China: Part 1
Indonesia to China
The day before our flight from Indonesia to China, we popped to a bike shop and organised for bike boxes to be delivered to our hotel from the city. Instead of jumping in the taxi with the boxes, we left at the same time but on our bikes, much to the bemusement of the bike shop owner. Besides wanting a bit of pedalling action, I think we also wanted to prove just how congested Jakarta was. The race to the hotel was on: car vs bicycle. With our ability to wiggle in and out and around the traffic, we arrived sweaty but happy to find no boxes had yet come. It was a bitter sweet success for a moment, however, when we questioned whether they would arrive at all.
All was fine and after some re-distribution of weight between our pieces of luggage, we were on our way to Kunming, in the Yunnan province of South China.
We couldn’t have asked for a better first couple of days in Kunming with a lovely welcome from a WarmShowers host in a beautiful apartment where we could chill, practise some calligraphy on magic cloth and get a few bits sorted; our host shared her knowledge about China and her experience cycle touring, and together we joined an evening class of Kung Fu–Tai Chi (called Xing Yi Quan). We learned moves from the master, literally.
Cycling around the city was super easy and the bike lanes were like a dream. Kunming was a great place to start, being higher in altitude and a bit cooler, where we visited the Green Lake Park and tried some tasty food! Nothing like the gloop from the takeaways at home, though I didn’t quite fancy the BBQ’d pig skin. We found the architecture and intricate carvings on the temples, walls and arches incredible.
Kunming to Wuding
We marked today as Day 1 of our cycle home, back to England. The first pedal – out in the rain – felt a tad emotional: knowing it was the start of the end of our journey, but realising it was the start of a very long journey home: we were so excited about what the adventure would bring, and really excited about what was at the end of it. Today the smiles would not leave our faces. It rained harder, but nothing was going to ruin this.
We cycled up and away from the city, into the clouds and found ourselves on smaller, quieter roads. We had managed to find roads not on the map, and followed a road across a dam that…simply…ended. We looked back across the valley that was misty with rain: so green and lush, abundant with vegetables. Getting lost on the first day was of course what was going to happen. And our spirits remained high even when Will’s brakes failed and upon any downhill, he had to jump off and run with the bike.
By 6pm we had cycled far enough, and despite wanting a shower and to collapse onto a bed, the family who owned the hotel insisted we join them for dinner, and what a treat it was. Together we enjoyed a huge variety of delicious dishes; as soon as a plate was empty, it was replaced by another. Even though we had to rely on iTranslate to talk, they were so friendly and welcoming, and gave Will some ultra-strong wine. All in all, although we really shouldn’t have enjoyed getting lost, getting drenched and taking much longer to get here, it had made for the perfect first day.
Wuding to Yuanmou
Today we climbed up and around paddy fields as the rain came tumbling down. It was great so see so many things growing, and so many stalls selling fresh fruit and veg along the way. We couldn’t resist the yummy sweet breads when we came across a bustling market with table after table of baked goods. And after choosing our selection, the lady wanted to put more in the bag; she gave them to us with a big smile and refused any money.
Back on our way, we climbed higher and had to take shelter under the porch of someone’s house while the rain became torrential. It was rainy season in South-West China, and the evidence of rockslides was pretty common along our route. Later in the afternoon, however, the clouds parted to reveal the valley below and the mountains around us. An awesome road with too many switchbacks to count took us down to Yuanmou where we had our first meal with the famous Sichuan spice. While washing our clothes, I lost a sock down the sink!
Yuanmou to Yongren
A couple of loud bangs and flashes just outside our window woke us suddenly during the early hours of the morning: in a dream-like state, I had initially thought they were gunshots – until I realised fireworks were more likely!
The dusty road from the day before had irritated Will’s throat, so in the morning he popped into the pharmacy to play charades with the chemist. Turns out buying medicines in China – from cough sweets to antibiotics – is very easy (once translated) and very cheap, without any need for a prescription. Will and I had become Dr Flower and Dr Judge in an instant!
For our first cycle stop of the day, we decided to visit the Wu Mao [Yuanmou] Earth Forest, which is a scenic reserve with huge clay pillars formed over the last million years. The columns were like the remains of an ancient temple; Will thought it looked like something out of Star Wars. Although this detour took us down a muddy track of red dirt and potholes, we were still surprised to find this tourist hotspot pretty much empty.
A long steady climb took us well into the afternoon, but the views were green and splendid, and we saw the biggest solar farm with the silver panels covering field after field, as we got higher and higher. The sun seemed to be sapping our energy, and when we finally got to cruise down the hill to the next town, we were flagged down by a family who wanted a photo. Wiping the sweat from our faces, we were happy to stop and say hello. We celebrated the end of the day with a spicy sweetcorn and peanut noodle soup and pea ice-cream.
Yongren to Panzhihua
We continued our route along a national highway called the G108, which was a quieter road running parallel with the main express way. With the clouds acting as our fluffy defence against the rising sun, it was cooler, making the climb much more enjoyable. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, cycling up through forest either side. Every so often a couple of locals would surprise us, appearing from the woods clutching bags of mushrooms.
We cycled through some traditional beautiful villages and stopped for steamed dumplings in a busy town not shown on our map! Maybe our map can’t keep up with the speed of Chinese development. It was occurring to us that wherever we went, something was being built – a road, a railway, a bridge, a tunnel, a city! Being such an incredibly huge country, being linked up and connected definitely seems to be important within the sphere of China.
After spending much of the day in the green rolling countryside, we cycled to a hotel in the mining town of Panzhihua, which boasted big shiny new shopping complexes and a colourful theme park, with bizarre plastic figurines to entice you into the mini Disneyland.
Hiding away from the humidity, we had a view of the Yangtze River from our room and felt really happy to be cycling in China…
Part 2 to be published soon…