19 November 2009

CYCLING CHINA - Lugu Lake to Leshan

31 October 2009 - Wuzhiluo – Yanyuan - 124km- day 944

I was ever so sorry to leave the lake but China is a big place and there was so much still to see. We set off down the valley following the flow of the river and had a stunning ride through the gorge. Unfortunately this also came to and end and we started climbing out of the valley for the next 80km.

Although my legs were tired it was a most stunning ride, once again past small villages, rivers and waterfalls. What can I say, this is a beautiful country. I was however more than happy to reach YanYuan, find a room and have a shower.

Ernest and I walked out and found a restaurant where once again we could go into the kitchen and point out what ingredients you would like them to prepare. So with a bag full of food we returned to our room and that was me for the night.

1 November 2009 - Yanyuan – Yalong River - 77km- day 945

Once we left the town we immediately started climbing up the mountain (this must be the most mountainous country I’ve been to). It was a long climb up to 3200 meters but that was not the biggest problem, we cycled into a freezing head wind threatening to blow me over the edge of the mountain. I found it fairly nerve-racking as there was no railing, just a sheer drop down into the valley.

Once we reached the top there was however a 45km downhill was and we raced down the mountain in bitterly cold weather to 1200m - descending 2000 meters in the process!! Halfway down we stopped at a small place for a bite to eat, just to get some warmth in our bodies, and then we continued down until we reached the Yalong River.

Once I noticed how the road climbed again after the river bridge, I thought it a good idea to find a room and rather continue up the mountain in the morning (conveniently there was a small hotel shortly after we’d crossed the bridge). We had some good noodles for supper, which we cooked in the room.

2 November 2009 - Yalong River – Xichang - 79km - day 946

We left the river and immediately started climbing up the mountain pass. The going was extremely slow as we climbed and climbed. Every now and then we viewed the river from higher and higher altitudes, also magnificent views of terraced villages which seem to have no link to the outside world except via the river. Eventually we reached the top of the pass after Ernest had 3 flat tires.

At least the route from the mountain top was mostly downhill to the city of Xichang. We arrived rather late, cold and hungry as we had not eaten since the previous evening, except for a few sweets which I still had in my bag.

It was after dark before we found a suitable room, then Ernest was off to the food shops and returned with fried rice dish, noodle soup and dumplings. At least there is not a room to be had that will not automatically come with a flask of hot water and tea, so before I even had a shower, I sat down and had some tea, which I had now also taken to carrying with me on the road.

3 November 2009 - Xichang - day - 947

We slept late before we headed out to the nearest dumpling and rice bun stall for breakfast. The street food is so cheap and delicious that one can just not get enough of it. After doing some long overdue laundry we went to the local PSB for our visa renewal. It was so easy and the people so friendly and helpful that it is nothing like what I have expected. The extension was processed while we waited, and I got the feeling that if we’d asked for more than another month it may have been granted.Buddhist.

4 November 2009 Xichang – Mountain Camp - 47km - day 948

We left rather late at 11h00 as the next place we spotted on the map looked about 65km away so we reckoned there was no rush. We had, however, a bit of a surprise waiting for us as the road led us up jet another mountain pass.

We crawled along and as we climbed higher and higher it became increasingly colder. By the end of the day we had still not reached our destination and were freezing cold, so we decided to camp along the road. We found a small roadside restaurant where we camped for the night (at least there was water and a basic toilet). It was bitterly cold as we set up camp at above 3100 meters, cooked our food and crawled into our tents.

5 November 2009 Mountain camp – Unknown town - 85km - day 949

We stayed tucked in our sleeping bags until the ice on our tents melted, and then slowly crawled out and defrosted ourselves in the morning sun. At least it turned out that we were almost at the top of the pass, as shortly after we left we started descending down the mountain.

