Posts Tagged ‘camping’

Driving to the Border

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

With money in hand we were in a much better position, we asked the hotel staff where we could get get a van from.  We were pointed to the end of the main road.  We had been here the day before but Monday morning meant is was busy with people and the loud speaker was voicing a constant stream of announcements.  There is only a small public transport system in Mongolia that serves the centre of UB and the trains to Russia and China.  The rest is privately owned minivans, Russian jeeps or hitching.  Larger towns will have a place, usually by the main market, where you can describe your journey to a person in a small booth, they will announce your requirements over a tannoy and then you have to hope that someone is going your way. So we got our message across using Liz’s pictures she had drawn the day before.  A small group had started to gather around us anyway and we were ushered to different cars and people, hoping each time that we might get a ride.  Eventually we were sat in one van and started negotiating a price.

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Our issue was we had four days left on our visa or 14 if the exit visa gave you 10 days to leave the country.  We could not be sure and did not want to risk a hefty fine or problems at the border that has also only just opened to tourists.  The driver said he could take us and get us there in four days but the price was astronomical.  We called our friend Dash in UB to double check that we had everything right.  We did and Dash had also checked with a friend of his who confirmed the price was reasonable. The driver want fuel money not only for the trip there, but also to cover his costs for the way back – 1600km round trip.

It was a lot of money, but we decided to go for it.  We did not know the exact date for the visa. Hitching rides could take a lot longer and Liz had some work to do in the coming weeks.  This work relied on a good and fast internet connection, something that we had not had since leaving UB, so we needed to get to China.

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We went back to the hotel and loaded up the van with all our stuff, then had some food.  You never know how long something is going to take in Mongolia so its always good to embark on any journey with a full stomach and plenty of food for the journey. After lunch we got back into the van and in true Mongolian style we spent another hour driving around the town picking up parcels from different houses before setting off.

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We drove across more wild country with nothing but grass and the occasional animal, stopping at a few small towns on the way.  We arrived late at night to the city of Ulaistai, we did not really know what the plan was now, we told the driver we had camping stuff and hotels were expensive.  They asked if we minded sleeping in a Ger, not at all but how much would it cost?  We drove up to an apartment bloc, not a ger and were made welcome into a families home with tea and a place to sleep.  Quite confused, we chatted with our new hosts who turned out to be the mother of our driver.  She was very nice, with kind smiley eyes and made us feel very welcome. We were given food and then offered a place to sleep for the night, but not before game of chess with one of the children and some group  photos. We rolled our sleeping mats out on the floor and settled in for the night.  It seemed quite normal for some reason to be sharing a small room with our drivers mother and sister while Liz and I took the floor with our Thermarests.  The next morning we were woken at 8.30 am and had a light breakfast before saying goodbye to the mother of the house.  She was a kind smiley old lady whom we had felt at ease with.

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It was 10 am before we set off, we didn’t know it yet, but it was going to be a long day.  We left the city and the houses became less and then the gers became less until we were out in the open, as the day progressed it got colder and colder and there was snow all around us. The road varied between good  tracks and really bumpy intothe evening where we were driving at night negotiating boggy tracks where getting stuck would have been all too easy.  Our driver did a good job and we made it out the other side of the mud and back on to firmer ground.  It was now almost 1am and we were not sure where we were sleeping.  Eventually we pulled up to a ger in the middle of nowhere.  An old lady welcomed us in.  We laid our beds out in the ger and quickly got to sleep.

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The next morning we had tea and soup and were back on the road in record time. It was a crisp fresh morning and i was missing the bike.  I had really missed the bike over the last two days, the freedom of stopping on your terms and being in control were a far cry away from the van ride that i was not really enjoying.  Partly because i wanted to be outside  and not inside a metal box and also our driver.  We had not really connected with him, and there was a certain amount of wariness on his and our parts.  Normally spending a few days with someone you will bond, but here there was nothing.  I don’t think i really trusted him and i was also resentful for paying all this money.  The latter was a bit unfair as i had agreed on the price but we were paying for him to go back home as well which i felt was unreasonable because he could have easily filled his van with local traffic moving between towns.  I think a few bad experiences in the week before the van ride had really made me wary of people.   Still this was the last day of the van and i would be back on the bike soon enough.

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A few hours into the first day and we joined the tarmac road that comes from China.  It was built by the Chinese mining companies to provide good access to the mines in Mongolia.  The riches in Mongolia are being exported to China helping fuel its industrial development.  We stopped for some tea by the side of the road, we used the last of the water in our thermos for the driver, his wife and friend and us before the final push to the town of Bulgan. 

