Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Day 151 - cycling from Zhongdian to Waka

Start: Zhongdian, Yunnan, China
End: Waka, Sichuan province, China
Distance: 82 km
Time: 5'18"
Avg: 15.4 k/h
Max: 48 k/h
Total: 9035 km
Total riding days: 99
Riding hours: 1055 - 1740

The ride goes north out of Zhongdian on the G214, out past the nearly-dry lake, up to a pass perhaps 250 metres above Zhongdian after 17 km, up in the sweet-smelling pine forests, and then a huge 2-step descent, the first through hulking desert-dry mountains and the second into a rivered valley-gorge with a few patches of green among the dead-brown.

Just before the bridge over the turquoise Yangtze/Jinshajiang, I turn up a rocky dirt road to the right, following the river's east bank. Warm down here, at about 2100 metres, compared to 3200 metres in Zhongdian.

Waka is a small village opposite Benzilan. Outside of holiday periods, a ferry is supposed to shuttle across the river between Waka and Benzilan. The road route is rough.

Your map might have Waka down as "Zhalantong". A handful of places to stay here in this Tibetan village.

This blog post is about cycling, biking, bicycling, and bike rides in Yunnan and Sichuan province, China.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Days 149, 150 - not cycling very much in Zhongdian / Xianggelila / Shangrila

0 km etc. Still waiting for the shops to open after Chinese New Year so that I can get something to eat.

Met another cyclist, always an exciting event. Chap from Sweden, could have sworn I'd seen him somewhere before. Goes by the name of Bjorn. Again.

Ah, you are from Sweden, I say.

Yes, says Bjorn.

You must know Janne Corax, I say.

Yes, says Bjorn. Again.

In fact I met him on a railway platform in Germany.

The world is indeed small. And full of Swedes. Most of whom know the meaning of the word 'garn' (see previous post).

Do Not Garn the Animals - Feedback

I have received an email from a Dr T.B.S., resident of Cambridge and
renowned expert on the islands of Melanesia:

"I might just be able to throw some light on DO NOT GARN THE ANIMALS.
'Garn' is Swedish for 'yarn', as in woollen yarn, the kind perhaps
that you might steal off the back of an unsuspecting sheep or goat if
you were caught short in the clothes department one cold dark night in
Dali. I suspect some poor Swedish tourist, cycling from Shanghai to
Stockholm, got caught 'garning' (as it were), and is now in prison
writing English-language notice boards for hotels all over China.
Think of the depths of depravity (e.g. yarning the wool off waifs and
strays) you have avoided thanks to your nice warm Gore-Tex jacket. And
free chocolate bars. Keep it up, my boy."

Since Swedish is pretty much the lingua franca on the Solomon Islands,
I think we can take that as the definitive account.

Monthly round-up

I usually copy my monthly round-up round-robin email to my blog, here, but for some reason beyond my technical ken Blogger, the software which I use to update the blog, won't let me do it this week.

So if you want to read it, you'll have to look here.

Executive summary:

Cycling news from the Chinese winter: The Three Armed Bandits (Part II); King-Sized Chocolate bars; 716s; Enriched Uranium; Post Office (a short story); a Caption Competition; and Sundry Other Matters.

If you don't want to miss the next one, you can join the mailing list by whacking your email address in the box at the top of this page.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Veg Talk heads for the compost heap

Rumour has it that the world's worst radio show, Veg Talk, potato blight of Radio 4, is to be taken off the air.

As soon as that happens, I will stop dallying in Zhongdian, and make haste homewards.

Home Truths is going too, I hear - but post-Peel perhaps it is not worth saving.

As for the frumpous jounced up by folk about the proposal not to broadcast British folk songs at 5.30 in the morning.... since it's the same every day, it would not be that hard to record it (I'm sure the BBC could provide a free download) and find an alarm clock that will play it for you. Maybe it's available as a ringtone?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Winter fuel allowance

My esteemed father has recently reached the venerable age at which the
Government, god bless'em, sees fit to give him a Winter Fuel

I am curious about how this works.

Does a man knock at the door, take his hat, and say, "Hello, I'm from
the Government, I'm here to help"?

And then, proferring a small lump of charcoal, say: "Here is this
month's allowance; don't burn it all at once."

Is the allowance delivered in cash? Or, if in fuel, does the recipient
have a choice as to the kind of fuel?

Can he insist on his inalienable right to the peaceful development of
nuclear weapons, err, I mean energy, and expect 100 grammes of
enriched uranium through his letter box every month, complete with a
"with compliments" slip signed T. Blair, Mohammed El Baradei, and
President I'madinnerjacket or whatever his name is?

(Of course, we, the good guys, do have peaceful, cuddly nuclear
weapons. We don't use them, you see. We just keep them as a nice
little fluffy shield so that we can get on with the business of
bombing other people with 'conventional' weapons without fear of
serious reprisals).

Day 148 - mostly frittered away updating this blog, and getting HUNGRY, in Zhongdian

0 km etc.