It was a most interesting day past rural villages, with pigs, goats and chickens munching on garbage along the road. We cycled along rivers with high waterfalls, where the mountainsides were thick with ferns and moss. Every now and again we came upon villagers herding their goats along to better pastures. Eventually we reached a small village at a junction in the road, where we found a very basic room for the night. Kids were staring in absolute amazement at this spectacle coming along. We were no doubt the topic of conversation as we unloaded our heavy bikes and carted our bags up the stairs to the room. Our every step was watched as we went to the shop to get some stuff to eat.

6 November 2009 - Unknown town – road side camp - 93km - day 950

Under close scrutiny we loaded up our bikes, waved good-bye to the on-lookers and took a fairly obscure road, which followed the river in the direction of Leibo. Although it was mostly downhill, the road was in such poor condition that the going was fairly slow again. It was, however, so stunning that we made little headway as we stopped every couple of kilometers to admire the view. The gorge became deeper and steeper as we followed the river. As we dropped down into the Jinsha river valley it became warmer, but a heavy mist/fog/dust engulfed the whole area. There were plenty villages along the river, none of which I’m sure, has ever seen Western tourist. It was Friday and obviously market day. We spotted plenty of villagers with loaded horses, and others carrying large baskets on their backs loaded with everything from noodles to plastic basins - all on their way back to their mountainside villages.

As usual there was a surprise waiting for us at the end of the day! Suddenly our downhill ride came to an end, and the road left the gorge and snaked up the mountainside to the next big town (Leibo). This is orange country and all along the road there were orange orchards with locals selling oranges along the way. At least this part of the road looked brand new, which made the going a bit easier. As it was already late and as light was fading fast we camped next to the road at a truck stop (to great amusement of the locals). We were given bottled water, bananas and of course, a flask of hot water while they pulled up chairs to sit and watched us pitch our tens.

7 November 2009 - Road side camp – Leibo - 7km - day 950

We woke to a thick mist and could hardly see the river in the gorge way below. It was a short but very steep ride up the hill where we found Leibo to be a fairly large town. We spoiled ourselves and took a luxury room (by our standards), had a much needed shower, did some laundry and stocked up with some supplies again. Ernest spent the day fixing punctured tubes, spraying the bikes down (with the hotel fire-hose), and sampling the local brew. All I did was to fill my stomach with the local food, from fried noodles, steamed buns to fried potatoes, all served with chilies and soya sauce. The food was so tasty that I just could not stop eating (it must be the large quantities of MSG that they put in everything).

8 November 2009 - Leibo – Ma Hu - 50km - day 951

We reckoned that we were on top of the mountain so were looking forward to a good downhill. Surprise, surprise!!! The road continued up and up to a devastating height with small villages clinging to the cliffside, barely visible though the thick mist. Toothless old women sat on their haunches, smoking thin long stemmed pipes, wrapped in cloaks of blanket-like material.

A heavy mist hung over the whole area and we could hardly see the valley floor or the top of the mountain, which was maybe a good thing. It’s best not to see where the road was to lead us. We even spotted some kids with their go-carts flying down the hill.

After climbing for 33 km we were over the pass we encountered the long awaited downhill. We flew down the mountain for the next 20km and landed in a small village with good food and friendly people. We booked into a basic room, and then went looking for food. We found steamed buns, fried potatoes, grilled vegetables and loads of rice. It felt that the entire village was following us as we strolled from shop to shop. Each shop owner was eager for us to come and have a look what he had to offer.

9 November 2009 - Ma Hu – Bridge junction town - 58 km - day 952

We woke to a misty morning again and prepared ourselves for another day of climbing over high mountains. Instead we were pleasantly surprised as the road carried on even further down the mountain. Leibo Lake popped up out of the mist and it was a pleasant ride along the misty shore of the lake. The road lead us even further down the pass until we reached the Jinsha river again. Up to there the road had been good, but once along the river the road deteriorated again. Fortunately, however, it was not long before we found ourselves on a brand new highway running along the Cliffside way above the river, consisting mainly of tunnels and bridges (the Chinese surely do things on a grand scale).

