Archive for February, 2011

Shangri-la to Batang Yunnan & Sichuan Day 7

Friday, February 25th, 2011

The next morning I woke up to the sound of the young women stoking the fire and preparing breakfast. I dressed and packed up my things and sat down, more tea and food were given to me and I was again encouraged to eat, eat ,eat. I managed to have a basic conversation about the weather and assured the young woman that I was not cold, the house was very warm and usually I sleep outside I said. The baby was dressed in front of the fire and the two Lamas came down. I was given a bowl of hot water to wash with. The Lamas seemed to be in a rush they were late for something, they smiled and said good bye and left. I managed to snap a quick picture and they were gone. I started to take my things downstairs and load up the bike. The young woman also said goodbye, she put on a baseball camp and lead the cattle out the front door to the road. She would probably come back before night and spend the day with the animals out to pasture. I thanked and waved good by to the mother and cycled off down the dirt street. I stopped by the ash of the fire where I had met everyone the night before to adjust a few things on the bike and was soon surrounded by a group of teenage boys. I answerer the usual questions, one person, English, going to ‘name of next village’ said goodbye and set off down the bumpy road again. It had been an incredible experience. I wish I could have found a way to thank the family more or talk with them but I couldn’t. I continued cycling on humbled by the experience.

tibetan women1

After less than an hour I arrived in the small town that I had hoped to get to the day before and set about trying to by provisions. My speedo was still broken so I had no idea how long there was to go. I guessed, depending on the road that there was another 4 or 5 days to Batang at the most. Here I would rest for a few days before carrying on. I parked the bike by the side of the road. There were a few shops either side of me and decided the bike would be fine while I went between shops, I could always see it. I attracted a lot of attention and some people milled around the bike and felt the tyres, this seems to be the ultimate test of how good a bike is. My English way of shopping was not working and as I could not work out who was shop keeper and who was customer I just started asking people for the stuff that I wanted and was soon filling up my bags with rice, sugar, biscuits and noodles. Shopping done I decided to get a short way out of town and have a few minutes to myself. I am used to the attention you get, turning up in a small town that few tourists stop at. It still can be overwhelming though, especially as the few days before I spent the night at the house I had pretty much spent on my own with only a few people around me at once.

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I cycled about 500m and parked up on the outskirts of town, the area was covered in rubbish but it was quiet. I studied them map and looked at the road ahead. A woman camp past carrying a hoe and asked me the three questions. The conversation progressed and I showed her my whole route through china. It was one of the best conversations I had had and she seemed vary un-phased by me and what I was doing. She assured me that the road ahead was the one that I wanted, so I folded the map and pushed the bike onto the road. As I was about to set off a young guy came up to me and asked the three questions. I had a similar conversation with him as with the other woman. The guy then invited me back to his place for tea. I was in a dilemma, part of my reason for travelling is to meet people and experience new culture but it was already midday and I was keen to get going. I thanked him but said that I had to get going. He asked again, saying that I could rest a bit have some tea, then go. I thanked him and said OK, and we started walking back to his house. I was in a bigger more modern version of the house I slept in last night but without the straw and cattle. Tea was prepared by the guys mother and a young girl whom I presumed he had just phoned brought me some baba (flat bread). We talked as best we could and just laughed when we could no understand each other. He brought a book to the table and I was excited, maybe this was an English Chinese book. My phrase book was OK but more suited to staying in 4 star hotels, restaurants where they might have a menu in English than having tea and baba in small village close to the Tibetan border. The book was all in Chinese and in tried hard to figure out what it was about and its significance to the conversation. We hit a wall smiled and carried on drinking tea. I was full, from both the tea and the bread and we had pretty much exhausted our conversational ability to I said that I must be on my way. The guy produced a bag of biscuits and put the rest of the baba with it. He then handed me the book and said I could have it. I thanked him a lot but said I could not take it and that I could not understand the words. He would not take no for an answer, so I found a spot for it in my bag, thanked him a lot and waved goodbye. Another stranger that had just taken me in and showed the utmost kindness.