My intention was to stay here a day and EAT copiously.

But it is Chinese New Year's Eve.


Every restaurant, shop, and mantou-seller in town has pulled down their shutters to celebrate the New Year behind closed doors.

I am STARVING. I have walked round town twice and finally found a shop that is open. The only item resembling food on sale there was 716 biscuits.

These biscuits have an interesting history.

They were originally developed as ammunition for the People's Liberation Army's revolutionary 716 calibre machine gun, the first weapon of its kind in the world to use a rectangular barrel. Naturally the ammunition it used had to be rectangular too, or, more precisely, cuboid.

And so the 716 pellets were developed.

The weapon was not a conspicuous success, but military commanders discovered that the specially-developed ammunition was almost edible. 716 rectangular 'biscuits' have been staple rations for PLA troops ever since.

They do a tremendous job at knocking the munchies on the head. One 250 g packet quickly eliminates any lingering sensation of hunger, replacing it with a reasonably strong urge to give up living.

So please, if you're coming to Zhongdian in the next 24 hours, bring me a tomato or something.

Many thanks. And Happy New Year.

Caption competition

The other day I tried on my cold-weather clothing for the first time. This was the result:

Captions are needed - add yours using the comment link below.

To get you started, C.W. of Surrey suggests:

"Osama bin Laden joins the Staines massive."

Beat that and many maidens in paradise await you.

Not just a China-hater...

Rank the items below, in the order in which they represent grave threats to our nation's health, well-being, wealth, happiness, and survival:

1. Tuuuurism (that's people with bombs, not people who go on holiday - as pronounced by Dubya).
2. Bird flu.
3. Climate change.
4. Asteroid impact.

Now rank them again, in the order in which our government uses them as an excuse to curtail liberty, spend money, and speak pompously and gravely in pathetic and debasing attempts to make themselves into latter-day Churchills. And try to frighten us into voting for them. (Did you see Cheney on TV the other day? Truly spine-chilling.)

Three and a half, if not four, cheers, then, to Lembit Opik (for it was, I think, he) of the poor old Liberal Democrats, for his brave efforts to push No. 4, asteroid impact, to the top of our list of concerns. At least it showed up the idiocy of Blair, Bush and Co., and their damn-fool self-serving War on Turrrh.

Another bid to get myself sent to the Chinese gulag - or my website censored

Several 2wheels-readers, including a margarine thief from Bolton, did not take my post about the Great Firewall of China very seriously.

I thought I might annoy them, and with any luck the Chinese government too, a bit more, by continuing to complain about the general lack of freedom of information in this country.

OK, it's more important to have potatoes on your plate than to be able to read non-Party versions of The Truth, right? Well, whatever, if you believe that come and live here and apply for Chinese citizenship.

Of course, it's not just the Chinese government at which we should be baring our hairy, blistered buttocks. The nasty little creeping, moral contortionists at internet companies such as Google (http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article341035.ece) should be getting a good hiding too.

(Yes, dear beloved Google, owner of blogger.com, which is kind enough to provide, free of charge, my website's blogging service, and also its email update list.)

Will I be moving my website and mailing list to a different provider in a fit of moral outrage? No. I'll just have the fit of moral outrage instead.

(I should say that the non-blog part of my website is hosted, very kindly, by the distinctly non-evil Eclipse Internet (http://www.eclipse.net.uk/), and thank you very much to them for that.

If you are in the least bit interested, there is another article in today's Independent here: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article341260.ece

OK, getting angry now. Better sign off. Happy New Year of the Capitalist Running Dogs to you all.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Day 147 - cycling from Tiger Leaping Gorge to Zhongdian / Xianggelila / Shangri-la

Start: Qiaotou (Tiger Leaping Gorge town), Yunnan, China
End: Zhongdian, China (Yunnan, still)
Distance: 104 km
Time: 7'51"
Avg: 13.2 k/h
Max: 48 k/h
Total: 8953km
Total riding days: 98
Riding hours: 0930 - 1845

A beast of a climb out of Qiaotou, approx 45 km takes you to an ill-defined pass which I reckon is probably a couple of hundred metres higher than Zhongdian. That would make it around 1700 metres climbing in 45 km. That would pretty much tally with how the legs felt. Be warned, there is little or nothing available on the road until Xiao Zhongdian, around 65 km after Qiaotou. I had 2 bananas and 2 tangerines. Result: bonked (see discussion here). Also not much water up here, at least in winter (dry season).

Checked into a hotel after 45 minutes of looking; 10 minutes later found a place that was much nicer (and cheaper - 10 yuan compared to 15 yuan). The people at Place A were good enough to give me my money back.

