Can I assume that you have come across the concept of Owl and Lark people? In our short time here, we are yet to find a Lark. There is also the complete incomprehension of the concept of ‘ the indoor voice ‘. The final thing that puts them into first place in our ‘ most noisy hotels in the world ‘ and knocks the Spanish from that spot. They can not close a door without slamming it, particularly in the two hours after midnight.
It is not that they are idle during these night hours. Far from it, for there are things to be done. A collection of 1,000 metal spoons needs to be sorted into metal boxes according to shape and size. Metal plumbing materials also needs to be sorted, and like the spoons, is thrown from one side of the room to the other. Then there is the tv. At any time of day or night there is the unmissable Kung Fu movie. Yes indeed, full volume and with the door of the room open so all can enjoy the screams and bone breaking.
We are becoming very sleep deprived. We compounded our problems last night by staying in a hotel in the heart of the ‘ red light district ‘. It is all incompatible with the lives of the long distance touring cyclist who need to get in some early distance before the heat kicks in. We have been made welcome with waves and shouts of ” hello ” wherever we have pedaled and there is always a beaming smile. Unexpectedly, well I did not expect it. The Chinese like to whistle or sing. It is not that they are all doing it, but more than elsewhere, and enough to be noticed. I would be happy for there to be more whistling and less door slamming.
We manage to find a WWW. spot and I write a blog in Dadugang. It is midday before we are on the road. It is downward straight away. First with tea plantations at either side, then forest. We have done a hard slog upward, and are now throwing away all that hard won ascent. The toll road will be our companion for hundreds of Kilometres showing off its civil engineering against our evolution of horse tracks. It could be so much easier.
Our little road is shown in black on the gps. We descend at speed and I can see that for a few kilometres it is going to writhe in a courtship with the straight red toll road. We stop at the first place that looks like it may do food. Sooner or later we will try to be served and sit down in someones private house, but until then, the rules are; if it looks lie a hotel then it is, and so on.
We are made welcome. Offered cigarettes, and poured a home made drink of frightening strength, which is followed by a top up. It is a Saturday and many have time off to eat with friends. We are a curiosity, and everyone is keen to say ” hello “. Within 16 minutes a little of every possible dish is put in front of us. We are guests of the village and can try anything. Some dishes are obviously vegetarian, but there are others that are more sinister. We try to pay, but are waved on our way. There is no nominated driver and two Dave Yates touring bikes are less stable than normal.
Luckily the road is not demanding. A broad valley, filled to the brim with Banana plantations. We have lost 500m of height from where we started. We intend to have an easy ‘ half day ‘ but there is a problem. The gps says one thing, and our paper maps can not even agree with each other. We find out later that the names of towns have been changed here and whole towns moved and built anew.
The place we are heading for is further away than it should be and higher. The climbs start and then keep on coming, and as usual, the hardest ascent is left till the very end of the day and a setting sun. Pu’er looks prosperous now that it relies less on the price of tea for its economy. Like every Chinese town, it is having a building boom and spreading itself over the country a little. We ride into the outskirts and the prosperity is obvious. You have as much chance of being hit by a top of the range Audi or VW as you would in the outskirts of Düsseldorf. We find a hotel and are in for our quietest night yet.
We end the day, with a walk around the streets of Pu’er. It may be 9.30, but there will be a stall hoping to sell you laminate flooring and another curtains or a mattress. What is also on offer, is the finest possible tea. The packaging is irresistable, but the prices will make your head spin. If you had the suspicion that we in Europe only get the sweepings from the floor to be sold as tea, the proof is here, and all around you. We find a small packet that we can afford and are walking back to our hotel when we are invited to sit and drink tea. It is an education.
Pu’er is a nice city, but probably not best viewed from the saddle of a touring bke on a Monday morning with concentration required by navigation and avoiding being killed by rush hour traffic. I need a ‘ top end bike shop ‘. And with more than a little good fortune, there is one. We sit and wait for it to open knowing that no bike shop ever opens on time. A monk comes over to bless us and we donate a bit of money. If that will get the shop open it is well spent. 9.10, which is remarkably punctual in bike terms, and the shop is open for us.