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We arrived there about 3pm and were surprises to find a large town with quite a lot of people shops and buildings.  We unloaded the van paid the rest of the money and the driver gave a short wave before heading off.  There was no emotial goodbye or farewell this was a transaction that had now ended and i think we were both glad. We got some food and cycled out of town on the road to the border.  We found a quiet spot to check email and move some money into our current account so that we could get some cash out in China.  While we were doing this a large group of kids came by interested in what we were doing, they had been fruit picking and offered us some of the fruit.  They were excited and full of energy which was a pleasant change from how i had felt over the last few days.  We accepted their gift and they told us we could get some more not far from here. 

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We packed up the laptop and set off a few more kms up the road and towards China to find a place for our last nights camping in Mongolia.  We found a good spot off the main road, well hidden and Liz cooked up the last of our food.  We reflected on Mongolia and our time here in general.  I was a little sad but Liz reminded me to think of all the good things that had happened too. The time that we spent in UB, where we made some really good friends and met a lot of lovely people will stay with me forever and i hope that some of those friendships will continue to grow. Outside of UB though  I  had found interacting with people in the countryside to be hard.   They were either super friendly, excited to see you and welcoming;  drunk;  trying to steal something from you, or asking to have something of yours or your money; or indifferent to your presence.  On top of this our basic Mongolian was not enough.  I think that having a better grasp of the language or travelling with a person that spoke Mongolian and English would have made things more enjoyable and interesting 

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I also realise that i could have been just unlucky, we have met people that have hated countries that we have loved because they had bad or negative experiences there, a lot sometimes comes down to chance.  I still like Mongolia and i want to come back so don’t let me put you off, just be aware of some of the annoyances here as there are in any country in the world.  I have already thought of a short expedition here for the future.  It is quite a challenge and will probably be almost some of the hardest things i will ever do.

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So with the reflections over we switched off our headtorches and had our last night in Mongolia, fee again. 

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Back on the road, the road to Tsetserleg

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

We had a few false starts trying to leave Ulaanbatar, we were all packed and ready to go last sunday, then when we woke up on Monday morning, I had really bad stomach cramps and bad diarrhea again. I had this on and off for over a week, but it seemed to get better, then would come back again. So knowing that were about to head out into the wilderness for the next 45 days, and knowing that the only hospitals were in UB, i decided to get checked out and make sure it wasn’t anything serious. Diarrhea I can handle, we all get it form time to time when travelling and at home too, but the stomach pain was acute and made me want to curl up into a ball. I was also worried it might be Gardiasis, which several friends have had whilst on the road. So after a trip to the hospital, where the doctor was very thorough and sent me for various tests, it turned out to be gastroenteritis which isn’t serious, just a bad case of  food poisoning really, but she did say the blood tests showed small levels of ‘toxic hepatitis’, which sounds a lot more dramatic than it really is. She was keen to reassure me that it’s to do with the food poisoning and is not the same as the more serious viral hepatitis. Phew! So armed with pills and tablets I went home and felt glad to know that it wasn’t anything serious. The doctor didn’t say anything about not cycling or resting, so the next day I felt ok and we decided to get back on the bikes., agreeing to take it easy…

We knew the roads around UB pretty well by now and so it was simply a  case of dodging potholes and holding your own in the traffic. We headed out towards the airport and after 10km stopped to have a final look back at UB.

Down the hill following a rather industrial, dusty, bumpy road we then joined the main road out of UB. After 20km we bought some ridiculously expensive water and stocked up on a few more luxuries, bread, cheese, bacon and coffee, before turning onto the road to Tsetserleg.

Tsetserleg is about 500km west and we hope to be there in about 10 days time. The road climbed and we both realised that 8 weeks off the bikes meant our fitness levels had dropped. We knew this, but it is always hard when you realised that what you previously found easy is now a bit of a struggle. At the top of the hill we stopped and rested, watching people buying and selling sheep. Chris got up and back on his bike, i wasn’t to far behind him, but faffed about for a minute or so. A drunk guy from the ger opposite made a beeline for me and started asking me things. I didn’t really want to engage him in conversation as I could see he was quite drunk. I didn’t understand what he was asking so just said Tsetserleg and goodbye, got on my bike and pedaled fast to catch up with Chris.  Mongolian men are very friendly and polite generally, however when they’re very drunk they can behave quite differently, being unpredictable and aggressive so I am quite wary. This is probably the first country where I feel vulnerable around men, in SE Asia and China I always felt safe. Chris and I have agreed that we should stick together as we cycle, especially if we stop somewhere and where there are groups of people.

