04 October 2009

CYCLING CHINA - Mengla to Kunming

14 September 2009
Lao Border - Mengla - 72km
- day 897

It was a short 20km ride up a moderate hill to the border. Then a very easy border crossing, since we had our visas. Once across the border I draw some money at the local ATM, which was more guess work than anything else as it never really gave me an option for English. In the end it spat out some money and we were on our way again.

We found ourselves on a brand new highway with bridges and tunnels through a very scenic country side. My bike seemed to be giving problems again and it became increasingly difficult to turn the peddles. I felt sick and weak with a stomach problem, but fortunately it was a downhill ride into the first town in China. China is nothing what I had expected. The first town was modern and not very “Chinese” whatever that may mean. I was extremely relieved to find a room and just lay down. I had a fever and lay shivering under a blanket for the rest of the night.

16 September Mengla

We spend the day in Mengla to have a rest and check things out a bit, get a new sim card etc, etc. Good thing I draw some money at the border as there seemed to be no ATMs accepting Visa or MasterCard. I found a sim card but was still unable to phone, although it appeared that I could send a text message. It also appeared that one could not access Facebook in the Province of Yunnan. It could be due to the recent political unrest in the province or maybe Facebook is just blocked in the entire China. Blog sites are also blocked but at least there is a way around that.

Ernest worked on my bike again and hopefully it would peddle a bit more freely than before. He was also brave enough to shop for meat at the local market. Noodles could be found in all shapes and sizes and rice was of cause plentiful.

16 September 2009 - Mengla (Meng La)- Menglun - 75km - day 899

After a very slow start we left at about 10h00 and cycled along the brand new highway. Ernest had another flat tyre but he’s so good at fixing it by now that it only took a few minutes before we were on our way again.

We past a small village and decided to have some lunch. We sat down at a roadside table and were brought some sticky rice and various other dishes of unknown origin (including chicken feet soup and pigs ears stew). It was delicious and after we had our fill, we tried to pay but the owner did not want to accept any payment. We were wondering if it was actually a restaurant or just someone’s home!!?? One thing is for sure, we have left the world of bread and coffee.

We found a room in Menglun just minutes before a heavy thunder storm came down.

17 September 2009 - Menglun - Jinghong - 75km - day 900

A short, scenic and easy ride into Jinhong along the Mekong River. After a few km we turned of the highway and onto a much smaller road, past small villages. We also met 2 other cyclists from Austria who has been cycling for 9 months all the way from Austria and who will end their journey in Malaysia. We chatted for a while and then we were on our respective ways again.

We reached our first big town in China, and found it to be a modern and busy city. Although it looks very European the big difference is that absolutely everything is written in Chinese, making it rather difficult to find a hotel. Very few people speak English which adds to the confusion.

Ernest and I took different rooms and I had a peaceful and quiet evening, wondering around the night market and nibbling on street food.

18 September - Jinghong - day 901

I spent the entire morning looking for a bookshop to find a book about China and a road map. All invane, as the only maps I could find were in Chinese which does not help me a hell of a lot. This is obviously not a tourist place as the whole day I did not see a single foreigner (or Ernest) and by the way the curious locals stare at me I guess not many “long noses” come here. Ha, ha not that I can be described as a long nose!!

I’m intrigued by the food as there are just the most interesting eats to be found. One I like is dried, spicy mushrooms which one can eat like biltong, or mix in with the noodles. Pig’s nose and ear salad is also very popular. Bread and cheese is unheard of here so it’s local food or nothing.

19 September 2009 - Jinghong – Puwen - 105km - day 902

Ernest never showed up again, so by 09h00 I decided to leave, as I was not sure if he was still in town or had already left. I followed the highway as I had no map or any other info about China. After 20km the police kicked me off the highway and I followed a small secondary road, through tea plantations and rice paddies. The road hugged a nature reserve for most of the way so it was an extremely scenic ride, even although I had no idea where I was going.

Most of the day was uphill and very slow going. By 5 o’clock I found the small village of Puwen which fortunately had basic rooms available where I could stay for the night. I lay in my room listening to the sounds of the village, an old man wailing in the back yard, chicks chirping, children laughing and not long one crying, this could be anywhere.

October 1 is China’s National day. They celebrated the 60th anniversary of the PRC. So all that was on TV was the preparation for the week long festival, and pro China documentaries and speeches.

20 September 2009 - Puwen – unknown town - 90km - day 903

Without a map and with no means to read the road signs all I could do was follow the road. From time to time I checked if this was the road to Kunming, but in most cases they just stared at me. I’ll have to get used to people staring, this is only day 5 in China and it’s already getting at me.

There is not an inch of flat land in this country, I peddled up hills all day long and eventually arrived in a fairly large city. After finding a room and rinsing my cycling clothes (very nice room with TV etc, etc) I decided to go to the local supermarket. I was stared at in silenced all the way their and back. While shopping, my every move was watched and every item I put in the basked discussed. Arriving back at the hotel, the bag was eyed with great curiosity.

The hotel staff was very helpful and I managed to get the message through that I was looking for a road map. A few minutes later the lady arrived with a map of the province, all in Chinese, so I still had no idea what the name of the city was. It was, however, better than nothing and at least showed cities and towns along the way.

21 September Unknown town - unknown town 80km

With map in hand, I set off, up and over the mountains again. The km on the map and the distance I cycled just did not add up. I tried to compare the squiggles on the map to the squiggles on the road signs but to no avail. On top of a mountain I found a small village with rooms to let. It was only 15h00 but according to my estimates it was at best another 45km to the next big town and over yet another mountain pass. The fact that the faded sign board indicated 71km made me stay put.

