24 October 2009

CYCLING CHINA - Kunming to Lijiang via Shangri-La

5 October 2009 - Kunming – Unknown town - 80km - day 918

Wow, how time flies! It was defiantly time to move on. Again we followed a secondary road out of the city (bicycles banned from Expressway as usual) and headed in the direction of Dali. The road was a bit full of potholes and the going not as good as expected. I was definitely not my usual self but pushed on until we found a town to sleep for the night. Rooms are very cheap in the small places, but without frills. Ernest, as usual, went to the market – and later prepared potatoes which we ate with a fresh salad.

6 October 2009 - Unknown town to Lufeng - 38km - day 919

I felt weaker than expected; my legs just did not want to go around and around! We followed a really bad road; past more rural villages with corn hanging from balconies and rafters, etc. (some obviously had a better crop than others). With local dogs snapping at our heels we pulled into Lufeng, which was a fair-sized town, and we found good hotel accommodation in the center of the town for R50.00.

7 – 8 October 2009 - Lufeng – Chuxiong - 83km - day 920 - 921

A most scenic day on the road again, although the road was in poor condition it was an enjoyable day as we followed a narrow and steep river gorge. There were many narrow dark tunnels with broken road surface, making it rather tricky to share with trucks and other traffic. We again found cheap accommodation in the city centre (first look for the food shops, then find a room in the vicinity!). Ernest went to the market and came back with a bag full of take-away food, rice and 4 types of vegetables, all for R6.00. I felt stronger but not a 100% yet.

The next day we stayed in town and extended out Chinese visas for another month. We found a better room close to the Foreign Affairs office (a few k’s from the previous day, but close to another market area). The fact that one can buy the most delicious food on the street corner encouraged me to stay and I spent the day eating rice and various types of vegetables.

9 October 2009 - Chuxiong - Shaqiao - 61km - day 922

I felt somewhat stronger after a day of rest and good food. We set off on the bumpy road, hoping it would improve but we had no such luck. I could feel winter approaching and had to dig out the old windbreaker from the bottom of my bag. Gee, I have not used that for more than a year, maybe even longer. It’s still sweaty work up the hills but on the downhill it’s really getting a bit chilly now.

Chinese are big tea drinkers, and you will seldom see a Chinese without a jar from which they refill with water and seem to sip all day long.

10 October 2009 - Shaqiao - Xianyun - 95km - day 923

A most difficult day on the road, the road was in poor condition and very bumpy, something that tested my mental strength. Not only did we encounter steep hills but a head wind as well. We pushed on regardless and only arrived at our destination at around 5pm.

We did the usual and looked for a room around the food alleys and I had the most delicious meal of rice and veg I could have wished for. It was an early night for me as I was totally exhausted.

11 October 2009 - Xianyun – Xiaguan ( modern-day Dali City) - 71km - day 924

I was still tired in the morning and wondered how I would fair. The road started with a long mountain pass but once over the top it was a down hill run into Dali City. The road lead us past numerous small villages, where crop harvesting was in full swing and all types of conceivable grains were being dried by the road side, everything from rice, corn, chilies and beans were spread out in the sun for drying.

Although it was fairly early, and we could carry on to Old Dali, we decided to take a room and find some nice Chinese food again. We were rather disappointed as now that we were in a more touristy town the prices were much higher and the food not nearly as good as the previous days.

12 October 2009 - Old Dali – 14 km - day 925

We left Dali city at a leisurely pace as it was hardly 15km to Old Dali where we found a room at a reasonable price, just outside the walls of the old city. The Old city is very touristy with loads of tourist busses pulling in all day long. It is, however, still a relaxing and easy going village, with cobblestone streets, surrounded by a restored old wall and gates.

I could not wait to explore the alleys, shops and touristy stalls which lined the streets. There was food aplenty and just as many clothing and jewellery stalls all offering overpriced items for the bus loads of tourists (mainly locals). Many restaurants offer pizzas and western style food (which I’m not going to complain about right now).

13 & 14 October 2009 - Dali - day 926 & 927

Three days in Dali and so many pizzas later, it was definitely time to move on. I bought some warm clothes as we were heading north where I was sure it would be much colder. I also spent some money on a new pair of pants as the old ones kept on falling down. The people here are so small that the pants fit but are only three quarter length for me.

15 October 2009 - Dali – Songgui - 99km - day 928

The day started with an easy flat cycle along the lake with a bit of a tail wind. Then we had a 15km winding uphill ride which was not too bad as the road for once was in a fair condition. The scenery was great as we could look down over the deep valleys. I even spotted some snowy peaks further north and felt thankful for the warm clothes I’d bought in Dali. To our surprise we had a 12km downhill run into the village of Songgui where we found a room. A brand new hotel with all the modern fittings, snow white bedding and towels all for R60.00. So all in all a very pleasant day on the road.

It great walking out to find some food as it’s always a surprise what ones going to find. The typical street-side restaurant will display all the ingredients, so one can just point to it and they will cook it up for you, and of cause usually served with rice (and sometimes a choice of noodles).

16 - 18 October 2009 - Songgui – Lijiang - 74km - day 929 - 931

Again the weather was perfect for cycling, sunny, cloudless skies, (even a bit of a tailwind) what a pleasure. Even the road was in good condition. The scenery was again outstanding as we cycled up and down hills past rural villages. (Darn, those hills are steep!).

At lunch time we stopped for a bit to eat (rice, with side servings of beans and cabbage all fried up in a wok) and with full bellies we set off up the next mountain pass.