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I cycled back out of town and was soon following a winding river and enjoying more flat roads and downhill. The best part of all was tarmac. As I entered the village the bumpy road was smoothed out and sealed and my bike was enjoying gliding along its smooth surface. The rest of the day passed by quickly, I stopped a few times to ask directions and responded to the usually hellos and goodbyes that sometimes came from nowhere. A few of the towns were a hive of small activity and groups of people would be gathered around a table playing card games or some sort of dominoes or there would be a tatty pool table. these pool tables were often in the most unlikely places, the side of a cliff, the side of a road or the front of someone house, I never knew that pool was such a popular past time.

old tibetian house

By about 5pm I had reached promising looking camp spot. No water but I had learnt to fill up before 3pm and take the first good camp spot after 5pm. Good camping, that is flat, off the road and hidden, that also avoid rock fall was hard to find and this places was perfect. It took me a while to get the bike over some small rocky obstacles and around some bushes but I was soon laying out the ground sheet and foam mat and getting the stove out to boil water and make dinner. I was camping right underneath a phone mast so I was hopping to get good signal and let the family know I was still OK Despite the phone mast I seemed to be in a black spot but moving a few meters enabled me to get good reception and I enjoyed a good chat with Liz. It had been a week since I had spoken a conversation in English and I had verbal diarrhoea. I had to remember to stop and breath while I told Liz about all the amazing adventures I had had over the last few day. We said goodbye and I washed up the pans and got out my sleeping bag for bed. Another night biviing, I still felt a little vulnerable, the daylight had gone and a light source from the other side of the valley kept me on high alert for a while. I worked hard on calming my irrational fears and soon felt better and was able to fall asleep.

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Shangri-la to Batang Yunnan & Sichuan Day 6

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I woke up at about 8am, my mountain top camp-site was still cold and the sun was a few hours of warming everything up. The tent and sleeping bag were covered in a layer of frost and ice. I had some porridge and decided that I would wait until the tent and sleeping bags were dry before I set off. It would also give me a chance to find out what was wrong with the back brake. I lay some of the wet kit out ready for the sun and sat with a coffee admiring the valley below me. There was little there apart from two or three small houses. The occupants were awake and they were starting to bring the animals out to pasture. I watched as the slowly started making their way up the hill towards me.

moutain top camp site china

I inspected my back brake and was surprised to see that one of the brake pads had actually come off. Just the rubber pad which is replaceable, not the whole block. I checked for rim damaged but everything seemed OK. I replaced the pad and gave the bike a quick check over. The sleeping bags were dry and I was just waiting on the tent. I moved it so that the side not in the sun would dry, as I was doing this a man came up near my camp-site and sat down. I finished pegging out the tent, grabbed the hot water flask and went to sit next to him. He declined the offer of tea, but took a cigarette. He did not say anything but gestured as to whether I had slept here, I told him I had and the conversation continued as to where I was going, if he was looking after the cattle and the road condition, and if there were monkeys and wolves here, apparently so. The guy must have said two words the whole conversation, I wondered if he had taken a vow of silence. We sat there for about 10 minutes sometimes not even talking or moving 2011-01-19 074

