Yin Yang

Rural Yunnan

Chengdu held my heart in a headlock. I loved the city; the people, the parks, the atmosphere set my pulse racing. It was a buzz similar to what I feel for London. It was tough to leave.

Luckily, sadness morphed into abject rage by the end of our first ride in 2 weeks. This was OK, I know where I am with rage. It was my modus operandi back in the IT years.

A rotund man, stood before me, blocking access to his Wangba^. his chubby jowls wobbling as he told me “Go! Go! Go!”.

“Please can you help me?” I implored in the most pleading mandarin I could muster. Apparently he couldn’t. The use of one of his PCs, even at 3 times the hourly rate, was prohibited. I’d even tried offering cash to other customers to allow me to check Google Maps so we would know where the hell we were!

It was no use. He wasn’t budging (by the size of the feller I reckon he did a lot of not budging). The only recourse left was to pummel him into an unidentifiable pulp, so I grabbed the monitor nearest to me and smashed it repeatedly over his bulbous head.

“Go! Go! Go!” he said, snapping me back to reality, where murder is illegal. I smiled and deployed a sarcastic comment, which would have really hurt his feelings, if he’d understood it. I walked out of his shop almost an hour after going in.

Frustrating encounters like this, often involving hoteliers, occurred regularly along the road.

In Suifu, bordering Yunnan, were thwarted a cheap hotel.

We’d been on the road 7 days. Temperatures were reaching the mid-thirties and we were slogging our way up hills. Combined with little rest or water resulted in Matt almost blacking out from sunstroke.

Forced to find lodgings in the town we headed to a cheap place.

Despite my pleading and Matt lying, almost comatose in the lobby they refused to take us in. Its not that they couldn’t but to do so would have required a call to the police for us to be registered. Therefore we were shown the door.

It’s fair to say we were finding the Chinese culture difficult to come to terms with. The Yin of frustration, however, was balanced by the Yang of priceless moments. Impromptu English lessons given to kids then being paid in sweets or becoming a minor celebratory in a small town, posing for pictures with everyone, for example.

On one occasion a group of girls walked by, walked past again, then a third time before stopping about 5m from where we rested. One girl stood with her back to us while her friend surreptitiously took pictures of us over her shoulder. We played along by pulling stupid faces back at them, they laughed and sprinted over to talk to us and take more pictures.

A similar dichotomy existed between the road and the landscape.

Our route planning thus far had revealed to us that Yunnan’s landscape is decidely crinkly, there are lots and lots of hills.

Travel early on was easy. The G213, wide and true, lead us towards Laos alongside it’s gentle bends and relaxed gradients that delicately brushed through the many valleys. With the visa clock running down we thought getting to Laos would be easy.

Unfortunately the police failed to grasp the urgency with which we travelled and soon chucked us off the nice smooth road, complete with wide hardshoulder onto the smaller, bobbly and more dangerous b-roads.

No more smooth motorway, we were forced to use the back roads of Yunnan, adding on a few hundred kilometres to the route and a lot more hills.

Not only this but the roads were little more than dirt in places. Add a thick, humid atmosphere and each turn of pedals became like pushing through syrup.

One consolation were the rice paddies. Cut into the red earth of the mountainsides the terraces were a sudden blast of colour along our way.

Terrain was one problem, having 10 punctures in one day was another!

I was unable to repair the inner tube which had averaged 3 punctures per day since leaving Chengdu. It was more hole than rubber at that point. I began to walk the 10km to the town where Matt waited. Eventually, a kindly driver stopped and offered to take me into town…on his motorbike!

Mopeds and scooters proliferate throughout Asia. They are a cheap and easily maintained form of transport. The loads the average Asian can fit onto his/her scooter are incredible. Matt once saw a family of five precariously balanced upon a bike.

My doubts proved unwarranted as we managed to lift Colin onto the rear of his motorcycle and tether him down. With me squished in behind the skinny driver we set off.

It was a nervous ride along roads with tight bends and rough gravel sections. But, we arrived safely to where a bemused Matt waited.

That venture cost half a days ride. The heat, the extra milage and appalling road surface meant we were behind schedule and with 2 days left on our visas we still had 260km to go.

4.50am rolled around and the shrill alarm went off. We’d ridden immensely hard for almost three weeks and the early starts, meandering dirt tracks and the heat were pushing us to our mental and physical limits.

Left with no choice we had to get a bus the remaining 260km to the border. I thought we could have made it but as the bus engine screamed with the strain of pulling us up another 15% plus incline I reconsidered my position.

Defeated we pulled into the bus station at Mengla and found our final bing guan* in China.

The middle kingdom had been a great adventure. It had pushed us to our physical and mental breaking points. The people were friendly but could also be unreasonable. The landscape wonderful but the unpredictable quality of the roads sometimes made travel a toil.

For the touring cyclist there seemed to be very little middling about China. We were either elated or dejected, frustrated and enraged by it.

Onwards and (hopefully) downwards to Laos…


^a wangba is the name for Internet cafe in china, not to be confused with a Wang bar, they offer a totally different service.
*’bing guan’ is ‘hotel’ in mandarin

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