We reached a junction town where the highway ended (construction of a huge bridge which dwarfed the town was still in progress). It was still fairly early, but the town was quite big and it looked like a good place to spend the night. This is clearly not a touristy area as hotel staff become extremely shy, giggle and push one another forward to deal with the strange Westerners.

By the time we’d negotiated for a room, half the town had gathered around us, all trying to help with the bikes and jabbering on in Chinese. The strangest thing is that when they realize that you don’t speak Chinese they painstakingly write it down (in Chinese). Now, what are the chances that if you don’t understand it, you will be able to read Chinese characters?

10 November 2009 - Bridge junction town - Shuifu - 90km - day 953

What a confusing day. With the poor visibility and our inadequate maps it continuously felt as though we were heading back in the direction we’d just come from. But, with the aid of Ernest’s GPS, as well as everyone along the way pointing us in the same direction, we managed to keep going. In the process we crossed the Jinsha river onto the Junnan province side (totally unexpected, as the map didn’t indicate as much). Most of the day we cycled along a very dusty road, and the dusty conditions were made worse by a lot of quarries and construction at many places along the river.

By late afternoon we were starting to look out for a suitable camp site. At one stage the road passed through a long tunnel, and on the other side a big surprise awaited us. Suddenly we were in a rather large town with skyscrapers and all – we’d expected Shuifu to be much smaller and still about 30 k’s down the road. However, we were dusty and sweaty and in great need of a shower, so we booked into the first convenient room.

11 November 2009 - Shuifu – Yibin - 22 km - day 954

We left Shuifu city and were elated to find a brand new highway heading in the direction of Yibin. We didn’t know how far we’d have to go, but after a few k’s we were glad to see a sign indicating that there was only about 30 km left to Yibin - much closer than we’d expected! This joy, however, did not last very long as about half-way we had to pass a toll-gate where we were kicked off the highway. There the police had a bit of a problem as they could not send as back on the highway, and there was no exit to an alternative route. So, they phoned for a vehicle to come from Yibin, load us up, and drop us off at the exit to the city (a round trip of about 40 km!).

We cycled into Yibin, a fairly big modern city with many new buildings. We had some difficulty finding a room, as it seemed that the cheaper local hotels did not cater for foreiners (I’ve since heard that the problem may be related to the fact that they can’t read our passports). They are, however, so friendly that people from one place phoned ahead and then walked us a few blocks to a hotel which accepted foreigners. This city is where the Min- and Jinsha rivers merge to form the Yangzi. We walked the short distance to this major confluence, but the visibility was too poor to see anything. We did, however find a lot of tasty food in the market alleys, with which we filled our stomachs.

12 November 2009 - Yibin - day 955

During the night the weather changed, and we awoke to a cold and rainy morning. We stayed tucked into bed until it was time to go for breakfast (a great buffet included in the room price). It was nice not having to pack up and load the bikes in that weather, and instead just to have a lazy day. The rain had cleared the air and visibility was much better than on the previous days, so we went down to the rivers again and at least managed to take some photo’s.

At first I thought Yibin to be a rather soulless city but the more I walked through the allies the more interesting it became. The allies were lined with dumpling and noodle stalls. Portable barbeques selling skewers of veggies, tofu and meat were everywhere and of course the ever present tea-eggs (boiled eggs soaked in tea and soy sauce).

I tried to improve my appearance by colouring my hair, but it all went horribly wrong as it came out bright orange! That’s what happens if you can’t read Chinese. Eeeek, that was not the color on the box. Maybe a good thing I did not find that hair removal cream I was looking for, I could be totally legless by now.

13 November 2009 - Yibin – Zigong - 107km - day 956

Hallelujah, at last a day without a mountain pass, the road was mostly in a good condition and the weather mild, what more can I ask for? We cycled past densely bamboo areas and typical Chinese cities, where the old city still lines the river bank and a new modern city rises up directly behind it.