With my tea finished I started to pack up the now dry tent, the man watched, fascinated as to how the tent poles came out and then folded out and then everything packed away into its bag. With the tent down, his curiosity seemed to be satisfied and he said goodbye and went back to his cattle. I finished packing up and pushed the bike back up the steep slope to the road. Downhill all the way to the next village apparently, I was very pleased. I sat on the saddle and let the brakes go. My pleasure was soon interrupted as I discovered the road down was like the road up, really bumpy, every time I started to get some speed up, the bike would be bouncing of rocks and I would start to loose control. The only way down was going to be slow. It could always be worse I thought and it’s good training. After a short while the road flattened out and I was on a flattish plain, with nothing but the cattle to keep me company, it was a magical place, so quiet you could hear silence itself. catle grazzing tibetan plan chinaMy solitude was only disturbed by the odd passing car and a beep of the horn. One car that seemed impressed that I was where I was on the bike. The nice smiley guys took photos with me before heading up their hill in their nice 4×4. I stopped for more nuts and raisins, and readjusted some of the gear on the bike that kept coming loose with the constant jolting. The flat plain started to descend and I soon found myself snaking down a windy path into another valley below. Physically, riding was quite easy, not much pedaling involved, but mentally I was tired, constantly have to concentrate, although this soon became second nature, I was glad to reach the bottom. bad road chinaI stopped for some more nuts, it was 5pm already, it had taken me all afternoon to come down the hill. I contemplated what to do. There was still more light left and if I was lucky I could make it to the next town and find a hotel for the night. I set off, the road still slightly down hill and still very bumpy. I passed through some small settlements and thought that the village might not be far. My computer speedometer had stopped working so I had no idea how far I had come or how far it was until the next village. All of a sudden there was a big bang, pop and a high pitched hissing sound that got lower in tone very quickly. It was a familiar sound and I jumped off the bike quickly to reduce the weight on the back wheel. The back tyre was completely flat, a sharp rock or piece of metal, I had a brief look but could not find anything obvious. It didn’t really matter, I just wanted to get it changed quickly. I lent the bike on its side to save having to take all the bags off and started to change the tube. It was getting cold and I was tired, puncture chinaI worked quickly and had a new tube and on the bike in about 15 minutes. I could not find the hole in the old tube and the tyre seemed to be fine. As I was pumping up the tyre I realised I had made a silly mistake, the small nut that goes on the valve of the tube was still on and inside the rim. I took the tyre off, then the nut, then put the tyre back on and started pumping again. Just as I was about to finished in noticed a big tear in the tyre, I half cursed and half chuckled to myself, this was the longest tyre change in the history of cycling touring. I took the tyre off again, got one of the mountain bike tyres out and put that on instead. It took ages to get it on, I was really worried about the rim, but I had to force it. It popped on and I breathed a sigh of relief. It had taken me an hour just to change the tyre. I quickly packed up, put all my lights on and got out the high vis jacket. ripped tyre chinaI passed a few settlements and wondered about asking about camping, for some reason I just wanted peace so opted for carrying on. I still answered all the hello and goodbye calls but did not linger to chat. The temperature had really dropped and I was starting to shiver, I put on the last of my warm clothes and set of down the bumpy road again. I arrived in a small village where a small bridge marked a turn. I had a quick scout for a camp site but most of the area was people’s garden so no good for camping. A group of people were crowded around a small fire by the side of the road, so I went to ask for directions. I approached cautiously, it is uncommon for a hairy white guy on a bike to pass through their village. It can be unnerving when a white guy with reflective clothing and lights on his bike and head approach you in the dark. Some of you might think why bother with the reflective clothing, you are in the middle of nowhere. Well that is precisely why. Granted people walk around the road at night all the time, but it is quite easy for them to dive into a bush or something if a big truck as not seen them, that is if they get the chance to do so. Driving on these roads must be hard enough, so driving at night even harder. The more visible I am and the longer the driver has to compute that there is something about the same width as a scooter on the road and that s/he must avoid it, the better. Yes I look silly but not as silly as I would do in a box on a plane home to see Mum. Anyway I quite like my hi vis jacket I think it cool.

So I have digressed, I tend to approach with caution when I am looking like a Christmas tree. Fortunately after the initial shock and the people realised I was just another human being lost too, questions started being asked. I found out the the road the village was straight on and that it was not far. How far, not far was I don’t know but I was encouraged. We then got on to the subject of sleeping, I explained about my tent, I have a few pictures of the tent on my ipod to show people my home. I decided the village seemed friendly and so I asked I there was anywhere I could put up the tent in the village. On of the guys, said that I could sleep at his house. I was very thankful, I checked again to make sure that I had understood and was soon making my way to his in small village china

