Your Christmas bumper edition is here (we hope you have a great festive period & wish you all a happy new year)
Part 1 Dali to Kunming (430km cycled)
After a glorious 6 days of cycling from Dali we arrived in the city of Kunming. The route was mainly on the G320 road, which ran through beautiful countryside and intersected towns and villages. The ride went through forested lands, gorges and the odd lake. We managed to camp every night in either woods, or hidden clearings. Most of our spots were delightful and peaceful. The first night we came off the road and found a path into a pine forest. There were signs, which we knew were a warning but ignored! The next morning, as I was about to make coffee, four men dressed in work camouflage outfits approached us and arms waving gestured for us to go. Coffee first, I thought and as I was about to light the stove, one man took the lighter away and suggested I’d set the forest alight. They stood watching us slowly pack and after a while they gave up and left. When the coast was clear, I made coffee, we packed up and left, which we were doing anyway.
The route was undulating and we were still at 2000 metres altitude which gave warm spring like days and cold, damp evenings and mornings. We were mainly self sufficient during the day, as we had managed to buy luxury and rare food items in Dali; walnut and potato bread and cheddar cheese. Nothing special you may think but we haven’t found cheese in months and real bakery bread for a long long time. Lunch stops of a simple ploughmans kept us going in nourishment and morale. Suppers of simple noodle soups or pasta with olive oil and lemon, all added to a great trip section. It was great to cycle again after ten days of inactivity as I was getting over the virus.
Approaching cities with the sight of high rises, a web of roads and traffic always gives us an anxiety and a feeling of already missing the rural peace. However, once in the heart of a Chinese city, it’s never that intimidating. We stayed 3 nights in the YHA “Upland” (Kunming), which was close to the tranquil green lake park. We passed our time watching locals doing communal dances, exercise classes and tai chi, wondered around the bonsai gardens in the park. Finding different food in a city is normally our aim to treat ourselves and Kunming delivered very well. We ate at Indian, Mexican and vegetarian restaurants and even had a gin and tonic!
We made the decision to skip ahead 600km getting to Guiyang via coach. This was going to save 8/9 days of cycling as our visas are running out on 8 January. We wanted to cycle and see some other places on the way before we find ourselves stressed and not enjoying the last part of China.
As we queued to go through security and baggage check at Kunming north coach terminal we prayed they wouldn’t find the gas canister hidden in Barbara’s saddle bag. The dreaded scanning machine loomed and the unloading of bags weighted heavy but then a woman sitting by the scanner opened up the barrier and let us pass without any baggage check. We pushed our bikes away saying ‘xièxiè’ and the joy skipped around our bodies knowing this time our gas was coming with us and cooking was made easy again (we can cook with petrol on our multi stove, but we lost the priming pad and things don’t work so well). Our bikes were loaded into the hull of the coach with a multitude of live animals; roosters, chicks, a pug dog, boxes of pigeons and cash was being passed around! We are hoping these animals will arrive safely as it’s a 10 hour journey and I’m guessing the drivers don’t have the animals welfare as their priority. While on the topic of animals we’d thought we’d mention the contrast of treatment of dogs in rural to urban areas. In Kunming there was a wide range of different breed of dogs adorned in hoodies, and other knit wear, well groomed and pampered. Then while cycling through more rural areas dogs were treated with little respect. Most were chained up by a property and I doubt are ever let off the chain. Their coats were matted and most look very skinny. Some were locked in very small metal bar cages and howl and bark as you pass. There were some rural dogs as companions and pets and it’s clear to see the relationship between owner and dog. Then there were the dogs off a chain that run and bark as you cycle by.
Part 2 Kunming-Guiyang (660km by coach)-Guilin (730km cycled)
Oh dear, the past eleven days of cycling from Guiyang have been a very mixed bag of ups and downs. We cycled around 730km with no rest day. We managed 2 showers during that time and when we got one, “oh my!” it felt fantastic to feel hot water on your body. The route followed the G321 through hills, along rivers and through small villages and the occasional large town.
Getting out of Guiyang was a headache; confusing road signs, roads turning into mud fields as construction trucks tear up the old road to make a new somewhere else. Roads started and roads stopped with little warning. Not a good start and to top it, the weather had changed and now we felt we were back in winter with cold, damp conditions. Rain greeted us on day 2 & 3 so finally our waterproof gear was pulled out and we continued if not with dampened spirits. As a morale boost, we spent a night (end of day 3) in a hotel room, with even bathrobes! We woke to further drizzle so hesitantly left our comfort and geared up, but only to get lost and confused on the new road layouts. It feels as if the construction and information are not aligned with new signage up before new roads are built!