Zhongdian used to be a rough-and-ready sort of Tibetan frontier kind of place. Now they are trying to make it all glitzy and tourist-happy; to that end they have renamed the town Xianggelila, which is Chinese for Shangri-La. Thankfully there are still some old roadsigns with its proper name, Zhongdian.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Day 146 - Cycling to Qiaotou, aka Tiger Leaping Gorge Town

Start: Diannan, Yunnan, China
End: Qiaotou, China (Yunnan, still) - aka Hutiaoxia zhen, Tiger Leaping Gorge Town
Distance: 95 km
Time: 5'31"
Avg: 17.1 k/h
Max: 42.5 k/h
Total: 8850 km
Total riding days: 97
Riding hours: 1000 - 1640

A big climb up and then a big descent down to the Yangtze valley, below 1800 metres. I'm lower than Dali again. And the worst of it is that I have to climb over 3500 metres and then descend AGAIN to the Yangtze at 2000 metres before I can climb again.

If you visit this place, be sure to pay a visit to the Lai Ya Leisure Bar, which offers: "Deposits, accommodation, scattering visitors, reception, wackers, and information".

High above I see the first real snowy mountains of the ride, including Haba Mountain at 5396 metres.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Day 145 - Cycling from Dali to Diannan

Start: Dali, Yunnan, China
End: Diannan, China (Yunnan, still)
Distance: 107 km
Time: 6'11"
Avg: 17.3 k/h
Max: 45 k/h
Total: 8755 km
Total riding days: 96
Riding hours: 1225 - 1850

Well my excuse for lurking 'n' posing in Dali for so long was this: I was waiting for delivery of a parcel. The good people of GoreTex offered to send me a nice warm windstoppery jacket to keep me warm in the mountains.

Monday. Dali Post Office, poste restante section.

Me (in best pidgin-Chinese): Hallo has my parcel arrived yet?
She (behind the counter): Nyet.

(She isn't Russian, but I could have sworn she said nyet. At least her body language said nyet. You know, the not-looking-up, not-interrupting-the-important-bit-of-nail-picking, sort of thing.

Tuesday. Dali Post Office, poste restante section.
Me (in better Chinese, I spent the night before practising with a dictionary): Hallo has my parcel arrived yet?
She (behind the counter): No, we will call your hotel when it arrives.
Me (silently): Yeah right.

Wednesday. Dali Post Office, poste restante section.
Me (cheerily, getting quite fluent at this now): Hallo, has my parcel arrived yet?
She (back in Soviet mode): Nyet.
Me (unfazed): Are you sure?
She (sure): Yes.
Me (still strong): How odd. It was sent over a week ago. Could you perhaps just check for me please, if you're not too busy?

She goes to a desk at the back of the room, and pulls open a drawer the size of a matchbox, inside which, to no great surprise, my jacket, being rather larger than a matchbox, is not.

She (pleased): I've looked, and still nyet.
Me (falling back on the old use-made-up-official-terminology ploy): I wonder if perchance my parcel might inadvertantly have been stored in the Parcels Slightly Larger Than A Matchbox Department?
She (worried): Unlikely.
Me (charming): Unlikely, I agree. But do you think, if you could spare a moment at some point, you could have a quick look?

She fusses through a door, to what I suspect must be the Parcels Slightly Larger Than A Matchbox Department. Moments later, she reappears.

She (shameless): We have a parcel here, we have been waiting several days for it to be collected. Is it yours?
Me (sarcastic, but I doubt she notices): Good gracious me yes I think it might be.
She (more shameless still): That will be 3 yuan storage fee.
Me: Unprintable.

So I am now the proud owner of a GoreTex Windstopper jacket. It is, incidentally, several times pinker than the pinkest thing I have ever previously laid eyes on. That, and very warm. I will wear it in solidarity with the Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Days 141 - 144. Dali, Yunnan, China

To my shame, I have only just noticed that China is currently run by a man called Who? and another man called When?

Who? is the President, and When? is the Premier, though I'm damned if I could tell you what the difference between their jobs is, since I think they both spend most of their days attempting to prevent their fellow citizens from discovering the truth about the world. When not engaging in facile meetings with craven foreign leaders, that is.

Who? is informally known on some subversive Chinese blogs as Hu Jintao, while When? is sometimes given the nickname Wen Jiabao.

What prospects for the complete quintet?

Why? might be putting in an appearance at some point, since Wai is a respectable Chinese surname.

How?, likewise (Hao).

What?, though, is a longer shot, at least if we restrict ourselves to Mandarin pronounciation. Maybe you can be called Wat in Cantonese - I don't know. No doubt a correspondent will let us know.

Should you ever find yourself visiting Dali, incidentally, don't take the kids at Christmastime, because they will get all excited about the signs showing the way to Santa. Unfortunately, Father Christmas has not emigrated from Lapland; Santa is Chinese for Three Pagodas. Of course, if your children like pagodas, this will be fine.

If you get into trouble in the Three Pagodas area, don't worry, help is at hand in the form of a useful bilingual noticeboard giving emergency telephone numbers. As a public service, I reproduce the more important ones here:

Tour the hurl tell: 670384
Consume the nurl tell: 12315

Sadly I didn't have time to call the numbers and find out what the hell it was all about. I was busy up the road admiring a petrol station with petrol pumps called Wayne.

