30.09.11 Day 54
Xian – Rest Day 0km
Today we get up earlyish. Our room is amazing, traditional Chinese decoration and the bed is built into the walls like a huge comfort platform with a tea tray and hatted teacups. We work our way to the north gate through back streets and pick up a selection of things for breakfast cooking at stalls on the sides of the road. Everywhere is packed with people on the move. Tomorrow is the beginning of the public holiday and it seems like everyone is travelling somewhere. We are heading to the bus station, which is the busiest place. We find a bus to take us to see the terracotta warriors. Thousands of life size warriors stand guard over Qin Shi Huangs tomb. They are lined up ready for battle in a huge vault. Parts of it are still being excavated and archaeologists are at work while we look around. It is thought that the whole area encompassing the tomb of the emperor, and all the vaults (there are many) are an attempt at representing everything he needed in his actual life, for his afterlife. Anyhow, the place is packed with Chinese tourists, starting their holidays early, but it is still an amazing sight. We have walked at least 10km and are both ready to drop by the time we get back!
01.10.11 Day 56
Xian – Rest Day 0km
Today everyone is flying the China flag – every shop front, monument and waving in peoples hands. After a lazy morning and hefty internet sesh, we head to the Muslim Quarter, home to the cities Hui, or Chinese Muslim community. The narrow lanes are hectic, street vendors sell all different types of interesting food – fried stuffed persimmons with walnut and sugar, steamed rice cakes on skewers, spicy fried quails eggs on sticks, meat kebabs and all kinds of other sesame and sunflower seed snacks. It smells amazing and we wander the streets trying things until it gets dark and it is lit up and full of smoke. The busy streets are loud with honking horns as motorised rickshaws hurtle around the crowds and down the narrow lanes. We walk back via the illuminated Bell and Drum towers, historically one would ring at dawn and the other at dusk. For the third time we get completely lost under this crazy labyrinth underpass beneath the crossroads marking the centre of the city which completely destroys our sense of direction.
02.10.11 Day 57
Xian – Rest Day 0km
We have found a cheap good spot for breakfast since being in Xian, and we go for the third time this morning. It is a kind of bowl of hot soft tofu stuff with spicy sauce, coriander and soya beans on top. It looks weird but tastes good and we are slowly getting used to spice for breakfast. We climb the 14thcentury city walls and walk the 14km or so perimeter around the old city. The visibility isn’t great but it is nice to get a feel for the size of the city and to see it from above – it extends for miles out side the walls too, its massive. It is also nice to get away from the hectic streets in the centre for a while. In Xian there are more tourists too so it is nice blending in a bit more and being anonymous for a while – although maybe we are getting a bit more used to how people look at us and the attention we get. Things have definitely started to feel more normal to us now we have been in china for over a month – the language, signs with Chinese characters, chopsticks and spicy breakfast. We have a Sichuan hotpot for lunch, which is a hot pan of oil and spicy stock on a mini stove in the centre of our table. We choose and cook our own vegetables and tofu in the hot pan. At night we wonder the streets of the Muslim quarter again, it is raining and full with umbrellas. The rain mixes with oil and grease on the floor and its slippery.
03.10.11 Day 58
Xian – Rest Day 0km
We walk down a street selling paintings and rubbings before heading south to see the Big Goose Pagoda. Built originally in AD 652, I’m not sure when today’s buildings were built, it seems odd surrounded by tall modern buildings and shopping streets. It is a square pagoda and it is huge. Around it is a square with a series of fountains that are all set off to music, which we watch amongst a huge crowd. We like Xian so much, we decide to stay an extra day.
04.10.11 Day 59
Xian – Rest Day 0km
Last day in Xian today. Enjoying the final joyous bit of rest we have a lie in and a good English breakfast as a treat! We post a load of stuff home – including all my cycling shorts, which I haven’t worn at all and I finally get rid of the Mongolian wall hanging! I cut Toms hair, the bikes bet a clean and oil and we pack up our stuff ready for tomorrow. We even manage to find an English film to watch which makes it feel like a Sunday night.