We reached the old city of Lijiang in good time and managed to find a room in the narrow cobbled stone streets of the old city.

The next two days were spent exploring the old city, getting lost and eventually finding our way back to the popular budget Ma Ma’s Naxi Guest House again.

Ma Ma’s is a great get place to hang out, besides the cozy courtyard, mamma looks after every guest and fed us fruit and copious amounts of tea (all for free).

I decided to play backpacker/tourist for a few days and to take the bus North to the highland town of Shangri-La (formerly Zhongdian) and from there back to do the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike. I felt the need to do something different from cycling, eating, and sleeping day after day.

19 October 2009 - Lijiang to Shangri-La (by bus) - day 932

Ernest decided to join me on the bus to Shangri-La but with his bike, so he could cycle back instead of going to the gorge to do the hike. I was all excited to get on the bus as this was quite a novel thing for us to do. The bus left the town and in no time headed up the first hill and one could see Lijiang far below us. The bus snaked up and down steep mountains and for once I was thankful not to be on the bike.

After more than 4 hours we reached Shangri-La and at an altitude of 3300m it was bitterly cold (1000 m above Lijiang). Definitely not my “Shangri-La”. Well the place is fairly touristy and in my opinion not a Shangri-La at all (although there is an Old Town area with a strong Tibetan influence).

20 October 2009 - Shangri-La - day 933

It was really hard getting up and out of our warm beds, but eventually we braved the weather and headed for the square were we could found local BaBa (fried flatbread served with chillies). Just around the corner from the square we also found the ever present steamed rice dumplings, but this time not with meat inside but veggies or mushrooms, so I was in seventh heaven and ate a whole bag full.

We wondered around the old town, along narrow alleys and cobble-stone streets, dodging hordes of Chinese tourists. We tried going to the nearby monastery but the entrance fee was so steep that we gave it a miss, and rather went back to town and walked up the hill to the picturesque temple overlooking the old town.

21 October 2009 - Shangri La – Qiaotou - day 934

We were reluctant to leave our warm beds and it was late in the morning before I eventually donned my little backpack and headed for the bus station and Qiaotou. The bus took app. 2 hours to reach Qiaotou and once there I first wandered around the small town before heading for Tiger Leaping Gorge. The entrance fee to the gorge was 50 Yuan and once past the ticket office the signs for the High Trial were clearly visible, as all the Guest Houses on the trial advertise themselves on large stones along the way. I started the walk fairly late in the day but reached the first Inn after about an hour and a half. Right from the start the views were exceptional and I felt extremely happy and privileged to just be on the trail.

According to my brochure it was a 3 hour trek to the next Inn so I decided to stay at Naxi Family Guest House for the night. The Guest House is a traditional Naxi home run by a very friendly Naxi family. The rooms had excellent views and were very comfortable and even came complete with electric blankets.

22 October 2009 - Tiger Leaping Gorge - Naxi Family Guest House – Tina’s Guest House - day 935

I woke up to excellent views of Jade Dragon Mountain from my bedroom. At a leisurely pace I had breakfast consisting of a plate of fried noodles and veggies as well as a walnut pancake. By 9h00 I was ready to start the walk and just ambled along the path with high mountains on both sides of the trial and the river far below. I walked past small villages high up in the mountain, where people were going about their daily chores, feeding their livestock and collecting wood for the fast approaching winter.

Every now and again I came upon a lodge where I could stop and have a cup of tea, which is always provided free of charge.

Further along the path I came across high waterfalls spilling over the path and had to be careful not to be washed away over the edge. With a sigh of relief I made it across and continued along the path. The views of the gorge with the river far below were excellent. In no time I reached Tina’s Guest House, which is located at the junction with the road and as there was a bus leaving for Lijiang, I hopped on and found myself back in Lijiang at around 21h00. Ernest had arrived a couple of hours before me.

23 October 2009 - Lijiang - day 936

I could not wait to head for the BaBa and fried potato-stand down the alley, all very oily and greasy, but yummy. I spent the day lazing in the sun, eating and chatting to other travelers. I have defintely picked up the weight that I had lost before Kunming after my illness and I’m feeling strong and healthy again (thanks to the fried babas and all the fried potatoes).

I love China, especially the fact that there are so many ethnic groups, all still with their own customs. Besides the Han majority, in the South-East there are regional minorities such as the Dai, Bai, Naxi, Yi, Mosu, etc., who all differ not only in looks, but also in architecture, food, clothing and customs. Many of the places where we’ve stayed are part of the family home and one gets a peep into their daily family life. The restaurant area is normally where the family eat, watch TV, kids play and pets laze about.

Just as I find something really nice to eat, it totally disappears as one moves into another area and one finds totally different food. We are now around the lake where there is, obviously, a lot of fish. Small pigs are also being barbecued on a spit around every corner. Here one sits at a low table with wire mesh in the middle and coals underneath, so one can “braai” your own food, all provided half cooked in individual dishes.

24 October 2009
Lijiang- day 937

Instead of heading off we spent another lazy day at Ma Ma’s Naxi Guest House. This was such a relaxing place. I sat talking to other travelers in the courtyard, while being constantly fed fruit and tea by Mama - obviously in charge and constantly busy organizing lifts to the bus station, or train, bus and plane tickets for travelers (while Baba does the driving or dozes in front of the TV).

It’s amazing that Lijiang is such a nice place to hang out, given that it is immensely touristy. I loved the fact that I was not constantly being stared at (something that I get a bit tired off in the countryside) at least in Lijiang there are thousands of tourists (albeit mostly Chinese) and one can just blend in and feel half normal.

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