A few people from the original crowd at the side of the road helped me with my bags and a was ushered up the stairs to a large room that functioned as a kitchen and living area. I said a brief hello the the curious faces in the house then went back downstairs to get the bike. The ground floor was covered in straw and young cattle that were sleeping here for the night I presumed were coaxed out the way to make room for the bike. I thanked everyone for their help and we went back upstairs to meet the family. It was a bit of a shock for me and for them I think, the house set up was very different to anything I had seen before but it was warm, cosy and inviting. I was offered a seat and tea and then a plate of food and beer was given to me. I thanked everyone profusely. I started to explain my trip and answer questions as best I could. The family consisted of three men, one of these being the guy that had offered my a place to stay. An older women I understood to be the mother of the three men, three children and two women. I could not work out who was mother to the children, one of the women I really could not work out how old she was. I guessed she was either a young mother in her early twenties or sister to the men.

I was frustrated at my lack of ability to talk, learn and share about our lives and cultures. I did the best I could. My hosts kept encouraging me to eat and I managed to convey that one beer was plenty for me. One of the guys that was also drinking beer said that I should drink more and that he had already drunk three. I actioned that if I drank more than one I would dizzy and would not be able to cycle the next day. This seemed to be amusing as everyone laughed but they must of understood at the same time. I drank tea the rest of the night. The tea was different, rather than leaves it was hot milk and my cup was constantly refilled after every sip. Two of the tree guys wore red robes, I think that this makes them Lamas and perhaps explains why there weren’t drinking but instead were sniffing something from a small container that I presumed to be snuff. Lamas differ from priests in that they can leave the temple and are allowed to live outside it. The closer to Tibet I have got the more men and women I have seen dressed in these red robes. tibetan women

The mother of the house had some tea and it looked as though she was reading the tea leaves. She talked to me and I have no idea what she said, I just hoped that it was good news. She was a strong woman, and confident. Different to the impression that I had of the local women who often seemed a bit meek and sometimes wary of me when I pass them on the bike. Bringing up three boys must have contributed to this and where her husband was, I don’t know. So many question and so few answers. She announced that it was time for bed and a mattress was brought out for me. I prepared my sleeping bag but was stopped from putting it down. A ladle of sorts was placed in the fire and hot smoking coals were brought out of the fire. The smoke was circled around my bed and everyone seemed to approve and I was motioned to lay out my sleeping bag. With all the tea I had drunk I was desperate for the toilet. I asked where it was, outside, followed the guy that had originally taken me in and was shown to a wall in the small dirt street outside the house. I went back upstairs and the family watched me get into bed. I said good nights and thank you and when I lay my head down they seemed happy and went upstairs to sleep themselves. I took me while to get to sleep, my muscles seemed to be active still, I should have stretched. Eventually though I drifted off, I felt safe and secure and was very thankful to the family for taking me in.

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Shangri-la to Batang Yunnan & Sichuan Day 5

Monday, February 21st, 2011

I managed to get a reasonably early start and was cycling before the sun had risen over the valley walls. I passed through more small settlements and a few locals on the road. I noticed a group of guys who were standing by their bikes and I wondered if they had broken down. I slowed down and they motioned for me to stop and join them. I suddenly realised that they were in a sun spot and were warming their fingers and toes. I smiled and carried on, I had not been going that long and wanted to get at least one hours cycling done before my first break. I managed this quite easily and was soon sipping tea from my Thermos and munching handfuls of nuts and raisins. I was at the top of a small rise and the land below me was all being prepared for the next planting season. I wondered what this place would be like in the spring and summer. All I could see now were shades of grey and I wondered how anything could grow in that soil. With my musing over I carried on and within half an hour I found myself in a small village. I stocked up on a few bits and pieces but could not find any more rice to buy, the woman in the shop assured me I could get some in the next village.

monument china

I said goodbye to quite a few people that had come out to see who the hairy English guy on a bike was and carried on. The road weaved up surrounded by a few houses, the houses became less and less as I peddalled. It was not quite lunch time but there looked to be a climb ahead of me and the flat grassy plane to my left looked like and appealing lunch stop. I got out the stove and made some noodles. I lingered for a bit enjoying the sun and tried not to drink all of the small bottle of pepsi that I had got in the last shop. Eventually I packed up not quite ready for the climb ahead of me. I slowly started to climb the hill, first past a new reservoir that got smaller as I turned each of the bends. I avoid all the cattle on the roads and thanked them for not charging and spiking me with their big horns. I turned another corner, left the cattle behind and kept going up.

