Tag Archives: Chinese Drivers

Xichang to Kunming 15 – 22 March 2013

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.

Off to do some welding. Keith could hardly hold the camera steady for laughing

Off to do some welding. Keith could hardly hold the camera steady for laughing

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.

It was a relief to finally find some water

It was a relief to finally find some water

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.

The bathing pool at one of our favourite camping spots

The bathing pool at one of our favourite camping spots

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.

L-R Jonathan, Morgan, Cepie, Annie, Brian

L-R Jonathan, Morgan, Siphay, Annie, Brian

We’ll be back on the road again tomorrow…provided we’ve made our minds up which route to take between here and Laos.

People are always torn between staring at the bike and staring at us whenever we stop for lunch.

People are always torn between staring at the bike and staring at us whenever we stop for lunch.

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Traditional needleworked jacket.

Same town but different traditional outfits.

Same town but different traditional outfits.

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Two bowls of noodles coming right up.

Two bowls of noodles coming right up.

One of the things we didn't sample at the local market - we bought tofu instead.

One of the things we didn’t sample at the local market – we bought tofu instead.

Still hilly.

Still hilly…

...but sometimes the hills fall down a bit.

…but sometimes the hills fall down a bit.

Farming's a muddy business in this part of the world.

Farming’s a muddy business in this part of the world.

When coming towards you on the road, with the driver wearing goggles and a face-mask, these little trucks looked like something out of Mad Max.

When coming towards you on the road, with the driver wearing goggles and a face-mask, these little trucks looked like something out of Mad Max.

It was impossible to photograph the bats fluttering above us at dusk, but this little fella graciously lay down on the road and posed for us the next morning.

It was impossible to photograph the bats fluttering above us at dusk, but this little fella graciously lay down on the road and posed for us the next morning.

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Danba to Xichang 08 – 14 March 2013

It’s been a game of cycle-touring snakes and ladders this week. From Danba we decided to head southwest, uphill on the S303 and S215 to Tagong, which is purported to have beautiful pastureland on a high plateau. For 50km we slogged our way upward, gaining over 1000m vertically; but we didn’t complain as the road surface was good, the air was clear, and the scenery was relatively unspoilt and pretty, with lots of trees and bushes softening the rocky walls. We even found a nice spot to camp on the far side of the river, away from the road noise (although crossing the log bridge was a bit of a challenge).

The prettier face of Western Sichuan (the scenery, not Keith!)

The prettier face of Western Sichuan (the scenery, not Keith!)

Spring hits the hillsides west of Danba.

Spring hits the hillsides west of Danba.

Watch your step!

Watch your step!

And then we hit a snake: at a police checkpoint the barrier was in down and the policeman in charge, whilst friendly and polite, insisted we could go no further as the road was ‘dangerous’. His English was not good enough for further explanation, but after pointing at some rocks we think perhaps he was trying to say there had been a landslide. Keith begged and pleaded but to no avail. There was nothing for it but to roll back the way we’d come, and so, 24 hours almost to the minute after leaving Danba we found ourselves back there again. It was extremely frustrating and disappointing.

Arriving back into Danba

Arriving back into Danba

Leaving Danba for a second time we only had one route choice: the S211. To compound our disappointment this turned out to be the second most horrible road we’ve had the misfortune to find ourselves on since embarking on our travels. Pitted, pot-holed tarmac regularly gave way to long unsurfaced sections comprised of rocks and dirt. There were several lengthy tunnels, some of which contained numerous unsigned underground junctions, and at one point we spent over 10km underground in two back-to-back tunnels that had just 100m or so of daylight between them. Above ground the scenery was primarily a series of construction sites that filled the air with choking dust, making our eyes stream and throats and noses sore. Despite its appalling condition the road was a relatively popular route so there were frequent assaults on our eardrums by sadistic drivers deploying airhorns at point-blank range. In the end I resorted to using earplugs, which wasn’t comfortable and made conversation with Keith difficult, but at least it was less painful than being on the receiving end of yet another bloody horn blast. In fact, the China cycling experience is greatly improved by being muffled; the horns are downgraded to a mere annoyance, whereas at full volume it had got the point where I’d struggle to suppress a homicidal rage each time another unprovoked and painful attack was launched on my poor eardrums. So, all in all we were pretty annoyed that our route to Tagong had been thwarted. The only redeeming feature of the S211 road was that it proceeded in a generally downhill direction, but to be honest it was scant comfort as most of the time the road surface was so bad we were trundling at 10-15kph.

The less-than-lovely S211 road.

The less-than-lovely S211 road.

A not-so-dusty section of the S211.

A not-so-dusty section of the S211.

We toyed with the idea of taking the G318 through Kangdang and then continuing south on our original route choice of the S215, but by the time we reached the junction we were so demoralised and dust-covered that we couldn’t face a significant climb on what would be an unknown quality of road, so we continued south and predominantly downhill on the G318, picking up the S211 again after Luding. By then the road was in slightly better condition, although still somewhat of a building site and the air remained so thick with dust that we could barely see the other side of the river. It was on this second section of S211 that we landed on another snake.

Oops!

Oops!

A sudden explosion behind us announced the demise of our trailer tyre. The tread still looked reasonable but when viewed from inside it was clear that the carcass was beginning to deteriorate and there were an number of weak spots, the worst of which had just blown out on us. As we sat working out how to fix it a chap on a motorbike stopped and offered to take Keith back to the last small town where he might be able to buy a new tyre. Sadly that turned out to be a rather over optimistic hope and no tyre could be found, but Keith did end up getting a nice thick piece of truck inner tube which, along with some duct tape, made an excellent tyre boot and easily saw us into the next major town of Shimian, where for the princely sum of five quid we got ourselves a new tyre and inner tube.