The room was very basic but what can one expect for R10 rand, used condoms and cigarette butts covered the floor, I just kicked them to one side and settled in.

22 September 2009 Unknown town - MoJiang - day 905

Early morning I was ready to leave and found another cyclist who arrived late the night before. He was a local guy who is cycling around Yunnan Province. We cycled together for the rest of the day. I did not feel very well and seemed to be plagued with stomach problems.

It was however nice to have some company and to see that I’m not the only one going at snails paste up the long winding mountain passes. We stopped regularly to admire the views and speak to the locals. On top of our last mountain pass we were offered tea by a local lady, we sat in her humble home enjoying tea and cucumber which is dipped in chilly powder. On our long downhill run into the city of MoJiang my cycling partner had a flat tyre and waved me on. I arrived in the city of MoJiang and found the city fairly large and very modern. My hotel room was reasonably priced and very modern, but no internet.

I was sick all night with stomach problems and decided to stay in bed the following day.

The next day I stayed in bed just leaving to see if I can find an internet. I found an internet cafĂ© where hundreds of Chinese were sitting playing computer games. I could not use the internet as it appeared that I needed a prepaid card for that purpose. From the hand signals I also understood that they could not sell me one, how strange. I’ll have to find out how it works. Shops along the street were however happy to let you use their computers without a cost.

24 September 2009 MoJiang- Xingcheng 75km - day 907

I woke and felt slightly better than the previous days. Although not 100% and feeling rather weak from lack of food I decided to move on. It was probability not the best decision. I could hardly get up the first hill out of town. I was creeping along with thousands of flies buzzing around my head, getting into my ears and nose! Someone up there must have been looking after me, as after the first hill it was virtually a downhill run into the next big city. The road was rather bumpy and although it made the downhill rather slow it was better than going up. I was so relieved that I booked into the first hotel I spotted.

I managed to make some plain noodles just adding salt and hoping I could keep it down. At this rate its going to take me a long time to get to Kunming City.

25 September 2009 - Xingcheng – Yang Wu- 60km - day 908

Every morning I wake up, convinced that I feel better than the day before, but as soon as I eat or drink something, it comes straight out again. Nevertheless I got on the bike and set off up the mountain pass. 35km of climbing took me 4 hours and left me totally exhausted. I realized that I would never make the next big town and that I just not have the energy to do it. At lunch time I found the first room I could get and probably the worse room imaginable but I was in no condition to argue and just went to lay down, surely by the next day I must feel better. I still could not eat anything and even drinking water left me feeling nauseas. Staying without food and water is not a solution as that’s what I need most. It must have counted as one of the worse cycling days to date.

A strange set of circumstances played out as after a few hours, the lady of the house woke me up to say that the bus will be there in 30 min. This was probability not a place to stay overnight but maybe just a rest stop where people wait for the bus. I did not argue and packed my back. She walk me all the way to the highway where the bus stops and waved it down. (Maybe they just did not want foreigners to stay over). At least the bus took me to the next big town about 65km further down the road. Once there I found a rather nice hotel and stayed for the night.

26 September 2009 - Eshan - day 909

I spent the day in Eshan to see if I could feel any better. I tried in vain again to do the internet, but at least found a supermarket and a ATM.

27/28 September 2009 - Eshan to Kunming - day 910 & 911

On the morning of the 27th I woke feeling even more nauseous and this time with a sore throat and snotty nose. There and then I decided to take the bus to Kunming, hopefully there I’ll be able to find a chemist that can understand English. The ride to Kunming was much shorter than expected and less than 100km and at a fee of R30.00 I thought it very reasonable. Once in Kunming I found the city much larger than expected, with flyovers, highways and extremely heavy traffic. After what felt like ages I found the place I was looking for. A very nice backpacker’s hostel with all the facilities one can wish for (free internet, Wi-Fi, restaurant and laundry) - now that’s my kind of place. I took a room in one of the dorms which were spotless with white linen and all.

I spent the following day wondering around all the fancy shops, supermarkets and excellent outdoor stores. Parks are plentiful and real havens, especially early morning when elderly ladies are doing their exercises in the park to local music.

29 September - 4 October 2009 - Kunming - day 912 - 917

The Cloudland Hostel is a great get-together for all and I met some real nice people, I took a walk with Zoe to Green Lake Park, the 1000 year old Yuantong Tempe and we had a bit to eat at an excellent vegetarian restaurant. Arriving back I found Ernest already booked in at the Hostel. I was kind of pleased to hear that it was not just me who took for ever to arrive at Kunming, and who found the road extremely difficult.

I was still suffering from severe stomach cramps and an extremely bloated stomach; I was rather listless and quite desperate to feel better. I found it impossible to eat anything at all. This condition carried on for the next 5 days. I felt more and more weak and was only able to eat very small bits at a time. By that time I had lost so much weight it was scary – I only weigh 48kg.

In the meantime there was more than enough drama to keep me occupied. Two of the lockers in Ernest’s dormitory were broken into and with him being the only other person there he was suspect number one. Fortunately the one guy’s alleged stolen goods were recovered in his locker, and together with a whole list of other circumstances, he became the prime suspect and Ernest was cleared. However, he is still a witness and had to provide lengthy statements to the police – hopefully we’ll be allowed to leave.

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