We cycled on and climbed what felt like lots of hills. It was hard going and I felt a little light headed and wanted to stop to camp, however we kept passing through villages and couldn’t see anywhere suitable to stop. We finally zoomed down hill and we in open countryside surrounded by hills. We pulled off the road and followed a track down the hill for 500m or so and then found the perfect camp spot.

I was glad to stop, we had only done 40km, but I was obviously still not 100% better yet! That said it was nice to be back on the bikes and out of the city. We set up the tent had a lovely dinner. We were both very saddle sore and I’d forgotten what that feels like.  We had a really, really good nights sleep, Chris said it was the best sleep he’s had in weeks. It was very peaceful and dark. We were woken up by a man about 7am, he was saying ‘Benoo, benoo’, which kinda means ‘hello, are you there?’, Chris went out to see him and he was friendly and  just wanted a cigarette and then went on his way, he was probably just curious to see who we were. We think we saw him later as he rounded up his horses and rode across the hills behind us.

There we an amazing number of grasshoppers and spiders where we were camped and when we packed up we had to be careful not to take half the wildlife with us too.

We were going to try and reach Hustai today, which is a national park with the rare Tahki horses. We reckon it should be about 60km away. The road was good, with lots of up and downs and we both enjoyed the cycling. Trucks and cars all beeped  and waved at us as we cycled, and pretty much everyone gave us room or waited to pass us, so that was great and we felt safe, allowing us to relax and day dream a little. We stopped for lunch at a road side cafe and were surprised to find that the guy running it spoke brilliant English. We chatted to him for a while and with full mobile phone signal managed to check emails and internet before getting back on the road. We cycled another 20km and could see a long climb ahead of us, gradual, but maybe 3 or 4km long. We ploughed on, but it was hot and the sun was getting lower in the sky. Half way up we stopped, my bum was sore and I kept readjusting my position to get more comfortable, but really stopping was the only was to relieve the discomfort! We made some shade with the bikes and ate mars bar and pringles by the side of the road, with hot coffee. We didn’t think it was too much farther to Hustai, maybe 10-15km, so we would push on.

Not long after we sat down another cycle tourer came from the opposite direction and stopped. He came over and joined us, his name was Remo, from Switzerland and he’d been on the road for a year and 4 months. He has a very cool Swiss army bike…

After standing by the roadside chatting for over an hour, we realised it was getting late and so Chris suggested we camp together.  Turns out we had matching Staika tents, although Remo’s looked a lot newer than ours – the sand storms in the Gobi took their toll on ours.

We cooked dinner and sat chatting together until late. This is probably one of our favourite things about cycle touring, meeting other tourers and sitting out under a sea of stars, swapping stories and finding out that they met or know the same people you do! Remo had also met and cycled with Marie and Nico, and met Emma and Justin. It really is a small world when you are on a bike!

The next morning we were woke up at 5am by a man on his horse. he was pretty determined to wake us and once again Chris went out to see what he wanted, Remo got up too. He just wanted water for himself and his horse. Chris was surprised that he would wake us up when there were gers not too far away, that he could have stopped at. But perhaps he just wanted to see who was camping here. Chris gave him half a litre of our water and he went on his way. Out here in the countryside it is acceptable to turn up at a ger at whatever time of the night or day and be given food and water. It isn’t so much an etiquette more a necessity for survival. With the remoteness and distances involved in travelling across Mongolia, people will give you what you need without a second thought and don’t expect payment.  Chris was a bit cross that he had woken us up and that the guy was a little aggressive, but who knows he may have been riding for hours and was thirsty. We have been given so much hospitality by the Mongolian people, that I feel it’s only right that we should expect to share our food and water in return.

We all went back to sleep and then woke again around 8. By 9am it was baking hot. I wasn’t feeling too great and had stayed in bed a bit longer, but the heat made me move and get up. Chris rigged up the tarp to give us some shade and I cooked eggs and bacon for breakfast as a treat. Remo packed up and got on his way, he had 80km to do to get to UB, before getting on a train to China. We said our goodbyes and he left.

It was so hot I couldn’t quite grasp how we would cycle in this heat. Our thermometer said it was 41.8 degrees (celcius). Blimey, it’s only 10 o’clock in the morning. We procrastinated for a while and then the wind forced our hand. It began blowing hard and started pulling the tarp around, so we had no choice but pack up and go, without shade it was too hot to sit still.