Heading off to look for a new tyre.

Heading off to look for a new tyre.

 

The nice lady we eventually bought a tyre from enjoying the Pino experience.

The nice lady we eventually bought a tyre from enjoying the Pino experience.

The night of the tyre repair was probably our worst campsite yet. Delayed by the blown tyre we didn’t have long to look for somewhere before nightfall, and ended up literally on the verge at the side of the road, where there was just enough space to squeeze ourselves between the road and the steep drop down about 40m to the tumbling river below. The river was barely visible through the thick red dust, but the dust seemed to be settling as we erected the tent so we thought that perhaps it wouldn’t be too unpleasant an evening, with only the rumble of tyres about 3m from our heads to disturb us. That relative peace lasted about 10 minutes until the night shift clocked on and the cause of the particularly thick dust became apparent to us. High above us on the opposite side of the river they were building a new road and were using large diggers to shovel away the rocky walls, with the debris thundering down into the river below. Every now and then there’d be a particularly large rock-fall and we’d begin to wonder if our side of the river was safe enough – the last thing we wanted was for the river bank to fall away beneath us. In the end we stayed, and so did the workmen – until 3am! Not the best night’s sleep we’ve had, but at least we were still alive in the morning.

A few minutes after taking this picture we managed to find a space to squeeze the tent between the road and the river (currently hidden below the dustcloud)...not our nicest campsite.

A few minutes after taking this picture we managed to find a space to squeeze the tent between the road and the river (currently hidden below the dustcloud)…not our nicest campsite.

At Shimian we joined the G108 and started to climb again. After a couple of hours it was time to start the usual debate about whether or not a not-particularly-nice campsite would ‘do’ or whether it was worth carrying on to see what else might appear. We’d just talked ourselves out of one site when a clap of thunder put things into a different perspective and we rapidly agreed that it was an excellent site after all, and whilst it was rather too visible from the road to be ideal, on the upside it did have one of the best views we’ve had from the tent in a while.

Room with a view.

Room with a view.  The three parallel lines on the left of the picture are: top – the G5 motorway; middle – the G108 (our road); bottom – the river.

Because of the mountainous terrain the roads generally follow river lines (although in the case of motorways they follow a series of tunnels and bridges to take the most direct route) so we’ve spent most of the last couple of weeks in deep valleys interspersed with climbs over passes. Some climbs have been just a couple of hundred metres high, others over 1500. It’s been interesting to see the change in the nature of the valleys as we’ve passed from one to another. Somehow, in our minds, we expect the valley we’re dropping into to be a mirror image of the one we’ve just climbed out of, but this has rarely proved to be the case. Barren rocks give way to orange groves, which then, over the next climb, are replaced with a wider plain and acres of wheat. The house style has changed too, with the distinctive and colourful Tibetan-style windows (which we mentioned in our last post) giving way to artwork of horses, bulls and babies, which changes again in the next valley to a red and yellow wave pattern, and finally, as we approached Xichang, we were dazzled by colourful floral murals.

The changing artwork on Sichuan houses.

The changing artwork on Sichuan houses.

09-2409-2509-2609-2709-28China continues to frustrate and delight us in equal measure. We’ve been met with smiles and helpfulness on countless occasions, but sometimes with glowers and persistent demands to know how much the bike costs. We’ve ridden along some quiet roads in beautiful countryside, but sadly too often on busier roads surrounded by concrete and dust. We love the food and the way people in cafes try their best to understand what we’re ordering, and let us poke around the kitchen to work out the menu, but we remain deeply annoyed by the drivers who habitually overtake on blind bends and use their horns at the slightest provocation. Some days we really like it here, but on more than one occasion in the last week we’ve been ready to leave. But with 27 days left on our visa and over 1500km still to go to the Laos border, no doubt China will have some more treats, trials and tribulations in store before it’s done with us.

The eastern end of Danba; our hostel was on the left bank, and the school was opposite on the right bank.

The eastern end of Danba; our hostel was on the left bank, and the school was opposite on the right bank.

Looking over at Danba school.

Looking over at Danba school.

Little old ladies in Danba.

Little old ladies in Danba.

Colourful Tibetan headscarves, Danba.

Colourful Tibetan headscarves, Danba.

Spinning wool, Danba.

Spinning wool, Danba.

Ox-drawn plough, between Danba & Tagong.

Ox-drawn plough, between Danba & Tagong.

Old stone towers at Suopo, 4km SE of Danba.

Old stone towers at Suopo, 4km SE of Danba.

An oasis of colour amongst the drab rock and concrete along the S211.

An oasis of colour among the drab rock and concrete along the S211.

Yet another worksite along the S211.

Yet another worksite.

Some of the building projects are pretty impressive.

Some of the building projects are pretty impressive.

The Chinese really love aerial roadways.

The Chinese really love aerial roadways.

Some Chinese cyclists who stopped for a chat on the way to Shimian.

Some Chinese cyclists who stopped for a chat on the way to Shimian.

Approaching Xichang we noted a change in both the landscape (now flatter and wheat being grown) and people's headwear.

Approaching Xichang we noted a change in both the landscape (now flatter and wheat being grown) and people’s headwear.

Interesting hats near Xichang.

Interesting hats near Xichang.

Traffic approaching Xichang.

Traffic and perpetual building works approaching Xichang.

Traffic got heavier as we approached Xichang.

Traffic got heavier as we approached Xichang.