Its been an eventful couple of weeks since the last update. Just when China was seeming O so easy, it proved to have a few tricks awaiting us.
We left Yangshou for Guilin, which was a massive city of neon and packed to the gills with Chinese tourists. From there we were quickly into the countryside enroute to the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces (I'm just going to go ahead and call these the most famous rice terraces in the world). After a big day ending up a steep 6km hill we came to Ping'An, a 600 year old Miao village perched on the mountain tops. This place is all about rice. The hills are huge and every inch is carved out into flat terraces so they can be flooded to grow the rice. The terraces flow on as far as you can see and must have taken the majority of those 600 years to build it seems. The village is really cool too, with wooden houses and their tiled rooves interconnected by a labyrinth of stone paths.
After tearing ourselves away from this place we headed north onto the worst road yet encountered. 50km of 'roadworks' but sort of an 8-year-old kid style road works where everything has been ripped apart very successfully and nothing put back together. We ran the full gammut of dust, mud, rock, 45degree dirt slopes... The town at the end of it all was a very welcome sight. Welcome for about 45 minutes until the police turned up.
This was our first raid, and consisted of two cops and an interpreter. Apparently the town was 'special' and not open to foreigners. We would have to leave. Where would we go on our bikes at 5pm? OK, you can stay the night but are not to leave the hotel room. What about dinner? OK, you can go to a restaurant. This went on for a while, our passports were taken away for further scrutiny, we were thumb printed, and finally given the ok to wander around town. Apparently we could bike to the next town "no problem" and the police there would be rung so as to be forewarned of our imminent arrival.
No problem eh? After a very unmemorable ride the next day we rode into town only to start one of the more memorable parts of the journey. Raid number 2 was three police and an interpreter - who was majoring in Japanese not English. Luckily we knew the score from the day before. However negotiations here were not quite as fruitful and it soon became apparent that our claims of poor us, biking in the dark, etc etc were not going to work. These ones had heard of buses, so decided we could get one of those. This resulted in a police escort through town on our bikes, and further police assistance in purchasing bus tickets (no queueing required), saving us a seat amid the scrum while I tied bikes on the roof, and a cheery wave as we were successfully run out of town. Our bus ride took 4 hours for 130km and we arrived to a freezing cold night, only to be turned away from a hotel, I think for being too dirty.
On to greener pastures. Back in the land of openness, we hit a small town called Fenghuang. This town is Chinese to the core, just as you may imagine China should be. Tiny cobbled alleys, red lanterns, a guesthouse overlooking a pretty river, old city walls, pagodas etc. It was packed with Chinese tourists (so that means KTV karaoke) and certainly dolled up for visitors but a fantastic place all the same. Spent an atmospheric evening wandering the streets and along the ramparts.
Next day was Dehang, a tiny village in yet another karst peak area. This place was well off the beaten track, at least at this time of year. No English in the entire town (we probably talked to all of them) and it took about an hour and a half to find somewhere to stay as there was no one around. Cows wandered the alleys (Claud found a cowpat in the dark that we had watched being made earlier), and we saw both our first stars and snow in Asia. Was extremely quiet, no KTV, no honking and very peaceful.
We were charging along at this stage, having easily clocked up our first 1000km in China, and passed 5250km overall. But then it came unstuck, the dream died. I (D) got sick yet again. This was the 3rd time in a week and about the millionth time it feels like on the trip. Was a nasty chest infection that had me bed ridden for 2 days of sweating myself to a state of near drowning, and unable to walk to the supermarket let alone bike 100km a day.
So public transport has been employed to varying degrees of success. To go north, we first had to go south. Then a train north that took a whole afternoon of bargaining at a train station that seemed to have no useful destinations at all. So we had to overshoot our intended town, stay another night and get a bus south again. All of this with no English, and me struggling to walk the length of the platform with a coughing seizure. But finally we have made it to Yichang on the Yangtze and holed up in a nice hotel (have not been pushing the limits of slumminess in China) to plot our next move.
Despite the odd issue we have been repeatedly surprised at the helpfulness of the Chinese who often go well above the call to sort us out. Generally if we turn up looking lost, someone will come over and take us under their wing. This took a bit of getting used to after Vietnam where such good natured help was non-existent and we found it hard to believe people actually wanted to be nice to us, but they do!
Blogspot is actually blocked in China but we have found a way around this. Unfortunately it means we cannot update our photos on this site as we could before but we can still put them up on the other site we were using. There are heaps of new photos up so here is a link (you might have to copy and paste it): http://picasaweb.google.com/steelbaker/SouthernChinaAndHongKong
Till next time
D & C