05.10.11 Day 60
Xian – Mazhaozhen 91km
Fully rested we get up early and thankfully we are both excited and happy to get back on the road. We leave through the south gate of the old city wall and take a number of sporadic turns west, and then south again heading vaguely in the right direction. Inevitably we get completely lost! Asking a few people gets us somewhere – but not anywhere that is on the map! The roads get small further out the city but we are heading west and that is all that matters. We are on a minor road that is only really one car wide. In the time we have been in Xian the corn has all been harvested from the fields. The fields are flat and bundles of corn are strung from walls and trees all through the tiny villages. Cobs are in neat rows literally everywhere, on steps, window ledges, roofs and take up patches of the narrow road we have to weave around. Other patches are taken with neat squares of the kernels drying in the sun, and others the husks, which the farmers rake and turn over every now and again. So, there is not much of the road to ride on and some people just drive through the middle of it all. Today, the corn makes the villages yellow and bright. Also we notice more and more tables and chairs outside along the streets, something that has become more and more common as we have moved south. Some fields are flooded, we must have missed the rain this time but it looks like some crops have been ruined and there is a bad smell in parts from flooded toilets. The thin road is long and lined with trees neatly spaced on either side like an avenue. Immense tangles of elaborate spiders webs are woven between and the spiders are green and red and it makes me glad I haven’t been camping recently! Out of Xian has been flat but gradually we begin to see the outline of the mountains we will be going through tomorrow. We go past a river, a red pagoda and huge Buddhist temple, which has caused gridlock traffic and an army guy ushers us through. In the hills the roofs of numerous temples shine in the sun but everything else in the distance is hazy and the mountains look like layers of black and white. In a village we also pass a catholic church – the first sign of Christianity we have seen in China. And today underneath the red umbrellas on the sides of the road, kiwis are being sold. Before Xian it was pomegranates and before that apples. We stay in a village at the bottom, ready for the climb tomorrow.
06.10.11 Day 61
Mazhaozhen – Foping 111km
We leave early and the sky is blue, it is already a hot day. Straight away we start climbing as the road hairpins its way out from the village. We pass a police checkpoint and as we pass we hear the offices shouting ‘halooooo’ over the loudspeakers that are on the roadside. The steep hill ends sooner than we expect with a dam at the top and a huge lake. We continue to follow the road upstream, we are gradually getting higher but its hard to tell how high as we have huge mountains on either side of us. Sheer rock faces rise straight up from the road and further up trees seem to grow right out the side. The road is like a series of S’s squished together following the river around the mountains. I think that a fault line running underneath the valley forms this landscape. Along the road are landslides, big rocks blocking half the road and in some places roofs have been smashed and walls knocked down. We see through the door of one building rocks have forced their way through the back wall and fill the space. In other parts half the road is taped off where the land underneath has crumbled away leaving a precarious ledge. A huge section of the road balances on its edge in the river. We see a black butterfly that looks like it is made from velvet the size of my hand and a snake pops loudly when a passing car runs over it. We cycle through Luguantai forest park and the Foping national nature reserve and the landscape all day is amazing. On our map, the distances are wrong and we accidentally overshoot the village where we thought we might stay. When we realise we must have gone to far we are climbing steep hairpins up a pass. As we get steeper and higher we are worried about making it to the next town, or even to the top! Michelle and Scott’s energy bars rescue us! Anyway there is a beautiful view over the green mountains even if we are exhausted. Finally over the peak it is 5pm and we have 1 1/2 hours until it gets dark and 35km to Foping. Just over the top we cycle through out most horrible long tunnel yet – not lit at all it is too long to see the end. My bike light is out of battery so I am cycling close to Tom to see. Being in the middle and not being able to see out makes my heart beat fast. The 35km is luckily a down hill blast, cold but quick and we get to Foping just as the sun is setting. We follow a man on a bike who shows us somewhere to stay. When we ask for a drink at teatime we get a bowl of noodle water.