Things weren’t all negative as we had spent some amazing (free) nights camping on forest floors, river foreshores and on some hidden terraces. At times I felt like a fugitive, on the run and in hiding as we always try to go unnoticed finding a spot. “Duck”, there’s a car, someone walking pass etc. There was one night that went pear shaped, as we could not find anywhere. As night was falling we entered a small village and hills continued. Asking at a small shop if we could sleep anywhere they pointed to a building and basketball court! We have found over the course of 70 days in china that people are less helpful than other countries. If you pose a problem they do not seem to offer an alternative, where if this had happened in any of the ex soviet countries we have cycled through, we would have been taken to places, fed and sheltered instantly. So the wet (it’s still drizzling) basketball court and corner of the building were our resting place for the night. As morning broke, the chuckle of two men outside woke us as they obviously discovered us. The caretaker swept around the tent, clearing the pools of water as if this was a normal situation. A good aspect of Chinese culture and social etiquette is people are not concerned by you camping, so there has been a freedom and liberation to camping down in a multitude of places. They are pretty laid back, especially in the rural areas and our western presence brings a smile and giggle as we pass people.
The scenery again has been beautiful, forests of pines, cedar and bamboos with a splattering of enormous tropical plants. Riding along the Dulu river, has been fascinating to see the artery supply life to either side of the riverside communities as long shallow dug our boats fish and carry goods between villages. Wooden built houses perch on hillsides and colourfully intricately dressed women carry on working in their embroidered clothing. There are several styles of dress here; the rural worker that wears a full body apron (open at back) and half sleeve covers to the more old style communist working wearing a blue scheme from cap, coat and trousers. Then there are the ethnic minority’s (which we heard there are approx 56 different groups in China) who continue to work in their fine detailed costumes with high viz waistcoats (if working on roadsides). Then you have the casual dress as we all know.
Cycling this part of China dogs are free and all seem of a similar breed, well looked after and very relaxed. Which we are pleased to report as we had written earlier about the poor health of dogs in another region.
On day 8 of the ride we came across several hurdles consisting of road works and closures. This became more serious as at several points the road was partially closed as they laid more soil and hardcore but we could squeeze our bikes through. Until we reached a point where the road was closed and we were told we had to go back and do a loop around of approx 100km to get back on the road (10km away). We were tired and the thought of doing extra did not sit well. We somehow persuaded the man in charge to allow us through. It could have been the stress on our faces or the fact he wanted us to go away. However, the road ahead had collapsed and there was no road, just dirt, boulders and small amounts of soil and stones coming down the cliff edge. We road and pushed our bikes as quickly as possible to get out of the potential danger. This would not have happened at home, we said but we’re also thankful and lucky we were allowed through by the relaxed Chinese workers.
The appearance of rice terraces and the continued use of every inch of land to grow greens was delightful. Chinese people adore and honor their tress, land and nature. They seem to place energy and attention to the land and when you see their homes these are simple and it shows that rural people are outdoors people in this region.
Day 10, we finally arrived in Longshen the gateway to China’s famous rice terraces. We turned off to the signposted direction and began the 5km climb in search of our (pre booked) guesthouse. The guesthouse never appeared and the position of it, on both digital maps, was incorrect. We reached a hamlet as darkness fell and asked a local. They had never heard of it and said the village was 24km away! We tried phoning, no service! When we asked if there was somewhere to stay, they replied no! So we faced going further up hill or to return to the town below. Bike lights on in the freezing cold we headed back down and in the end found a hotel room, thank goodness as it was too dark and cold to camp and there seemed little camping options either.
The morning after a difficult day is always slow but the shiny sun and the blue sky gave us some good energy and positive vibes, especially after our precious coffee and cakes which is our favourite ritual. We spent the day visiting the rice terraces, not the ones we wanted to visit but the ones the minibus took us to. One hour drive up into a gorge under the shade of green forest of bamboos and we were on the top of an amazing landscape. It felt to be into a OS (ordinance Survey) map with its concentric lines marking terraces. Despite the dry season, which makes the fields empty from water it is stunning scenery. The day was pleasant and for the first time we shared a meal with Chinese tourists who spoke English.
Our final day, on the continued road, came as a relief with the prospect of rest days and Christmas celebrations were close by. The sun shone and the air was warm as we cycled through forested hills and on the quiet G321 still. The lunch stop was a treat as we ate our normal fare (eggs & tomatoes, rice and a vegetable dish) plus fried tofu. With full bellies, we began the last 45km into Guilin to be greeted by our first Chinese cyclists (in fact only cyclists in 70 days). Hellos came from behind as they saw us away off and wanted to catch us. Two young youth hostel workers from Chengdu, wearing jeans and were lightly packed where touring several provinces. It was great to cycle and chat, as it had been ages since we had communication with other cyclists. They guided us to our hostel after a couple hours and we exchanged route plans and suggested we may catch up later.
(We are now at rest in Guilin and heading to Yangshuo for Christmas before embarking on travel to Xiamen).
All photography by Jack Blake & Barbara Salvadori 2017© / All views are our own!