I realise that photographic evidence of the mysteries above might make more compelling entertainment than verbal descriptions, but the technological legers-de-main required to upload images are beyond my cold fingers this afternoon (I write from Zhongdian at 3200 metre).

Friday, January 20, 2006

Day 140 - Cycling around Lake Erhai, Dali

Start: Dali, Yunnan, China
End: Dali, China (Yunnan, still)
Distance: 121 km
Time: 6'55"
Avg: 17.5 k/h
Max: 39 k/h
Total: 8648 km
Total riding days: 95
Riding hours: 0945 - 1845

According to the rules, unladen cycling doesn't count, but I made the rules, so I suppose I can break them.

Spend the day dodging small children bearing large guns, which look plastic but you can't be sure.

A surfeit of deep fried goat cheese at breakfast time had made itself felt on km 119.5, only 1.5 km from safety. I had to make an emergency pit-stop in a local squattery - those of a squeamish disposition look away now. Which is not what a small gaggle of other WC customers did as I teetered and tottered (my hamstrings are not long enough to squat properly) above the open-plan slit-trench dunny.

"Look at the Laowai!" they cried.

They hadn't found me in the best of tempers. I said something not very nice back, which I don't think they understood, because they smiled and said Hallo in return.

In fairness, I must have looked rather odd, wobbling there with a cycling helmet still strapped to my skull, a heavy-duty Shanghai-bike-thief-proof bike lock round my neck, and my bicycle half-blocking the entrance to my stall.

The Australian government is a curious mixture of the good and the bad. On the one hand (the bad one), it is the loyal lap-dog of Dubya's War on Turrrh (I'll stop going on about this at some point); on the other hand (the good one), they publish this website: http://www.toiletmap.gov.au/ - which you would have to take for a spoof if it weren't for it's official .gov.au domain name.

Listen: "A project of the National Continence Management Strategy."

"Register for My Toilet Map to save your trips, favourite destinations and public toilets."

You've got to believe it. I'm serious. Check it out.

The FAQ section is great: "Can I use the Toilet Map with my Global Positioning System (GPS) device?"

And yes, I did find it by using Google* to check the spelling of 'dunny'.

*evil Chinese censor-appeasers though they be.

For the benefit of the evil search engines, this blog post is about cycling, biking, bicycling, and visiting public toilets in Dali, Yunnan province, China.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Day 139. Idling in Dali, Yunnan

O km etc.

I checked into the hotel last night to find that I had wasted away to an almost non-existent 64 kilograms.

By this evening, after demolishing two buffet dinners and a buffet breakfast, I weigh two kilograms more than an elephant.

Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration.

By about two kilograms, anyway.

CCTV9, China's version of CNN, broadcasts a rather interesting, and very serious, if a little gory, feature about a man who underwent a transplant of his liver, spleen, intestine, kidneys (I think) and virtually every other organ in the region. His survival is in the balance; I wish him well. Then, cut back to the studio, where cheery smiling presenter says: "Stay with us, because coming up next, a man who can blow up balloons with his eyes".

What a wonderful world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Day 138 - Cycling to Dali

Start: Xiaguan, Yunnan, China
End: Dali Old Town (Dali Gu Cheng), China (Yunnan, still)
Distance: 66 km
Time: 4'39"
Avg: 14.3 k/h
Max: 40.5 k/h
Total: 8527 km
Total riding days: 94
Riding hours: 1200 - 1825

Spend the morning attempting to exorcise the Curse of the Ma Po Dou Fu, and trying on my cold-weather gear for the first time. Will attempt to post picture.

It is not 66 km to Dali from Xiaguan, but I head off round the eastern shore of Erhai, while the wonderful people at Asia and Away magazine (formerly known as Voyage) see if they can't fix me up somewhere nice to stay for a few days while I write this month's article for them.

Half way round the lake, my phone beeps an SMS: Hotel found, details as per email. There follows a desperate pedal round the villages of eastern Erhai, searching for a wangba (internet cafe) that will reveal the details of my Dali pleasure-dome.

It is to be the Asia Star Hotel. From a distance, you can, err, see it. Possibly also visible from the moon. Not entirely in keeping with the 600-year-old architectural heritage of Dali. BUT - a damn fine place to stay. Says he, upgrading from his usual 10 kuai (75 pence) hovels to a US$106-a-night palace of gourmet buffet breakfasts, beds the size of Pacific island nations, and loos with a view.

The pragmatist says: far better to be basking in luxury inside, looking out, than outside, wallowing in filth, staring up at this hulking edifice. A week of comfort and food - oh, what food - follows; the management should be given medals, the architect should be shot.

Call yourself a hard-core cyclist? If you knew the sweatshop wages I am paid for my monthly masterpieces for Asia & Away, you wouldn't begrudge me this week of indulgence. (Readers of the syndicated version of this blog on the A&A website should feel free to send me contributions, c/o The Editor.)

