A cultural blanket

Leshan Travel Blog

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Muddy roads

This part of the blog is from my diary. We had ridden for 6 days in a row, on terrible roads, through high mountains and I was tired:

" Im sat in a boxlike room with no windows. The door is thin and only has a small stupid padlock. But shower gells, shampoos and even a bathcap give the impression we may have a shower. But we have no access at all to a shower and have thoughtfully been equipped with 2 'hers' bowls to take to the shared toilet and wash in a toilet cubicle. And the flimsy padlock took a flimsy guy 30 minuttes to srew into the door because our key didn't work. I argued with the staff; They wouldn't give us back our money if we checked out...The chinese laugh a lot and guests and phone calls got involved: "Hi mum" Daren said into the phone.

The day the police decided all the secrecy is out dated
The rediculous situation seemd to warrant such a reply and the chinese audience looked baffled.. "Yes, we would like to stay" Daren explained. "So you want to leave?" The man at the other end said for the 5th time. Then a student was summoned from his room to help translate but he was to nervous to speak. "

2 Hours of pointless discussion later, when the topic was settled a hundred times over,we managed to shoe the crowd out of our room and closed the door. That night under my blanket in the box I had difficulties comprehending all that China offers:

I had experienced some of the best travelling of my life over the past 6 days. High up on the platos I was aware that all my senses were being spoilt: Visually it was stunning. The mountains are 2-4000 meters high, somtimes dramatic, sometimes gentle.

Long gorges
Cherry and rape, light blue and white flowers and trees were in blossom everywhere, turning small mudbrick villages into colourfull little picture book scenes and whole mountain slopes into abstract patchwork blankets. One high valley had small whitewashed villages were people sat in the afternoon sun playing majong whilst cats stretched out on walls. I felt like I'd entered Astrid Lindgreens afterlife world 'nangiala' in the 'brother lionheart'-book... Flower and earth smells mingled with the distinct winter/spring coldness in our noses, and we seemed to have first day of spring sunshine every day. The only noises were from birds singing and village chatter being carried with the wind.  

Other days we spent alone high up in arrid, rocky areas: We nearly ran out of water on one plato, riding for hours on a cobbled bumpy road without seeing any sign of life.

and nice campspots at the top
But fields appeard and a lonesome farmer gave us juicy roots which we brushed the earth of and ate raw, like he showed us.

Amongst all this we found good campspots with views over deep gorges, towards other peaks. As night fell, fires would be lit in the villages opposite and here and there bouncing torch lights would wander up tracs. Later, on a pass, we camped amongst pine trees, getting shelter from cold winds and making our bed extra soft with pine needles and having descended again we sleept in a valley in a dense, rushing bamboo forrest. Sometimes, if possible we'd take a hotel and wash up, sometimes even a day off. But mostly we had ridden on day after day: 40 km up, 30 km down, 20 kom up and so on. And never flat. 1300 km in 23 days.

More bad roads

But with this beautifull secenery the riding became difficult and  our remote  luxurys came at a price.

Our road had turned cobbled and remained so for 200 km. Our speed dropped and 50-60 km days frustrated us as we needed to average 80 km pr day. But the cobbles were ancient and very bumpy and we couldn't go faster. Then hundreds of km of dirtrack followed, sometimes almost unrideable allthough this was a national highway - a red road on our map.

We got lost twice: The first time we rode 17 km up the wrong mountain as we made the mistake of thinking the highway had become tarmacced again, when infact we had followed a well made 'con-the-officials' mining road. The second time people keept stopping us telling us to take a 50km detour.

My bike being mended with a steel saw.
we did, but, for the sake of the adventure, choose a less travelled green road, instead of the advised route. It took us deep into a valley where paper was made following ancient ways, but the road was too bad and we realised that altough it was adventurous, 60 km on it, would cost us our day of in leshan.

But the worst thing was the yangtze river, which we touched down to twice. It was horrible and as much as our senses were being spoilt high up, in the Yangtze valley they were being tortured. The river is a grey, thick sludge and everything in its valley was covered with cement or quarry dust. The road is nothing but a rocky dirtrack and the cities are big dirty factory cities. With no tarmacced roads leading to them they seemed like forgotten places that one day will just tumble in the river or sink into the dust without anybody in China ever realizing, because everything is censored.

