Crossing riddles into spring
Kunming Travel Blog› entry 58 of 86 › view all entries
The language was going to be a riddle, there were huge mountains ahead of us and the beurocracy was a thick fog we tried to avoid. Our map would become a riddle too, but at the time we entered China we didn't even have one, as it had been impossible to get a good one outside China. So we fully expected China to become a challenge:
They didn't recognize Daren in his passport, but after some extended security we were allowed into China. We reluctantly tried to register at the 'public security beuro' ( IE public control!) because someone told us we should do so, but it confused everybody. It seemed to be like entering Russia: There's a huge beurocratic fuss at first and when you're in, no one cares.
Mapless, we returned to our only guide line, the red river and an expressway above us and carried on crawling up between steep mountains. Our road was battered by landslides and km after km we scrambled over rocks and tumbled down earth. It was a game of seizing our opportunities to cross between JCB's and trucks who were balancing over steep mountain slopes, working to clear the road. With wind and dust at times reducing visibility to just meters we were just about to loose all faith in our road and direction and then we suddenly emerged on perfect tarmac again. And so it it keep changing back and forth...
But it was beautifull: Small villages to the left and red blossomed, very chinese looking trees to the right. But villages and trees were not enough to guide us as the express road had long gone and we were due to leave the river; We desperately needed a map! And as it happens sometimes, when life is nice, a cycelist had left one 'to be given to the next cycelists' at one of the numerous checkpoints close to the vietnamese border. The map, however, was in chinese and our next huge challenge would be trying to read it:
There are some 50 thousand symbols and unlike the cryllic alphabet, which we eventually managed between us, the chinese alphabet has no similar sounds or structure to ours. The letters familiar to us, became known as the two dancing ladders, J K rowlings signature and the elephant who stole a plasma screen TV etc. For example Kunming became an alien with two sets of legs, the dancing ladders and the city sign. This way streetsigns could give some meaning to us and we could easier memorize symbols.
But as we never knew what anything was actually called or how things were pronounced, asking for specific directions was tricky (Vikingboat- pitchfork-two dancing ladders village anyone? No...?) On the other side, had our map been written in English we would possibly have been able to ask but would never been able to make out were we actually were on the map and the chinese wouldn't have been able to point it out to us. So for now we have resolved to pointing to the map when asking directions. Eventually as time passed a few words and signs became almost meaningfull: Some only as sounds or foreing words like 'ming' og 'chuan' and others more usefull as 'city' or 'village'.
After climbing steadily for days we reached the foot of the high mountains. After having visited some famous rice terraces we started climbing up this mass of mountains that form the very eastern tailend of the ranges that eventually become the Himalayas and the Tibetan plato. The initial 46 km climb took us past a dam lake, up through valleys and rice terraces and along pine covered mountain sides. We came to villages that from our red river-valley had given the illusion of being built on the clouds as they were nesting on impossibly steep ridges , surrounded by rice terraces cascading down into deep gorges. We climbed above them, and in the clouds the mountain sides became endless below us. The road twisted and turned a thousand times and eventually we balanced along a barren slope with a drop so steep I didn't look down until we passed it. After more twists and turns and serpentines we finally climbed over the edge of a huge plato and immedeately everything changed: The landscape consisted of soft rolling hills, rice and sugar cane was exchanged with wheat, beans and peas. Cherry trees blossomed everywhere and we realised we had ridden into spring. Our spring, in temporate climate in the northern hemisphere! Last spring we were also in temporate climate but in the southern hemisphere, so actually in autum. Now, for the first time, the jurney began to feel like a circle.
After riding through what could have been hilly Denmark we came to the end of the plato, to a long gentle downhill straight into the unknown. Somewhere ahead of us at 1900 meters, Kunmig stood waiting, the capital of Yunnan province. But having gone from travelling with a map we couldn't read to now being able to solve some of the chinese riddles and having put the first serious climb behind us, our confidence had grown and the many unkonwn km ahead seemed less daunting.