Asia and Away magazine, for those reading this in the original, 2wheels version, resides here: www.asiaandaway.com

For the benefit of the evil search engines, this blog post is about cycling, biking, bicycling, and riding a bicycle in Dali and around Erhai in Yunnan province, China.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Day 137 - bicycling to Xiaguan, China

Start: Nanjian, Yunnan, China
End: Xiaguan (aka Dali City), China (Yunnan, still)
Distance: 101 km
Time: 7'12"
Avg: 13.9 k/h
Max: 42.5 k/h
Total: 8460 km
Total riding days: 93
Riding hours: 1000 - 1900

Asphalt road all day, 30 km up a narror river gorge, which opens into a wide valley, in the middle of which sits Weishan. From there, a hard 15 km climb to a pass, then a fast cold descent to Xiaguan, the unlovely city at the southern end of Erhai. Gambled on getting a descent to get me down into Xiaguan before sunset; otherwise I would have been benighted, though camping might have been possible up on the pass.

Looked for a cheap place to stay for a long time; many wouldn't take me on grounds of my being a foreigner, but found a decent place eventually that hadn't heard of the no-foreigners rule.

Had a plate of Ma Po Dou Fu, spicy tofu, which is always a mistake.

Street vendors sell barbequed potatoes. They ask if you want them spicy. In my post-Ma Po Dou Fu state, I go for non spicy. As I walk away, skewered spuds in hand, she calls me back, not looking happy. Bu la, bu hao chi! Not spicy, not tasty! OK, you can put a bit of spicy stuff on them if you must. But not too much.

If that is not too much, next time show me how much too much is.

James Lovelock predicts the end of civilisation brought about by climate change; he is probably right. So I suppose we might as well get on with the War on Turrh while we've still got the time.

For the benefit of the evil search engines, this blog post is about cycling, biking, bicycling, and riding a bicycle in Yunnan province, China.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Day 136 - cycling out of the Mekong basin and over the hills to Nanjian

Start: Manwan, China
End: Nanjian, China
Distance: 98 km
Time: 7'42"
Avg: 12.7 k/h
Max: 47.5 k/h
Total: 8360 km
Total riding days: 92
Riding hours: 0915 - 1800

Route notes: over the Mekong bridge, then it's a 33km hard climb to a false-pass, followed by 7 km gentler climbing to the true pass. A 20 km ish descent takes you to a new river valley - turn left to keep on the G214 to Nanjian, which you will reach after a 20 km not-too-hard climb and a 20 km steep descent that would be a hard climb if you were going the other way. Nanjian is a big place with all mod cons.

A little village at the foot of the last climb had some kind of market going on; I hadn't eaten all day and was close to bonking, so I ordered a bowl of I-can't-remember-what-she-called-them-but-let's-just-say-they-looked-like-noodles. She followed an elaborate recipe, adding 7 or 8 different liquids, solids, goopey things and whatnot, which made me think they must taste good. This turned out not to be the case.

I planned get to Dali tomorrow, but having stayed up all night drivelling on my blog, I might not make it.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Day 135 - Cycling to Manwan in Yunnan, China

Start: Mawen, China
End: Manwan, China (Yunnan, still)
Distance: 116 km
Time: 6'42"
Avg: 17.3 k/h
Max: 57.5 k/h
Total: 8261 km
Total riding days: 91
Riding hours: 0930 - 1810

Getting noticeably chilly on the tops of passes, but warmer in the valleys where the towns seem to be. Manwan is a small town down on my old friend the Mekong. Don't have an altimeter, so guessing here, but Manwan might be around 700 metres above sea level, while the road probably crosses passes at around 2000 m.

Route notes: c. 15 km downhill to tunnel, turnoff to Geng Ma. Then 17 km climb to pass. From here all the way north to Nanjian and perhaps beyond, there is truck-stop accommodation practially every kilometre of the way. South of here, though, there has been little accommodation outside the towns I have mentioned, and the prospects for camping don't look good either. Super-fast descent 18 km to Yunxian, decent-sized town with all mod cons. From there, the new G214 superhighway seems to disappear off into the hills - in fact I'm not sure if it has been completed yet. I found myself on the old G214, sealed but a bit rough, which descends around 50 km down the Luo Za river gorge to the Mekong (which is dammed at this point so more of a reservoir than a river).

Just before confluence of the two rivers is the friendly little town of Mang Huai, which means Busy Bosom, so you can all have a little, err, titter about that.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Day 134 - To Ma Wen on a Bicycle

Start: Mengku, China
End: Ma Wen, China (29 km north of Lin Cang)
Distance: 111 km
Time: 7'07"
Avg: 15.5 k/h
Max: 51 k/h
Total: 8145 km
Total riding days: 90
Riding hours: 0930 - 1745

My first ton in a while.