07.10.11 Day 62
Foping – Yangxian 91km
This morning we follow the river again down stream, so it is an easy start, with a cool breeze while the sun is still behind the hills. Red berries, chillies and mushrooms dry in huge trays on the side of the road and a thick mist hangs in between the dark green mountains. After our leisurely start we work our way back into the hills, a steep road disappears through the trees. The roads are still covered with corn at various stages of drying and cut rice plants leaves neat stumps in lines with the stems bundled into pyramid shapes. The landscape is starting to look more tropical, in parts, and other parts are fully immersed in autumn. I can pick out red patches in the hills. At the top there is a 2.5km tunnel, the light marking the end is tiny and riding in the darkness is scary. But it marks the top. Further down we rejoin the river, the water is clear and there are sandy banks and it is handy for washing up after lunch. The road since Xian has been quiet and peaceful with only local traffic. In Yangxian it takes us quite a few attempts to find somewhere to stay – prices are still high because of the public holiday, but we get there in the end. I have finished the second square of my patchwork quilt!
08.10.11 Day 63
Yangxian – Mianxian 98km
We get lucky today with a flat run and it seems easy after the past few hilly days. We cycle through towns of various sizes dotted through the valley. The landscape around us is flat, the sky is white and the air is cool. Rice is being harvested and the left over parts of the plants are bundled together. Dotted through the partially flooded fields they look like little bobbing hats. All the fields are busy with farmers cutting their crops; bundling, stacking and fires fill the air with smoke. Something about the smell and cool air reminds me of England. I have a bump on my wheel rim, which catches when I break; I’m not sure how it happened. Mid morning Tom has a look but is not sure we can do much unless we get someone to try to true the wheel, or hit it with something! In Hanzhong we pick up some paints, ink and brushes so we can try to draw and paint in the evenings. We stop for lunch in what looks like an empty garage with rows of tables for cold noodles, bean sprouts, sesame oil and vinegar which is filling and cheap. In the afternoon, it starts to rain, which bizarrely always means that more trucks appear out of nowhere! Bikes around us have attachments for umbrellas, which I would LOVE! Even though we stay in a different room each night, they are all set out the same and it a weird way it is beginning to feel like we have our own space and some sort of home. It is hard to think that they are all so far apart!!
09.10.11 Day 64
Mianxian – Ningquiang 80km
The rain wakes us up this morning and we lie in bed wandering if we can face it or whether we should have the day off. By the time we have had a coffee, the rain has stopped but it still looks pretty grim outside and we decide to just set off and see how far we get. It is hilly again today but it is starting to feel easier to us and the 80km seems surprisingly easy. We pass through pretty but shabby villages, families sat on steps in front of their houses, people carrying wicker baskets on their backs and other make their way to a busy market that we pass. Following a stream against the current we now know what to expect as it inevitably gets steeper and steeper until finally it hairpins its way in a series of roads which seem to be stacked on the top of each other and further up into the forest. Finally at the top scooters lade with mushrooms pass us and in a village further down boxes of mushrooms are stacked high everywhere. Now heading down stream into Ningquiang is an easy run and once again negotiate a room through bursts of laughter and complete confusion and madness!
10.10.11 Day 65
Ningquiang – Yangbe 99km
It looks like it has been raining in the night but we leave in the morning and it seems to have stopped. A lady passes by and tells us that it will rain by wiggling her fingers up at the sky. The locals are normally right. She is holding a cute baby – all the babies have trousers that are split up the bum so they can go to the toilet, which looks funny! Anyway, shortly afterwards, it starts to rain! More and more rice fields as we head south and 15km in to our day we pass into our 4th Chinese province, Sichuan. Up and over the green hills that mark the border the landscape would be lovely if we weren’t following a motorway most of the day. We go through some more monstrous tunnels too, but luckily, and for the fist time since we have been away they are lit, and less terrifying. Having passed through a big gorge we stop in Guanyuam for lunch – more cheap rice meals too which is giving us a break from noodles, although the various words for rice make it harder to order! Feeling strong again today we ride 75km before lunch, meaning the afternoon is easy, and tomorrow we plan to get to Lanzhong to have a couple of days off. Taking a slice down through the country highlights the differences. Today the rice fields haven’t been harvested as it had yesterday, rice comes in a big bowl to share whereas up until now it has always been individual portions – and in north China the pillow were always filled with beans and now, thank god they are soft!!
