smallest towel

Nanning to Guigang   by bus
Went up to the bus station to find out where I need to go to catch the bus to Guigang. As I didn't know where I was it took a while to get the people there  to simply give me directions to a road on my map where I could find my own way. Having got the information I needed I bought some dumplings outside the station, but they were stale and horrible so dumped those and found another shop whose dumplings with twice the size and fresh. Ate them back in the room, packed and set off. Stopped off at the ATM along the way, which turned out to be like a watering hole for foreigners as about 9 people were milling about while I was there. Pretty easy navigating across the city although rather a long way to the bus station. Some young lad also cut me up so close I actually had to shove him away or he would’ve pushed my handlebars and had me over. He looked at me as if I was crazy. They wouldn't let me in to use the toilet unless I had my bags scanned so I got a policeman to watch my bicycle while I had a quick pee. Then bought some fried rice from a restaurant around the corner, rushed back to the station, scanned my bags but God knows why because the alarm didn't even go off then was ushered onto the bus. The bus cost 45Y and took less than an hour to reach Guigang.
Tried a few hotels near the bus station but all expensive. A lad who worked in one let me follow his motor bike to a cheaper place, but seemed dodgy. The road leading to this area had loads of guesthouses on it so soon found one with friendly owners. A lot warmer now at lower altitude and also plenty of mozzies too, think they were getting into my room through duct in bathroom so put up the net although got nibbled on whatever rested against net during night.
After getting directions from the guesthouse I bought a Chinese map of the province and found some cans of tasty stout in the supermarket nearby, which I'd chill in the fridge for later. For dinner was directed to a really good pot stall just up the road.

Guigang to Guiping   70km
Had noodles for breakfast, got directions from reception and headed off up the road and turned right then straight all the way to Guiping. Doublechecked a few times along the way just to make sure, and while I was studying a road sign a friendly bloke who spoke English came to help me so we had a short chat too.
Flat busy road, lots of traffic, dusty hard shoulder and quite a bit of broken glass too. Rice paddies being planted either side of the road with tok tok trailers loaded with baskets containing seed trays of rice plant seedlings ready for planting. The method here is to simply throw rice plant into the mud like throwing darts; very fast and effective. Further on paddies being prepared for planting with various designs of vehicles whizzing about in the mud, one looked like a skidoo, but the one that looked the most fun was a tok tok but it was steered by the farmers feet on a rear wheel. One guy was flying around the paddy and making tight turns going up and down fitting the exact limits of this space as he twisted and turned at speed. Later I passed a strange looking place where many new buildings had been recently made out of a dark coloured concrete but as nobody had painted the concrete it was just a grey monotone high rise town.
Stopped off for lunch in a really dusty town, a lot of trucks going through there churning it right up. Cycled around for a good 15 minutes before settling in a place off the main dusty drag. Friendly people inside and had pork and mushrooms for only 10Y. Turns out I was only 13 km from my destination and arrived there around 2:30 PM. Looked at a few places around the bus station one was cheap but really badly designed inside so decided to carry on into the centre of town to where the road met a park. Asked around and soon found a guesthouse for 60Y after haggling. Didn't like the room at first but actually looked okay once I was in it.
Had a spin around the small town park were lots of old people were playing cards and Mahjong beneath shady trees, then down some back lanes until I found the river. Later I went in search of a pot stall but couldn't find one. I eventually saw an old man eating from a Styrofoam carton with his friends so asked him where he bought it from. It was from the supermarket across the road and inside I got a massive portion of lamb type casserole and vegetables in one carton and a pile of rice in another. Also picked up a few mooncakes then back to the room for my feast.

