Archive for May, 2011
Day 21: China, Yongping to Douge
Distance – 92km, Riding time – 8 hrs 20 minutes
After an early start to the morning in Yongping we head to the local market for a quick breakfast of red bean steamed buns, banana, fried dough, and fresh warm soy milk. Necessary calories for the long day ahead and delicious! Our presence in small towns such as Yongping causes quite the stir and we’re still adjusting to eating while 20 or more spectators watch, point, laugh, and occasionally inspect our bicycles or ask us questions in Chinese. Personally I attribute the attention to Abi’s new hair do, striking strawberry blonde with shaved sides..I’m not sure too many rural Yunnanese have seen the likes of this style.
The cycling starts off beautifully, perfect temperatures, clear smooth tarmac, and hardly any vehicles in sight. From our map we know we are gradually descending back down to the Mekong for the 3rd time of the trip. But the focus is on enjoying the moment, despite knowing once again we are only sailing down hill to crawl back up.
Eventually we begin reaching overpasses which are all under construction. Initially we walk our bikes across, but then that becomes impossible and we are forced to join other cars and trucks on the unfinished dirt road detours to the side of each overpass. Every time we get some momentum on the slight downhill, another detour pops up, both daunting and frustrating.
As we approach a big gorge, we are instructed by a passing trucker once again to take the detour. This one leads sharply downhill and we follow the soft packed dirt road uneasily, wondering if we have made a wrong turn somewhere along the way. The view clears and we see the bright blue green Mekong flowing below, the highway bridge is under construction hundreds of feet above us in the sky. A bit discouraged by the insanely dusty road we’ve found ourselves on and with no shops in sight, we decide to stop for a bit of lunch from our food stashes before beginning the arduous ascent.
Huge trucks begin practically squeezing us off the narrowing dirt road and I realize it is 4 o’clock, the least ideal time to be cycling on Chinese roads due to rush hour. We stop in for a cold drink at the first sight of a road side shop. Unfortunately no one here recognizes the name of the town when we ask how far it is to our destination for the night. Not a good sign. The only thing worse than cycling up unpaved roads with large trucks blowing toxic fumes directly into your lungs is this situation compounded with not knowing if you are actually going in the right direction! We consult the map again, no, this has to be right. “Slog on”, Abi’s two word statement sums it up.
Finally after 2 hours of steep climbing, and confirmation from a local that we are headed in the right direction, a town appears. Since the road signs are often only in Chinese, and our map only shows smaller city names in English, we have to rely on asking people along the way to make sure we are still on track. (We learned this the hard way after traveling 50km in the wrong direction a few days ago.) Abi asked a group of construction workers once again for our destination, this time we are greeted by an enthusiastic thumbs up. Yes, Douge, ahead 8 more kilometers.
I began cycling ahead, excited, exhausted, hungry and getting cold as the road is at an incline once again. It’s 6pm and we’ve cycled a tough 82 km already. The scenery changes and becomes more mountainous, a river runs beside us and pine trees accompany the rocky slopes ahead. The area seems desolate. Is there really a town coming up?
We come across a few men overlooking some more construction and ask them. Shit, they don’t have a clue what town we are speaking of. Is it our mispronunciation of the town’s name? Regardless we decide our only option is cycling on, cycling through it. Several times over on this trip already I’ve come to this same conclusion, sometimes the only way forward is through the challenges and uncertainty ahead, it seems an excellent metaphor for life. If the town doesn’t come up within the next 6 km’s we decide we’ll camp here in the woods. It’s isolated enough, beautiful, and we’ve got just enough food and water we can filter for drinking.
As darkness edges in I turn on my bike light and try to relax into the state of unknowingness. At this moment I’m particularly grateful to not be cycling alone. Thankfully as we approach the 90km mark, lights suddenly appear in the distance. We finally reach what looks to be a mining or industrial town. Thick smoke hangs in the air creating vague shadows and an eerie feel to the town which seems to be on it’s way to sleep. We catch glimpses of half-lit faces as doors close to compounds. Down a small dimly lit alley we spot an old woman sitting in the window of her shop. We buy two Cokes. She tries to give us a third, but we’ve caught onto the scheme of getting more than we want and no change. Abi gestures once again for the change and eventually we get the money and continue on our way.
We’re directed ahead to a crossroads. After a brief chat (half in Chinese, half gesturing) with a police man, we understand our options to be either cycling ahead 10 more kilometers or walking down the street a bit and inquiring at what looks to be a restaurant. Given our state of exhaustion and not having eaten a proper meal all day we quickly agree upon the latter option.
Our room is decent enough and cheap. Hot food is on the way. A loud group of drunk Chinese men fill the room with chatter, but we’ve arrived. Home for the night, the air is cold, smoke gently sweeps into the restaurant. After the meal and a shower I drift to sleep listening to the rain pound the shingles and not so distant thunder crackling in the sky, thankful for the roof over my head and a night of rest.
I caught my first glimpse of Dali from a height of 7800 feet, finally I felt like what I was doing was real. This had always been an important milestone for me on this trip, like “once I get to Dali, I can put everything into perspective, breathe and asses the next leg of the trip.” So now I have arrived and here are some of the photos from the day of arrival and the day off the bike.
Many of the signs aren’t in English so I try to memorize the Chinese characters or I have to stop and hold the map up to the sign and check that they match up. It can be surprisingly difficult if the fonts are different or if there is a slight difference in spelling.
We managed to get into the Ancient City of Dali just before dark and have some dinner before asking around for a good, bike-friendly youth hostel. We were directed to one about 700 metres away and it was almost 10pm before we got checked in with the bikes safely locked up and all luggage up the 3 flights of stairs to our room. Exhausted!
All rested up and off to Lijiang we go!