We climbed the second half of the hill that we had left yesterday and it wasn’t too bad at all. The saddle sore had eased a bit and the wind made it cooler to cycle than to stand still. We didn’t have much water left and the water in our bladders was hot and didn’t quench the thirst very well. I was imagining glugging down ice cold water. At the top of the hill was a small settlement with a ger or two and some small huts. As we passed we saw that they were selling water and drink and sweets. Chris went in and brought out 5 litres of cold cold water and 2 oranges juices, also cold, heaven! We downed some of the water and juice, it was sooooo nice.  Then we set off down a long downhill that last about 7km. This is when cycling come into it’s own. You are gliding down a hill, surrounded by glorious countryside and mountains, the wind rushing passed you and a long road unfolding before you. You can see for miles and right at that moment you are happy, feeling alive and free.

We continued on and then saw the signs for Hustai, hurray! We turned off the main road and the sign said 13km to Hustai park, 3 km to tourist ger camp. Cool. The road was a dirt road and fine to start with but then became very very sandy. It was too hard to cycle and I kept coming off. It was like the Gobi again. It was my idea to come here so I couldn’t complain. I pushed my bike for a kilometer or so, Chris managed to cycle some of it, in-between skids. The heat was intense and I could feel my head throbbing and I felt sick. I knew it wasn’t far to the ger camp but it felt like miles, I was just too hot.

In the end I stopped and had a rest, drinking as much water as I could. Above us the clouds were gathering and turning black. I wanted it to rain so badly, ‘please rain on me clouds’ I said silently in my head. We sat there for a few minutes and then I felt a splat of water on my arm, then another on the ground in front of me. It was raining!! Chris said, that’s the second time you’ve asked for water today and your wish has been granted. As we say ‘ask and the universe will provide’! I stood in the rain and big splodges fell on me and the ground. It cooled us off a bit before passing over. We continued on and eventually got to the ger camp, which was about 5km away not 3km. Chris helped me with my bike in the sand and my head continued to pound.

Maybe I should have stayed in UB a bit longer to fully get better. Over the last few days every time I exerted myself or tried to push hard, I found I had no strength to draw on and lacked the energy required. Combined with the heat today, it was all a bit too much.

We arrived at the camp and Chris organised a ger for us, while I sat on the ground wishing my head would stop hurting so much. It was $18 a night each, which is pretty expensive, $48 each with food! However i didn’t care about the cost right then and we went for the no food option and moved into our 4 sided ger, which was lovely. I was so relieved to stop and lie down. A storm rolled in and the temperature dropped which was  a relief. After a shower, shade and some food I felt a bit better and had managed to cool down. I had been so excited about coming here to see the horses and to celebrate being together for 6 years, I was disappointed to be feeling so ill. So we took it easy for the rest of the day and agreed to take the next day off to rest more and go to see the horses. Hopefully by the time we were due to be on the road again I would be feeling well.

We did received some great news though once we connected to the internet (via our mobile). My brother Chris and his wife Sarah have had their baby girl, Ellie Rose, so we now have a beautiful little niece! Congratulations Chris and Sarah and welcome to the world Ellie.

Ellie Rose Wilton. Born 19th August 2011.

Ellie Rose Wilton. Born 19th August 2011.

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Staying in KeLuoDong and Sleeping with bears.

Friday, March 25th, 2011

I cycled out of Dege on a pretty good road, it was sealed but with pot holes and the odd unsealed bit. The weather was sunny but not to hot and I was making great progress on the flat roads. Dege had been wonderful and the massive lunch I had before I left was sure to power me until last light. About 4pm I passed a group of people that were sitting on a small hill to the side of the road. The kept shouting at me until I stopped and walked up to say hello. They were having a kind of beer pick-nick and wanted me to joining them. I declined the beer, acting out that cycling drunk was not a good thing, but was happy to chat for a bit. After a while the conversation dried up but one of the guys was insistent that I come to his house and stay the night. His village was a few kms of the road that I was on. I asked if he wanted money in return and he said no, but he would love it if I took some pictures of him and his family and send them to him. It was a good deal so I loaded up my bike into the back of the van and went to meet the family.

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The short drive up a side valley brought me to a collection of about 10 or so houses that were situated all the way down the short valley we had driven up. My bike was put at the bottom of the house where the animals usually live but instead just some straw and a motorbike and I was taken upstairs. It was a typical Tibetan house and I was made very welcome with plenty of food and drink. The family consisting of Mum, Dad (who I met by the road) and their two kids who were about 13 or 14 I guessed. We had a big dinner with plenty of rice and chatted the evening away as best we could with my limited Chinese and the phrase book. We were waiting for 10pm, this is when the village would get mains power and it would be light enough to take some photos. The small light hooked up to a car battery was not really good enough for a photos taking session.