Route notes: 26 km climb from Mengku, then mostly descent for 16 km to junction with an unsealed-looking road to Simao. Food, accommodation available at the junction. G214 continues, sealed and perfect except for one inexplicable 1500 m strip of cobbles, 10 km uphill then 30 km descent to Lincang, the last 18 km of which are on a snazzy new airport highway dual carriageway. Lincang is a big town, G214 bypasses it, or you can go through the centre. After Lincang, more descent on perfect road, steeply down deep gorge.

Ma Wen is a tiny hamlet squeezed between the road and the river. There is one hotel, full of people making sausages.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Day 133 - Riding to Mengku

Start: Shang Yun, China
End: Mengku, China (around 20 km north of Shuang Jiang)
Distance: 98 km
Time: 7'09"
Avg: 13.7 k/h
Max: 49 k/h
Total: 8034 km
Total riding days: 89
Riding hours: 0845 - 1800

I am very inconsistent in the writing of Chinese place names as one or two words. Would anyone like to expostulate grandly on whether one should write Mengku or Meng Ku? Everyone writes Shanghai, not Shang Hai, but then most people write Hong Kong not Hongkong.

Route notes: a few km gentle up and down on cobbles, then a long cobbled descent, after 20 km reach river at bottom. Road then follows the right bank of the river (ascending it, so river on rhs), unpaved but cobbles give way to hard-pack which, in dry season at least, is much preferable. On 27 km there is a rod going up/left, which maps show going up and over the long way back to Shang Yun. G214 continues gently up river, fording several streams. After 55km, bridge with army checkpost on north side, and perfect new asphalt road, left to Cang Yuan and the Burmese border, straight on up river to Shuang Jiang. Smooth road goes up narrow river valley c. 20km, valley broadens out and becomes bright green and yellow, full of vegetables, in middle of which is town of Shuangjiang, gleaming white tiles. Paved road continues another 20km up river, through a narrow gorge, to Mengku's wide valley.

My 10-kuai accommodation budget gets me a suite tonight, with a sitting room and a partitioned-off bedroom. Very plush.

The day began in Shangyun with the most depraved assault on the sleeping ears it is possible to imagine. The Americans' hard-rock blasting of Norriega in Panama had nothing on this. I think it was the wake-up call for pupils of the school adjacent to my hotel. Unfortunately it is not just the pupils who are roused from their slumbers - everyone within a 50 km radius, the quick, the sick, the dying and the dead, gets the full treatment.

In Shuang Jiang, the sugarcane harvest is in full swing; the buffalo are let into the field afterwards to mop up the straw and other detritus.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Day 132 - Cycling more hills in southern Yunnan, to Shang Yun

Start: Zhu Tang, China
End: Shang Yun, China - approx 23 deg N, 100 deg E
Distance: 63 km
Time: 7'15"
Avg: 8.7 k/h
Max: 35 k/h
Total: 7936 km
Total riding days: 88
Riding hours: 1945 - 1800

Nice scenery tody, but hard and slow climbing and descending on cobbles.

My 10-yuan hotel room is just big enough for a bed, the bike, and me. But for some reason they have also stuffed in two tables and a big leather armchair. These amenities usually cost extra. The armchair is in the later stages of decay, but I do not feel in a position to complain. I can't even get out of the room to complain, for that matter.

For fellow-cyclists, the route (all on the G214, heading north to south): 2 km of asphalt to start the day, and 3 km at the end. The rest was a 20 km cobbled descent, over a river, a 16 km climb, and a descent to Shang Yun. Steep valleys with incredible terracing on the Shang Yun side of the pass. Little traffic - the road passes the Mark and Ju McLean test.

The sun is hot but the air is crisp. Starting to think about the high mountains ahead, and the thought of never being warm for 3 months.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Day 131 - On a bike from Hui Min, through Lancang to Zhu Tang

Start: Hui Min, China
End: Zhu Tang, China (Simao prefecture)
Distance: 80 km
Time: 7'46"
Avg: 10.3 k/h
Max: 32 k/h
Total: 7873 km
Total riding days: 87
Riding hours: 1000 - 1840

36 km of very slow cobbles, mostly climbing but just as slow on the pannier-shaking descent; then an unexpected stretch of asphalt into and through and out the other side of Lancang.

The one-armed laoban of my luguan here in Zhutang is a nice bloke but he shares the vice of many in the Greater Mekong River Sub-Region of wanting to talk to me while I am brushing my teeth.

Stopped to take self-portraits of self + bike for sponsors, using my tripod. Not entirely successfully - as I dashed back to the bike while the 10-second beeper was beeping, I tripped over the pedals and sent self + bike sprawling. Most undignified.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Day 130 - cycling through Xishuangbanna to Hui Min

Start: Menghai, China
End: Hui Min, China (around 50 km south of Lancang)
Distance: 70 km
Time: 5'19"
Avg: 13.1 k/h
Max: 27.8 k/h
Total: 7792 km
Total riding days: 86
Riding hours: 1200 - 1750

Felt woozy today and never got going properly. Maybe it was just a headwind. And cobbles.

