Goodbye Sichuan, hello Yunnan: our fourth and final Chinese province. We’re reaping the benefits of being further south and have been basking in glorious warm spring sunshine whilst reading about snowstorms back in Blighty. The days have been a little too warm on occasion, particularly when there’s yet another hill to climb, but it’s lovely to be able to sit outside the tent of an evening without being bundled up in layers of fleece and down.
The downside to the sun is the return of ridiculous sun-tan lines. To counter this I copied the locals in Xichang and bought myself a gigantic sun-visor on an alice-band. Zip-tied onto my helmet it looks like I’m off to do a spot of welding, but so far it seems to be doing a good enough job of keeping the sun off my face. We’ve seen loads of people riding scooters with these visors pulled right down in front their faces, but now I’ve used one I’ve got no idea how they manage to see where they’re going. To start with the visors are really dark – more so than sunglasses – and to make matters worse you can see a distorted reflection of your torso skittering across the curved surface in a distracting fashion. It could explain some of the many dangerous driving practices we see, like zooming out of side roads without paying any attention to the oncoming traffic….oh, except that Chinese drivers do that anyway whether they’re blinded by a visor or not so I guess that not being able to see when you’re driving doesn’t strike them as a particular handicap.
The hills have remained a relentless feature of our days and we’ve been climbing around 1000m each day, but the scenery continues to change after each pass which keeps things interesting. Valleys of lush greenery (including our first sighting of banana trees and rice paddies) fooled us into thinking we could easily fill our bottles later in the day by filtering water from one of the plentiful roadside streams. But of course, by the afternoon, the lush greenery and plentiful streams were replaced by parched earth dotted with large spiky succulents, dry river beds and not a shop in sight. All ended well enough though when we found some clean-looking water that gushed down a concrete channel before disappearing below the road.
After the spate of noisy, roadside (or indeed building-site-side) campsites on our way to Xichang, we’ve had a run of good luck in the camping department with four decent sites set well back from the road. Our favourite one even had a bathing pool and a waterfall and would have been perfect if it hadn’t been for the intermittent appearance of locals making their way up and down an adjacent footpath, or simply wandering up to have a good stare at us before wandering off again.
Here in Kunming we’re staying with some wonderful Warmshower hosts. Jonathan, Annie and their three children are a lovely family who made us feel at home immediately. They’re so full of warmth and are all really interesting, articulate individuals and simply great fun to be with. We arrived at 6pm, hot, dusty and somewhat frazzled by the city traffic, but within 30 minutes were showered and revived and sitting down to a delicious meal in their apartment, sharing tales and admiring their family photo wall (mountaineering, dune-surfing, mining, horse-riding and a whole host of other amazing sights from their time in South America).
The family have access to a second apartment where Keith and I are staying along with three French cyclists who had arrived a day or two before us and joined us with the family for coffee and crepes after the meal. The French guys have been on the road for over two and a half years on their global adventure, and amazingly are still best of friends, never arguing about route choices, map reading, pannier packing, campsite selection, cooking, shopping or the other myriad things that can wind you up when you’re “living the dream”. They’re passionate about sharing their experience of solidarity and friendship through adventure and have been giving talks in schools en-route, either in person or even by Skype if their schedule hasn’t allowed a face to face visit. Check out their website solidream.net.
We’ll be back on the road again tomorrow…provided we’ve made our minds up which route to take between here and Laos.