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Eventually at 10.30 the lights flickered and we got snapping. Everyone put their best clothes on and I even got to try on some traditional Tibetan clothes.

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When the photos were done I was shown to a room, I had it all to myself a bead and lots of blankets, luxury. I had a great nights sleep and felt lucky to have met this man who was genuine and kind.

Chris in tradational dress with local family


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The next day I ate as much of the breakfast as I could. It was the first time I had tried Tsampa (barely flower and water) and it did not really agree with me. It was a shame as I like to try local food and it is a stable for most Tibetan families during the winter. It was freezing cold in the morning and it took a while to get the bike packed up with numb finger. Eventually everything was put in its place, I took one last photo and set of down the valley to joining the main road again.

Local Ladies

On the way I met a few of the other locals in the village. All of whom invited me in for tea, I polity declined I was making a beeline for the main road where the morning sun would have risen and I could thaw out a bit.

Local Kids

Once at the main road I gathered my thoughts and say in the sun for a bit. Most people are really great I though and the kindness I have experienced in China and this trip has been a real eye opener into how we view each other normally. Just as I was leaving another guy on his way up to the village asked me if I wanted a place to sleep or some tea. I waved and said I was OK and continued on.

  Local Man

The day was relatively normal the road stopped being being good about 60km from Dege I calculated and it gradually got steeper. The weather was still good and in-between running into the bushes every hour or so (the Tsampa did not agree with me) I made quite good progress. However by 5pm I was feeling a bit fed up with my stomach and really wanted to stop. I had reached the foot of the big 5000m pass and there seemed to be a Hotel or guest house at the bottom, so I wondered in to ask if they had any room. I received blank looks and they said that this was not a Hotel. So I saddled the bike to try and find a good place to camp for the night. I was now feeling very low on energy and every pedal stroke was an effort. Slowly though I turned the first of the many bends that were above me and that would eventually take me the the highest altitude I had been on a bike. An hour or so later I stopped to look for a camp site. A van pulled up and the guy said that he could give me a lift to the top. I said I was OK despite being very tempted and he kept saying it was fine, he did not want any money it was a long way and it would be a cold night. Eventually after 5 minutes of trying to persuade me he waved and carried on. The access to the camp site I had seen was no good so I had to climb a few more of the hair pin bends until I could get access to a good camp spot.

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I descended a short gravel track to wards a frozen river, I was a little exposed but the site was flat and it would be dark soon. I nominated one spot for the tent and another for cooking. I was thinking of the bears again, at least if I cooked away from the tent it might help out a bit. I had a big dinner and drank lots of tea and started to pitch the tent just before last light. It took me a while as the ground was frozen solid and I could not get the pegs in. Eventually though I succeeded and got my bed and bags sorted.

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My stomach was still doing knots and I needed the loo again, I grabbed the trowel and went to dig a whole as far away from the river as I could get. It was a quiet night and very still. As I squatted doing my business a massive crack sounded from the ice. My muscles froze, all of them, and I jumped up pulling my trousers up as well. I was ready this was it there was a bear on the ice and he was coming over to get me. I raced to the tent and armed myself with the camera tripod and the pen knife. I had gone over this situation every night I had slept outside for the last month. My chances were low but I would not go down without a fight. I sat by the river waiting for the inevitable. Nothing. I really needed the toilet, now, I shone my torch over the frozen river to see what was out there but I could see nothing. I walked back to my outdoor toilet and started again. The fear was obviously making me shy as nothing happened. Suddenly there was another loud crack from the ice. I jumped up again and got ready. The last think I wanted was to die with my trousers around my ankles. ‘Cyclist killed by bear whilst having poo’ was not a catchy headline. If it was my time I was going to go with my trousers on. I scanned the area again looking for the faintest sign of movement, Nothing. The process was repeated about 2 more times and each time I pulled my trousers down the ice cracked. Eventually accepted my fate and managed to do my business while the ice cracked around me and the bears moved in on my position. Finally relived I moved closer to the ice, I was going to find out what was out there once and for all. I must have spent 30 mins watching waiting and listening. Lots of noise by nothing that looked like a bear. I retired to my sleeping bag and hoped that it was just the ice melting and cracking and the bears were far away. I went to bed with the tripod next to me and the pen knife open and ready.

Camp night before the QueEr pass

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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.

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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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