I always thought that cobblestons were la vice belge, but it seems that the Yunnanese have taken to them too.

Whatever their merits, cobblestones do not do nice things to cyclists' bottoms. I have 300 km of cobbles to go, by the look of the map.

Hilly today, too, naturally, after a 25 km flattish warm-up. Hui Min is a little village with one damp guesthouse down a slope, and one dry guesthouse up a slope. The fields are full of sugar cane and tea.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Day 129. Cycling up the hill from Jinghong to Menghai

Start: Jinghong, Yunnan, China
End: Menghai, China
Distance: 59 km
Time: 4'05"
Avg: 14.4 k/h
Max: 33.5 k/h
Total: 7723 km
Total riding days: 85
Riding hours: 1450 - 1925

Was in danger of getting stuck in Jinghong. Just escaped in time.

They've built a new road to Menghai, but the old one is still there, up the Liu Sha (Flowing Sand) river valley. There's not much of a river there any more because they pinch all the water for hydro-power stations along the way. The road is the G214, which goes where I want to go, from down here in Xishuangbanna all the way up to Xining in Qinghai. I could follow it all the way, but it cuts across the Tibetan Autonomous Region which might cause problems with permits etc.

Half way up to Menghai, I meet a New Zealand cyclist coming the other way. Precisely the other way, in fact - he's ridden from London and is on his way to Laos. He confirms that it is cold in the mountains. Unfortunately we're both pressed for time, as sunset approaches, so we don't have time to exchange more than accelerated snippets of route notes for our respective roads ahead.

Menghai has somehow avoided the shiny-plastic facelift that has been applied to most Chinese towns in the past decade, so for a mini-timewarp of what China looked like in 1996, this might be the place to visit. Other than that, it doesn't seem much of a place, though given that I arrived at dusk and left after breakfast, you might argue I didn't give it a very fair chance.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Day 128. Still in Jinghong

Play with bike, trying to attach new front rack to replace the one that broke in Guizhou about 3 months ago. I repaired it "temporarily" with plastic zip-ties (the things American soldiers use as emergency handcuffs for foreigners with beards), and remarkably it is still holding together, which is a good thing because the new rack doesn't have long enough legs.

There is a fight in the restaurant opposite my room. Unusually, it gets quite serious and someone starts beating someone else with a spare table-leg. The police arrive and join in the fun.

The Great Firewall of China is on fire tonight

Am I just getting paranoid, or are the brainless morons who censor the
web in China getting seriously heavy-duty these days?

When I begin an online session, I have half a chance fo accessing
'dangerous, subversive' material (like, how long is the Mekong river,
where do giant pandas live, when was the Tower of London built, etc)
from a source like Wikipedia if I access it through a proxy server
such as that provided by www.anonymouse.org. But within a minute or
two, I can't use anonymouse any more.

Is someone really watching my every move? It really feels like that.

I want some travel information about Tibet. Now Tibet is, of course, a
part of China and always has been and always will be and so on. So
presumably the Chinese goverment would like to help me find tourist
information about the place, so I can go and spend a few dollars in
one of their more impoverished provinces.

Apparently not. After half an hour of trying, I have been unable to
access ANY Tibet-related website.

And since I have been searching for Tibet too often, I now cannot even
access Google either.

OK, I'm just a tourist and it doesn't matter. But the Chinese
government is doing this to the whole nation. It makes me sick.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Day 127 - Down the road to Jinghong

Start: Menghan (aka Ganlanba), China
End: Jinghong, China
Distance: 34 km
Time: 2'22"
Avg: 14.2 k/h
Max: 37 k/h
Total: 7664 km
Total riding days: 84
Riding hours: 1030 - 1420

An easy ride up the Mekong, but a little too much traffic for it to count as pleasant.

Cooked my lunch at a cable car station, from where you can be whisked across the Mekong in a fibreglass cocoon to go and see some monkeys. Not as interesting as my mattress in Menghan, which said:

"Happy Bony Bears. May you Succeed; Happy New Year."

All sentiments with which it is hard to disagree. Except perhaps the bit about Bony Bears. I should think a Bony Bear would be rather unhappy. But then what do I know?

At the post office, I pick up a bag of bikey bits from Decathlon (thank you, Michael) and a GoreTex cycling jacket from GoreTex (thank you, Samuel).

Jinghong's Xinhua Bookstore contains a minor miracle: a map of Yunnan with some topographic shading. Topographic shading was supposed to be a state secret in China, I thought, but here it was, on sale to the general public and the passing cyclist: definitive evidence that Yunnan Province contains HILLS.

Well, the secret is out now.

Sadly the shading doesn't really give away much more than that, but it is a start. I must eat more bananas to prepare.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Day 126. Not cycling in Menghan/Ganlanba, Yunnan, China

Leave my bags in the stilt house and take the bike on the ferry across the Mekong (you can sing it to the same tune as Ferry on the Mersey) to see what there is to see over there.