Whilst the job is done, word goes out and a gathering for tea and the offer of more cigarettes. The universal bond of two wheel pedaling brethren is strong and you know you are amongst friends. There is hand shakes and best wishes as we set off. A little less so an hour later when we have done a hilly lap of the city and end up back here. The road has been moved and in amongst all the building work you now have to find a sandy track to get on the road out.
The day gets going with a climb to a new highest point in Asia for us, 1722m.
Of all the senses, that of smell on a bicycle, is the most acute when compared with other ways to travel. Pine, warm resin smells of Pine released by the late morning sun. It is the first time in Asia that we are riding through Pine and we smell that familiar fragrance well before we notice the trees at the road side. On the descent, I stop to take a photo ad there it is, unexpected and perfectly clear, a Cuckoo calls.
50,000 pack horses moved the tea into the hills and out into the world from Pu’er. We are on their trail and bound for Europe as well. There is construction ahead, and we have the ever-present Big Blue Trucks at our elbow as we climb. China depends on these tough little trucks. There must be literally millions of them. My saddle is squeaking as my sit bones are now two prominent pegs that stick out proud. I am now so thin and angular the saddle is deforming. If I was a horse I would be a horribly uncomfortable ride.
Ning’er refuses to get any closer. Obviously we do get there or I would not be writing this, but it does feel like it is in doubt. Yet another vast building site. We get a good view of it from our hotel room. This has the good fortune of a million dollar location. It is all designer shapes amid mountains and water. The old town has been redeveloped with the exception of the odd shack. If you have lived for 80 years anywhere in China, you have witnessed so much change. Your head would spin over the last few years.
15’c, our coolest start yet. It is out into a murky morning and a well graded climb past vegetable plots and rice paddies to take us back up to the Pine forests. Terraces that climb the flanks of even the highest mountains, are being tended by nodding wide brimmed hats moving the red soil by hand. This is a minor road and remote villages of dogs, chickens and pigs. Still we get warm welcomes of ” hello ” and youngsters try out their ” good mornings “.
You know as well as I that there has to be a long hard climb at the end of the day. Pine, Eucalyptus, Tarmac and the fragrance of sweaty touring cyclist mingle in what is now a very hot day. The spelling is unsure and the location variable, but we get to Ton Quang Zheny and there is a hotel. We are absolutely shattered. We are the centre of attention, and possibly the first Europeans to stumble across this small village. High in the mountains now, the heat of the day is soon lost and it becomes what I am now calling cool, but would once have refered to as a summers day in Scotland.
The usual poor and disturbed sleep and off into a cool morning. It is unquestionably beautiful riding. Spring is calling birds to find some of their best songs. We pass isolated homes, each with at least two dogs that have been driven mad by constraint. They snap their chains to tight tension and snarl. 700m down and now 800m back up. We asked a friend to describe cycling in this area, ” 20Km down and 20Km back up “, and he was exactly right. Today is harder than ever. I am finding it hard to smile.
We get waves and salutes from the Blue Truck drivers. The Toll road reappears from yet another tunnel and we are hundreds of metres higher than it. It takes a line and then holds it, held on piles and vast bridges. All around there are vast mountains, with terraces of rice and tea at impossible angles right up the flanks. It is agriculture, but carried out with the finger tips of horticulture. Remote villages are homes to workers and many have no obvious road.
Just when things are becoming desperate, there is something that looks very vaguely like a restaurant. The old lady has a wonderful smile and she motions for us to go in. We have a wonderful meal for next to no money. This is remote. Just out of curiosity I turn on the smart phone. It is full strength 3G signal and I send an eMail just because it feels so impossible.
The final descent down to the valley and the run into Mojiang is vertigeous. Steep enough to require stops to let brakes ad rims cool and bumpy enough the you can not let the bike have its head.Hands and forearms are burning with the effort. Just 68Km and 1,100m of climbing. We need a quiet night and are numb with the effort. Too numb to notice our red light district mistake. This is wearing us down. I wonder if I could book the whole floor. I do the math and it is not a big sum. We stay one night and then go looking for ‘ the most expensive hotel in town ‘. We need some good sleep.