We arrived in Zigong as the sun was setting, and found Zigong also to be a much larger city than expected. After searching around in the dark for a while we found a fair enough room. Later we walked out in search of food, but this was not as simple as it had been in Yibin (every place tends to have different specialities, and we were also probably not in the ideal area for good eats). The take-aways which we took back to the room contained mostly meat, so at least one of us went to bed with a full stomach.

We decided to stay in Zigong the following day, as there were reportedly a number of interesting sites to see in the city.

15 November - Zigong - day 958

With the freezing cold weather setting in, we decided to stay on in Zigong one more day. As we’ve already walked around town the previous day, the only thing to do was to explore the museums in the area. After a breakfast of steamed rice buns and hot soya milk we took a taxi in the rain to the Dinosaur Museum outside the city, which I found quite impressive. More than a 100 dinosaur skeletons were uncovered here (apparently washed down by a flood and then covered by silt at this spot). It’s their sheer size that impressed me, and to think that they lay buried here for 160 million years!! Difficult to get one’s head around such a time span.

We also visited the Salt History Museum in the city, which was not as impressive, but the building in which it’s housed was absolutely fantastic. With interesting nooks and crannies it was a most impressive old Chinese building. The building was constructed in 1736 by one of the salt merchants of the time.

16 November 2009 - Zigong - Rongxian - 48km - day 959

It was a freezing cold, rainy and windy morning as we packed up and left Zigong. Now, my friends from the frozen North may think, what is this women on about, it’s only 3 degrees C? I’m sure that my friends in South Africa, however, will agree that, that is darn cold! I’m just such a baby when it comes to the cold weather (as Ernest keeps on reminding me).

We only cycled a short distance before we came across another large town. Ernest’s gear cable broke just as we entered the town and that was more than enough reason for us to find a room and have a hot shower. Why pass a perfectly good town with hotels and restaurants, when you’ve long forgotten that you have fingers, toes, or a nose?

After a steaming bowl of noodle soup I got into the wooden spa-like tub in the room and stayed indoors for the rest of the evening.

17 November 2009 - Rongxian – Leshan - 92km - day 960

The people in China are so sweet and polite, jut as we were packing up to leave, the hotel staff presented us with a neatly written note, stating that the weather is unusually cold and that we should dress warmly and eat the apples which they gave us.

Although it was freezing cold at least it was not raining. The road was good and we cycled past temples, pagodas, rivers and valleys until we reached the town of Leshan, know for its Grand Buddha, which I was keen to get a glimpse of. Once again I was stuck by the friendliness and honesty of the people, as we cycled into town. Cycle rickshaw drivers were keen to show us to a popular budget hotel (in other places this is normally done at a fee). Once there, Ernest offered to pay the rickshaw driver, but he refused to accept any money, and just waited to see that we were happy with the room before quietly leaving.

18 November 2009 - Leshan - day 961

There’s nothing like a Snickers Bar and a cup of coffee for breakfast! We stayed tucked in until fairly late. Our room was not particularly cheap, but at least it came with a bathtub, air-con (which did not really work) and Wi-Fi. I was, however, still freezing cold every time I stuck my nose out the door so I invested in a half length padded coat, to keep the worst of the cold at bay. Where I was going to pack it on the bike was a bit of a mystery.

After donning my new purchase we set off to the sight-seeing ferry for a view of the Grand Buddha. Although it was a rather expensive and touristy trip (us and a lot of frozen Chinese tourists), it was worthwhile as it is the only way to see the total statue at once. Carved out of the riverside cliff in AD 713 it took 90 years to complete the job. At 71 meters high, with 7 meter ears and big toes of 8.5 meters long it’s quite an impressive sight. century.  At 233 feet high, it is one of the largest images of the Buddha in the world.

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