Usual stuff - villages, fields, peasants and temples.

Took the ferry back again and wandered accidentally into the official Dai song and dance theatre, where a bunch of people are obliged to wear silly costumes while somebody plays a CD of local songs at a volume that the loudspeakers are not quite able to cope with. These are supposed to be Dai folk songs, I suppose, but they all seem to be in Mandarin and are generally, so far as I can make out, hymns of praise to Xishuangbanna's tourist attractions.

I am pretty sure the chorus of one of them went "Xishuangbanna Hallelujia", but I could be wrong.

Then everyone went and splashed water at one another. This is known as the Water Splashing Festival and is good business for Water Splashing Costume hire shops (50 yuan a go), Buckets for Scooping Up Water With hire shops, and Dry Area For People Not Wanting To Get Splashed ticket offices (10 yuan entry).

If you like photos of girls with umbrellas, you'll love this

I call it "Girls with Umbrellas".

Menghan, Yunnan province, China.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Day 125. Cycling to Menghan, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China

Start: Menglun, China
End: Menghan, China
Distance: 50 km
Time: 3'34"
Avg: 14 k/h
Max: 39.5 k/h
Total: 7631 km
Total riding days: 83
Riding hours: 1200 - 1645

Rubber plantations all along the route, where there used to be tropical forests. Apparently most of the rubber plantations are unprofitable because of the low world price of rubber and the high input costs (fertilisers etc).

Banana plantations too, boxing bananas for export at the roadside.

This route has all the raw materials a cyclist could ask for, almost. Rubber for tyres, bananas for face-stuffing. That's about it.

Menghan is also called Ganlanba. I find a place to stay in a Dai house, a funny rickety wooden thing on stilts. The family have sensibly moved out to a proper new concrete block next door, and rent out the 'traditional' place to passing foreigners etc.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Day 124. Mengla to Menglun

Start: Mengla, China
End: Menglun, China
Distance: 99 km
Time: 6'42"
Avg: 14.7 k/h
Max: 45.5 k/h
Total: 7581 km
Total riding days: 82
Riding hours: 0900 - 1850

Hills! Good leg training this.

My chain snapped 10 km before Menglun. Is someone trying to tell me something? In the past 10 days, I have had:

1. rear rim cracked.
2. puncture.
3. front tyre blow out
4. rear rack bolt sheared off (at 2200 hrs in pitch black after i had been evicted from campspot by drunken lao blokes)
5. chain snapped

Pretty good going?

My 5-star hotel here (you can see 5 stars through the cracks in the roof), 10 yuan a night, has sheets with pictures of a cute little Scottie doggie with the words "faithful companion". The shop across the street sells tins of hong shao gou rou, which translates loosely as doggie in a tin, or more accurately as red-braised dog meat.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Day 123. Nateui to Mengla, China

Start: Near Nateui, Laos
End: Mengla, China
Distance: 88 km
Time: 5'44"
Avg: 15.3 k/h
Max: 47 k/h
Total: 7482 km
Total riding days: 81
Riding hours: 0835 - 1800 [1700 Lao time]

Back in the warm embrace of the motherland. Grotty hotel replaces jungle camping, but I still can't stop eating my banana rice porridge. Not even xi hong shi chao ji dan tempts me. Back on sealed tarmac roads, my bike breathes a sigh of relief.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Day 122. Louang Namtha to near Nateui

Start: Near Louang Namtha, Laos
End: Near Nateui, Laos
Distance: 44 km
Time: 3'48"
Avg: 11.7 k/h
Max: 25.6 k/h
Total: 7395 km
Total riding days: 80
Riding hours: 0700 - 1755

Rear rack bolt shears off, leaving the stub of bolt stuck in the bolt hole. Not good. Genius mechanic in Louang Namtha welds a bit of metal to the stub, so he can grip it with pliers and unscrew it.

Wander round Louang Namtha, cook my usual meal of rice porridge with banana, splurge on some spring rolls in the market. Then front tyre blows out, loudly, to cheers from passers-by. Luckily I was rolling down the main street at 3 km/h at the time. I think at 40 km/h downhill a front tyre blowout could be less entertaining.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Day 121. Lao jungle to near Louang Namtha

Start: half-way between Houay Xai and Louang Namtha, Laos
End: Just outside Louang Namtha, Laos
Distance: 85 km
Time: 7'25"
Avg: 11.4 k/h
Max: 31.5 k/h
Total: 7350 km
Total riding days: 79
Riding hours: 0830 - 1750 (or 2150, if you include my late-night excursion)

I camped in a school yard, having asked the caretaker if this was OK.

At 2130 the caretaker's husband comes home, drunk, and decides to evict me in the middle of the night. Not very entertaining. It is pitch dark and jungly hills all around. I unroll my sleeping bag and half-sleep the rest of the night by the side of the road.

Happy New Year.