11.10.11 Day 66
Yangbe – Cangxi 99km
We get an early start this morning and the weather is pretty grim – grey sky and a thick mist so we can’t see very far. Every now and again everything starts to feel familiar and we have to remind ourselves that two ducks in a bag with their heads poking out and a guy with a scooter laden with hat stands driving around in the rain with a loud speaker would definitely attract attention in England! It is one hill after another today and feels like a bit of a slog. When we stop for breakfast on top of a hill it starts to rain. We see a minibus that has crashed with a crowd of people gathered around it. It sounds awful to say but we are not surprised, as we have seen some crazy driving recently. Except from adding to the crowd there is nothing we can do, so we weave around all the vehicles that have stopped. It has caused traffic jam, which means the road is quiet for a while and we get a break from the incessant beeping! By lunchtime we are soaking wet, leaky coat and shoes too so we are soaked to the skin. 8 Yuan or 80p gets us a couple of bowls of noodles, bean sprouts and vinegar, and a bit of shelter from the rain and mist. The ride today is much hillier and harder than we expected and we stop 20km short of Lanzhong and plan to get there in the morning.
12.10.11 Day 67
Cangxi – Lanzhong 25km
Today the sun is shining and we get an amazing breakfast at the hotel – nice pumpkin and rice soup, boiled eggs, but pickled cabbage and bamboo shoots are a bit much for breakfast!! It is still hilly but the sun makes everything seem good. We follow the river and there is a fruit the same shape as a pear, but as big as a head with an inside like a crunchy orange – sold from tables on the side of the road, stacked in pyramid shapes under colourful umbrellas. We are pulled over by two policemen who want to take our photo, which attracts a crowd and unfolding and refolding the map several times! In Lanzhong we stay in the old town. It is quiet and peaceful and our hostel is chilled set around a courtyard with lots of plants, wooded screens, a cute kitten and a lovely view over the black tiled roofs. We go for a walk through the town, apparently laid out according to feng shui principles but we are tired and end up hanging out at the hostel and do some drawing and have an Internet sesh. In the evening we find a food place with a nice view over the river and a lit up temple in the hills on the other side. We are invited to order by pointing at what another table are eating which is funny! Anyhow we end up joining them – they are celebrating something and we have to drink lots of shots of 3% beer, which is odd, and communicate by drawing pictures on a napkin! But even so we manage to explain out trip quite successfully.
13.10.11 Day 68
Lanzhong – Rest day 0km
Tom is 29 today. Lying in bed this morning there is thunder and rain but by the time we are up the sky is blue and it is hot. Even the weather is starting to feel more tropical, its hotter in the evenings, more bugs and the plants are changing – we have battling it out to see the first monkey! We found a good noodle spot yesterday and we go back for breakfast. It is amazing watching the noodles being hand pulled. The dough is stretched and twisted and stretched before a sprinkle of flour stops it from sticking together while the chef stretches it more and separates the individual noodles in her dingers until they are thin and arms length. A cat sleeps under the stove and loves the heat. I find some beautiful silk fabric and start another patchwork square and Toms chosen birthday activity is having a two-hour nap! We walk though a market – tables are set out in a square – a tray of snakes makes me feel a bit sick, skinned pigs faces – who would ever ‘just fancy’ a pigs face – weird – snouts and a lady casually blow torches some trotters! The school kids wear tracksuits as their uniform and they all say haloooo and giggle. We meet a couple of guys at the hostel that have been teaching English ion Chongching for a couple of years and it is great to hear all about their experience. Solved my curiosity about the sheer quantity of hairdressers on ever street though – apparently people don’t wash their hair as much and are more likely to go to a salon once a week to get it done for 10 Yuan or £1. With a 1/2 hour head massage and an ear cleaning sesh with a miniature silver spoon it sounds pretty tempting! Also the Chinese think drinking cold water is bad, drinking vinegar is good, men grow along little finger nail to show they don’t have to do manual labour, fat men roll their shirts over their bellies as a sign of affluence and don’t eat bananas in the morning! They also give us the symbols for all the good food we have been eating so we can order it again rather than the potluck method!