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The road by this point was narrow there, was only enough room for one truck at a time so I had to pull over each time a truck went past. I felt better when one of the truck drivers game a look of astonishment and bewilderment like what are you doing up here with that. The road had become increasingly difficult and I was having to push the bike where the gravel road was too loose, and I could not get enough traction to cycle up. The road kept going and when I thought that the next bend would reveal the top, I would see another few lines snaking their way up the mountain. I started counting the bends, one more bend to go, one more bend to go I would say. By the fourth bend I thought I must be at the top. It had taken me most of the afternoon and I had only been climbing for about 10km. I stopped at what I hoped was the last bend and took some photos, the view was amazing. I felt like I was on top of the world. If only could camp here I thought. I hoped that the road would turn the next corner and the summit would be just above me.

cycle tourer in mountain china

I turned on my bike lights and carried on up the hill. There was another bend then the road went straight. Much further than I had hoped, probably only 200m, but it looked so far away and I was tired by this point. I said the ‘just keep pedaling’ mantra in my head. I set myself goals and tried really hard to get to a certain rock or mound of earth by the side of the road without coming off. It worked and I got the the top in just three goes. I crested the summit that was adorned with prayer flags and was pleased to see some promising camping just near the top. My back brake had stopped working so I could not go downhill any more today. I pushed the bike a small way off the road then went to find some flat ground to camp on. It seemed colder up here so I thought the tent would be a good option for the night. I found the best spot I could, it was on a slight slope but it was late and would do for the night. I got the tent up and then crawled inside the sleeping bag. I was to tired and a little cold, but with my down jacket on and inside my sleeping bags I was starting to warm up. The thought of cooking was too much so I had some biscuits and nuts and told myself off for being naughty and not cooking and went to sleep. I had a pretty good nights sleep only waking up once for the toilet and noticing that the thermometer was reading -12, I still didn’t trust the thermometer and wondered what the actually temperature was before falling asleep again.2011-01-19 065

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Shangri-la to Batang Yunnan & Sichuan Day 4

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

little helpers

The next day I had decided to have an easy morning and make the most of my accommodation. I got all my water bottles filled up and changed the tyres on the bike back to the slicks as the snow was gone. The two boys helped me with the tyres and packing up the bike and then I waved good bye. It was another good day, the road was good and the hills good as well. I arrived in a reasonable size town and stopped at a restaurant for a late lunch, for some reason the women did not seem to understand my request for fried rice. There was some meat in a glass cabinet at the front of the shop so I pointed to that and to my surprise the meat was mixed with some spices and then served cold. I got some rice and started to tuck into this interesting looking dish. After a few mouthfuls I was not sure if I could finish, the meat had something crunchy running through it. I was hungry though so ate as much as I could and left. it was a strange experience, most people in China are so friendly but here I did not feel so welcome by the staff.

hydro power china

I found some helpful people outside the shop who pointed me in the right direction and I carried on. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful apart from shouting at two young kids that were beating an animal with a piece of wood. They were very surprised by my short sharp shout and stopped. I did not stop so have no idea if they carried on, I hoped not. The rest of the day was good,  I covered more ground and by 5 o’clock I stumbled across a good bivi site. Hidden by a mound of dirt and just off the road with access to the river water. I inspected a few others site up the river but this was the best. I got my sleeping mats out and started to get dinner on the go. I sort of dozed a bit but woke up to almost cooked rice and decided that I should try and get an early start tomorrow. Only an hour or so after sun set I suddenly realised it was really dark no moon or anything. I then started to panic a bit, for some reason I felt exposed and vunerable, had someone seen me dive in ogf the road were they going to come back later and steal all my stuff or worse. The more I thought about it, the more imaginative situations I conjured up in my head. I didn’t know what was happening, I never normally have a problem with camping or biviing. I can only remember feeling like this once before in England.