Rice seedlings ready for planting

All eyes on the game

Guiping to Taiping   94km
Noodles for bf then off. Overcast day. Easy to find the way – just up road and turn right then straight. Bridge over river being renovated - blocked to traffic and at either end a huddled of cars/buses/motorbikes waiting to transport people. Pedestrians and bicycles allowed through. Decent graded road through rice paddies for most of way, road followed river. For last few days Ive been noticing all the earthern funeral tombs in the fields and hills have got sticks in the top with white paper or other fancy bits of material hanging from them and the area area the tombs looks cleaned up with tinsel stuff too. Maybe a time of year to honor/remember dead?
Stopped off in a truckers resto for lunch, friendly, inquisitive people inside. When I left lad who worked there was trying to tell me I was about to set off in wrong direction because he’d seen me arrive from other way as he didn’t know Id done a drive by and turned around.
Road soon deteriorated into upgrading and then really broken and dusty for about 15kms. Several huge cement factories along this section so heavy trucks transporting quarried rocks to the factory not helping the road. Went through one town and life looked awful, everything covered in dust and looks like people had given up even trying to sweep it or put water down to subdue it. Terrible. Also downwind of the chimneys which had yellow smelly smoke coming out. Would hate to live here.
Road started to improve as passed sections being freshly cemented and once past that onto smooth new road – yippee. Had a bit of an uphill section through pine covered hills, rice paddies still along the way then down onto flat and across another closed bridge to meet up with main highway. A long water viaduct overhead. Had been impressed when I was in the mtns how they transported water across to the other hillsides by having huge sections of pipe in a massive u shape the outlet being lower down than inlet so natural momentum and pressure moved it all along high up the other side of the hill, very clever.
Arrived Taiping 4ish. Busy town. Looked for gh off main strip and 1st one had rooms for 70Y – overpriced and damp. 2nd on only 40Y, bit basic but fine. Thought Id found a pot place up road but it was pot style but in fast food shop so turned out to be 10Y and portions not so big (when ur hungry) friendly people inside. Not much in this town and pretty old and grubby looking. Got nuts n raisins from supermkt, woman from the weighing counter followed me round to practice her English which was fun.

A grey day

Taiping to Mengshan  85km
Was woken early 6am by lots of hubbub going outside, ignored it for a while then had a look – turns out there’s a root vegetable mkt outside my gh. Huge piles of ginger, tapioca? and an odd mini rugby ball shaped root thing too. The whole thing was finishing off when I went for bf at 7. Had noodles then just one road to follow.
Up and down through pine tree covered hills. Early noodles for lunch and commented to owner how clean her resto was, everything sparkling, even the toilet, she went inside to tell everyone what Id said. Road eventually followed riverside which was quite scenic. A lot of mini dams keeping the levels high and people actually fishing with rods. Arrived Mengshan, a stretched out town. Looked for a place on a backstreet but too expensive. Went back up road and got nice room with internet 70Y. Ate greasy aubergine for dinner. Didn’t seem like much at all in this town so got my money’s worth on internet.

Who needs an alarm clock when there's the early morning roots market

Mengshan to Yangshuo  85km
Awoke to sound of rumbling thunder and soon started to rain so had a sluggish start to day as I waited for weather to improve. Set off by 10 but and light spitting but soon turned into a downpour which soaked me through. Glad to stop for lunch in a noodle shop and get something warm inside. Carried on through a large city, dirty gritty roads spraying up.
Stopped off to buy some oranges from a roadside vendor, recently plucked from orchard across the road and sweet and juicy. Impressive karsk hills and mtns all around. Rain gradually petered out but sky still overcast. As getting closer to Yangshuo groups of Chinese tourists wrapped in plastic macs on bicycles and tandems going other way – they’d done well to get this far out of town (10km).  Passed some interesting formations. Felt like I was in Krabi.
Had been in middle of nowhere but as I arrived at Yangshuo it turned out to be a very busy tourist destination more for Chinese than Johnny foreigner. Took a while to get my bearings . I was looking for a YHA but gave up and soon found a descent room for 60Y after haggling from 100Y. Recently fitted room and interesting plug socket feature right under the showerhead! Put a towel over it as I showered.  Went into the throng of the town and had a MC D’s which after studying a few resto menus was same price as normal food 25Y and I needed food fast as hungry. Wandered along the main thoroughfare and felt like I was in Leicester Square or some other such busy tourist destination, shops selling Tat and people wandering aimlessly. Eventually got to river and really beautiful view of surrounding karsk – best part of the town! 
Two bamboo boats went past with the fisherman and their cormerants on boat drying wings, heading upstream for a tourist show. Found a pot stall as hungry again and had a wander up through the town, surrounding karsk floodlit and looking good.

Water viaduct

Delicious oranges picked from across the road

Start of the karsk scenery

Tourist hot spot

View from McDonalds

After fighting through the tourists a view!

Cormorants dry their wings

Spot the health and safety issue

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