14.10.11 Day 69
Lanzhong – Yanting 118km
Breakfast went a bit wrong this morning. Having decided to have omelette sandwiches we had accidentally bought sweet bread (odd seeing as it had chives on top!) and our oil was flavoured with the infamous Sichuan peppercorn, which is MENTAL especially in a sandwich! It is spicy, which is fine, but it is fragrant, kind of in the clove area and if you bite it, it leaves your mouth cold, numb and tingly. It has become increasingly common in the food as we have moved closer towards the Sichuan province and we have only just realised what it is. After a breakfast oddity, Tom changes his break blocks and we get on the road. It is hot but we are glad to be back on the bikes – it kind of feels like the most natural place to bee after 2 1/2 months. Today the corn that has been drying on the roads is bagged up and wheelbarrows are stacked high. The space it leaves is gradually replaced with rice – it weird to think how much rice is drying all over roads and paths in China. Every now and again it is raked to turn it over leaving patterns running though it. Odd Buffalo trudge through the rice fields their heads look too small for their bodies! There are big houses but the ground floor opens up to a space full of pumpkins and squashes – stacked right up to the shutter doors. Babies are in special wicker rucksacks – so cute! In fashion news – leather shorts with diamante trim are definitely in… also a sort of extra sleeve for below the elbow to the wrist – commonly silk with floral and lace trim but available in all manner of designs!! The villages are busy and fires burn in the fields smelling of autumn – someone in each village seems to play Chinese music on a loud speaker and people play a board game that looks a bit like giant draughts but with Chinese characters and cards around tables. Wooden structures are covered in noodles of different sizes drying in the sun.
15.10.11 Day 70
Yanting – Zhongliang 104km
More spicy noodles for breakfast before heading west towards Chengdu, we are on a smaller road through farming villages and similar countryside to yesterday. I get my first puncture after 4760km and am seriously pissed off as it shatters my dreams of getting back to England without any! So 4 – 1 so far! My back wheel seems to be getting a little wonkier too which is worrying and we might see if we can find somewhere to take it. Garages full of women using sewing machines and everywhere we pass people sit on special wooden games tables with small drawers that seem to have appeared from nowhere today. When we try to sort a hotel out the receptionist makes a phone call and 3 police turn up! Seemingly to help fill in the forms – this takes about an hour and we are not sure why! Taught tom to sing the ‘Doe a deer’ from sound a music which is a definite sing that we are losing the plot and spending too much time together! (I can’t believe he has never seen the film!) And finally we have learned the characters for food we like and it seems that little by little things are becoming a little easier.
17.10.11 Day 71
Zhongliang – Chengdu 105km
Last day as just the two of us today as tomorrow we meet Toms dad at the airport and he will ride with us for 3 weeks. I have another puncture which we have to mend before leaving changing the score to 4 to Tom and 2 to me – I’m catching up! It is hot again today and we have a small set of hills to get over in the morning. Getting into a major city is always deceiving and when we think we are nearly in the centre we still have about 20km or so to go but we manage to find Sims hostel which we have heard good things about relatively easily for the size of the city. After a few long days ride we are happy to settle into the bar for a few beers and join in the quiz and even manage to win a couple of rounds. Staying at the hostel are 7 other cycle tourers, the first we have seen in China and we get lots of tips and info about our route getting back to the UK next year.