On top of that there is the bizzareness of our huge differences. Having meet the berbers in Morocco, the proud people in Guines Bissau, the people of the remote Altai region and many more, no one has ever been this different from us. It is incredible because appart from skintone and superficial differences we seem the same: Religions not a big deal and we seem to appreciate the same things in life, but never the less we've never encountered such a deep rooted differences! On the surface this comes accross in our communication: We don't speak the language, we don't read the same letters and we don't even use the same hand signs. Numbers are shown in a way that appears meaningless to us, so are directions and hills. Just as meaningless as ours are to them. But deeper differences at times affect our whole meeting with people: 

Some people refuse to talk to us. If approached they vigorously shake their head until we go away. Some hotels refuse forreigners and some people are so overwhelmed by us they can neither focus on our chinese words nor their english words. At worst the whole social situation goes horribly wrong and they just get their cameras out:  Once we arrived at a peacefull looking restaurent. Little did we know that 15 minutes later men would turn up out of nowhere. They would hang about us like bees around honey, sometimes sit with us, then notice our silence get up, laugh, pace a little and then return. Then petrified and tearfull children would be arranged around us and photos taken. Villagers would call more villagers, the men would pace, the children would cry and we'd eat our lunch and leave so quickly we had to stop and sit on a rock for an hour. This is when its at its worst. The owner even gave us a can of red bull each, payment for the entertainment i expect, although we looked miserable all the way through.  But mostly this happens when were tired and hungry. We know that it is us that are in control of how our encounters go.

Its hard but quite funny too: A lady in a tiny village got so surprised by my chinese request she burst out laughing a loud friendly, not nervous laughter. Or the english speaking librarian in Kunming, who made me think she was crazy when she said of the cold spell: "It will rain now til may, bacuse the government put something in the air" Actually the government had put something in the air. They cloud seed but at the time i didn't even know what cloud seeding is and thought she'd defiinetely lost the plot.  Anyhow it didn't work because it cleared up again after two days... 

Or when it turned out that the berocracy cares afterall and we were picked up by the police at 8 am for not registering. "how long ago is it you have had foreigners here?" We asked, surprised by all the attention we were getting in this town. "Last year" they replied. "How did they arrive" we wanted to know -thinking of the remote location of this town. Were they cyclists too? "By tuc tuc" came the reply.... I imagined a tuc tuc bumping over the dirttracs over mountain after mountain ?? But in this very town we ended up drinking tea with the police. Their official questions were mixed with curious personal questions, disguised as official questions and as everybody felt that the chinese secrecy and berocracy was a litlle out dated we all posed for smiling group photographs in the police station. In the evening we went out with a teacher that had helped us translate, two of his friends and a sweet 12 year old girl called ting ting who took ownership of us. Also she gave us our most usefull present: a chinese picture book with phonetic englich, phoenetic chinese and the written chinese explanations. Next time we get arrested we've decided we don't need a translator but will take our colourfull picturebook with us instead. 

Because of what almost feels like a cultural wall at times, it's so positive when we find something common behind all our differences. When I can go and admire a dog with its owner or when currious people spontaneously rescue us in dead end shop situations and give us our missing word. Or when we can exchange miffed looks about the crap roads or even better, when people understand our ancient joke about swapping our bikes with their motorbike. Understanding each others questions and answers and reactions through this big cultural blanket is a huge achievement!   

Through all this Daren and I bickered more than usual. We were so tired and our bikes were pretty crippled. I prayed for them to last till Leshan because we were both to tired to do any specific fixing whilst pushing on through the mountains.

Dusty and exhaused, as I found myself in this shoebox with a flock of beurocratic idiots doing beurocratic, idiotic things around us, I thought of the mountains, of the spring and of the people, who get so excited to see us, and of our camp nights and really, all feelt good. I was just very tired... 


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Muddy roads
Muddy roads
The day the police decided all the…
The day the police decided all th…
Long gorges
Long gorges
and nice campspots at the top
and nice campspots at the top
More bad roads
More bad roads
My bike being mended with a steel …
My bike being mended with a steel…
photo by: spocklogic