I had set out for a walk late afternoon with the plan to be in one of my favourite valleys by midnight. I was still looking for a cave that was meant to be in the area. Anyway the last part of the walk, in the dark, was was over a flat more that is covered in small mounds of grass. I had not walked this way before. After a while I thought that I should have been across the moor by now and descending into the valley below. As I progressed I came to the conclusion that there were small dwarfs behind each of the little mounds of grass. They were not nice, but evil and they were leading me off the right path. Every time I though I saw one it vanished just as quick. I kept checking the compass and decided that if I was going to trust anything it would be that. As I progressed I thought this was getting a little ridiculous. So decided instead of being evil, these dwarfs were going to help me and make sure I was on the right path. A while later I reached the path that led down into the valley. I descended the path and started feeling a whole lot better. I walked half way along the valley and rolled out my bivi bag and crawled inside. Not long after I stared to have this feeling that the worst was going to happen. I eventually fell asleep and was pleased to wake up in the morning and find I was still alive and all was well, amused at how silly I had been.

I though back to this moment as I lay there, this time in China and decided short of packing up and cycling though the night there was not much I could do. The thought of packing up was less appealing so I lay there and eventually fell asleep. Around midnight I woke up and was happy to still be there and slightly encouraged as well, the moon had risen and that made me feel a hell of a lot better. I re-adjusted my pillow and fell back asleep.

tibetan house

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Shangri-la to Batang Yunnan & Sichuan Day 3

Friday, February 18th, 2011

2011-01-19 100I woke up refreshed, it had been a goods night sleep, I made breakfast and checked the emails for comments on the blog. I was a little disappointed that there were only two comments, one for each way. I pondered what to do for a while, then got on the bike and headed North. My heart was telling me to go that way so it felt right. I had no idea where the road would lead, it looked as if it was a dead end at the end of the valley but I had been looking at the cars coming and going, and logically I was in the right place and the road must go on. I got to the end of the valley and a narrow gap between the two sides allowed the river and a road to slide through. I kept following the road and was blessed with tarmac and generally flat cycling. There was the odd patch where there had been a rock fall and the road was not sealed and covered in rocks but generally it was pretty good. By early afternoon I arrived at a small house that Margo and Ben had mentioned. (they are cycling a few weeks ahead of me)

abbandoned house

They said it was an abandoned house and good for camping in, they had also left me a note in the house. I opened the door and looked all over for the note but could not find it anywhere. I pondered staying the night but decided it was too early in the day so I had some nuts and tea and pushed on. The road continued to be good and I felt like I was making great progress. There were only a few places were I had to look at the map and a new tunnel that was built into the side of the mountain threw me for a bit, until I got near it and I realised that it was not completed yet so that was not my route.

new tunnel china

Just before night fall I passed what I took to be small hotel, I stopped outside and contemplated about staying the night. There was at least another half and hour of cycling to be had. My dilemma was that I had not seen any good camp sites for ages. The cliff on onside with regular rock fall did not seem appealing and it would only get about 2 meters away from the road at best. On the other side of the road it was not much better a sheer drop into water or a tiny ledge a meter or so from the road where if I rolled over in the night I would probably end up doing some sort of night time water expedition instead. I opted for the hotel. It was new and clean, all dorm rooms and a bargain 25 Yen for the night including dinner. It took me a while to work this out and there was much laughter in the kitchen at my bad Chinese. The two young boys of the house looked after me well and helped me with my bags and were very patient with my Chinese. The boys were fascinated with my maps and studied them in great detail while I ate my dinner. I managed to charge the computer and get some writing done and had a good nights sleep.

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